One of the city's, and the
world's, greatest residential skyscrapers, the San Remo is the
city's most beautiful apartment building and one of its most prestigious
Like the Beresford a few
blocks north on Central Park West, the twin-towered San Remo is
one of the masterpieces of architect Emery Roth, whose firm, Emery
Roth & Sons would subsequently design more office buildings
in the city than any other firm. It and the Beresford (see The City Review article) were sold in 1940
for $25,000 over the existing mortgages as the buildings suffered
during the Depression, although both have recovered very, very
The San Remo replaced a
10-story hotel of the same name on the site that had two pyramid
towers. Emery Roth's design for dividing the top of this 27-story
building into two-10-story towers was the first such scheme in
the city and was quickly copied by three other twin-towered buildings
on Central Park West, the Century, the Majestic and the El Dorado
(see The City Review article). Construction
began on the San Remo in 1929 as the Beresford was being completed.
That year the city enacted its Multiple Dwelling Act and that
law allowed residential buildings of greater height than previously
permitted in exchange for larger courts and yards. Roth's design
met with the new law's requirements that towers not exceed 20
percent of the site and be setback 70 feet on all sides. His twin-towered
solution created more apartments with more light and air and also
reduced space lost to long elevator corridors.
In his excellent book, "Mansions
In The Clouds, The Skyscraper Palazzi of Emery Roth," 1986,
Balsam Press Inc., Steven Ruttenbaum noted that "the San
Remo's two towers convey a lyrical, uplifting feeling, similar
to the religious aura of a medieval cathedral." "The
circular temples at each top, which were inspired by the ancient
Greek Choragic Monument of Lysicrates that Roth had studied at
the Chicago world's fair, reinforce those spiritual connotations,"
"For a certain upwardly
mobile section of the population, there is no mistaking the message
written on these walls of buff brick and terra-cotta: What lies
within are sumptuous quarters for those who aspire to live like
old-world nobility in new-world, high-rise glamour," Ruttenbaum
The three-story base of
the block-long building are covered with limestone and while the
overall appearance of the building is a harking back to classical
themes, the entrances and lobbies have some Art Deco motifs.
The brick and terra-cotta
facades of the rest of the building are nicely modulated with
a great sense of rhythm and finesse. The towers, for example,
have no corner windows but protruding piers that reinforce the
sense of monumentality. The transition from the 17-story base
to the towers, furthermore, is achieved with setbacks and terraces
that provide visual interest but not so much as to distract from
the overall composition.
What truly distinguishes
the 400-foot-high towers from the other twin-towered silhouettes
on Central Park West is the transition of the rectilinear towers
"into circular, Roman-style temples ringed by Corinthian
columns 16 feet high and by urns with finials that measure 8 feet,"
Ruttenberg observed. The "temples" are topped with copper
finials containing bright beacons, one of which tilted and had
to be repaired in the 1970's.
Like the Beresford, the
San Remo is actually a U-shaped structure despite its appearance
from the street, as a courtyard is carved out of its west side.
The San Remo was designed
for 122 apartments, but that number grew over the years by another
20 or so as some of the larger units were subdivided. The layouts
were quite large with many apartments having rooms with different
ceiling heights. Fireplaces were in all of the units, but no longer
The windows were an innovative
design as the top transom swings out and the lower transom swings
in, an attempt to improve ventilation.
With its better views of
midtown, the south tower was considered more desirable and originally
was built with duplex apartments while those in the north tower
are single-floor units. Despite their famous appearance from Central
Park, the towers are not symmetrical and bulge a bit on the west
Despite its innovative design
and grandeur, the San Remo was a victim of the Depression and
a year after it opened more than a quarter of the units were not
yet occupied and the bank that held its mortgage folded and the
building fell into bankruptcy.
The San Remo, the Beresford,
and the Dakota are the three most prestigious and spectacular
apartment buildings on the Upper West Side. Each has its merits
and advocates who claim it is the best. The Dakota, being the
oldest, has tremendous history and mystery. The Beresford is just
overwhelming. The San Remo, being the tallest along Central Park
West, has the highest visibility as well as the best location
and is the most imposing and elegant-looking.
In "New York 1930,
Architecture and Urbanism Between the Two World Wars," (Rizzoli,
1987), authors Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas
Mellins observed that "The building brought together for
the first time the shared communality of the imperially scaled
courtyard apartments of the pre-war era and the high-density,
Babylonian urbanism of the skyscraper."
In his excellent book, "New York Streetscapes,
Tales of Significant Buildings and Landmarks," (Harry N.
Abrams, Inc., 2003), Christopher Gray devotes a chapter to the
San Remo and notes that "An ad for the San Remo in the Times
in April 1930 called it 'as modern as a flying boat, as luxurious
as the Ile de France and designed for people who are at home on
both. Birds in the sky are your only neighbors."