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The Dorilton

171 West 71st Street

Caryatids on Broadway

Detail of Dorilton's Broadway facade

By Carter B. Horsley

Although the Dorilton has not always been one of the city's most prestigious residential addresses, it is one of the most spectacular architecturally.

It is flamboyant, exuberant, and romantic.

Entrance gate

Entrance gate

Its boasts the most attractive entrance gate in the city, one that surpasses that of the Frick Collection on Fifth Avenue. Two putti gracefully surmount a very substantial entranceway flanked by very ornate cast-iron fences all joined by globe-topped columns. The side-street entrance is particularly impressive because it leads into a courtyard "light-well" that is bridged at the ninth story by an arch.

View from the southwest

The Dorilton viewed from the southwest

The building's Beaux-Arts, Parisian grandeur abounds: there are balustraded continuous balconies at the fourth and tenth floors; there are marvelous sculptures supporting other balconies; the limestone base is finely banded, the three-story, copper and slate mansard roofs, that once contained artists' studios, have chateau-style chimneys and pointed roofline accents.

Caryatids on side-street

Caryatids on side-street facade

Of course, to some the building's strong personality was a bit much. In his book, "Historic Manhattan Apartment Houses," (Dover Publications, Inc., 1996), Andrew Alpern illustrates the building on his cover and remarks on the building's "overblown ostentation," quoting a cynical review by famed critic Montgomery Schuyler in Architectural Record shortly after the building was completed in 1902:

Detail of Broadway facade

Detail of Broadway facade

"Everything shrieks to drown out everything else," Schuyler maintained, bemoaning the "detestable spirit that reigns throughout...[and] sets the sensitive spectator's teeth on edge." Alpern noted that Schuyler was upset at the "stone balls on the gate posts of the entrance, two feet in diameter, left there for titans to roll at ten pins."

View from the west

View from the west

Indeed, in his 1979 book, "The City Observed, New York, A Guide To The Architecture of Manhattan," (Vintage Books, a division of Random House) Paul Goldberger wrote that "Now the building seems more to be pitied than censored, a rather too eager-to-please piece of Second Empire foppery. Once, some thought that a mansard roof and a lot of sculpture and cartouches make a building French; now we know better. Still, it is sad to see this building, for all its foolishness, in the sorry state of decay it has descended to, with unsympathetic storefronts along the Broadway side and a facade that clearly has not been cared for in years."

"It was only with conversion as a cooperative in 1984 that the depredations of decades began to be turned along....and with patience, imagination and a large amount of money, the Dorilton may yet recover its lost outrageous glory," Alpern wrote.

"The Dorilton's bold massing dominated Sherman Square....The Dorilton was distinguished by the astonishing voluptuousness of its details....It was precisely the intricacy and the burly swagger of the Dorilton which was the source of its drama and expressed the optimism of the new century," observed Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and John Montague Massengale in their book, "New York 1900, Metropolitan Architecture and Urbanism 1890-1915," (Rizzoli International Publications, 1983).

One of the building's early residents was William Zeckendorf.

View of north facade and chimneys

View of building's north facade and chimneys and watertank

The building, which has no garage, originally had 48 apartments and how has 59. It was developed by Hamilton M. Weed, and designed by Elisha Harris Janes and Richard Leopold Leo, who, Alpern noted, designed a somewhat similar but smaller building, the Alimar, at 925 West End Avenue a few years earlier.

"Particularly distinctive are the two Brobdingnagian, classically draped maidens serenely surveying the passing scene from their perch overlooking Broadway at the balustraded fourth floor. Comparably unusual, along West 71st Street, are the two pairs of near-nude muscular men supporting (with great effort) iron-railed balconies at the sixth floor," Alpern observed.

Over the years, the Dorilton was overshadowed by the high visibility of the nearby Ansonia, the celebrated legends of the Dakota and the skyscraping glories of the multi-towered apartment buildings of Central Park West.

In their fine book, "The A.I.A. Guide to New York City Architecture, Fourth Edition," (Three Rivers Press, 2000), Elliot Willensky and Norval White describe the Dorilton as a "cornice-copia" and advised their readers to "Look up at the frolicking free-standing amazons."

Despite decades of neglect, the Dorilton has survived, thank goodness, a masterpiece of urban architecture, a lively, enriching edifice that Paris would love to have.

For more information about the Dorilton check its entry at

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