The Upper West Side Book logo

Central Park West logo

55 Central Park West

Southwest corner at 66th Street

55 Central Park West

55 Central Park West

By Carter B. Horsley

One of the city's authentic and important Art Deco gems, this 20-story apartment house is noted for its rakish fluted finials and its subtle shading of bricks, which range from dark at the base to light at the top.

Designed by Schwartz & Gross, this 109-unit cooperative apartment building was completed in 1930 and is modest but memorable in its design consistency. All of the setbacks have protruding vertical design elements that are also placed around the building above the ground floor. These elements rise towards the center of the park-facing fašade from one-story to three stories in height, mirroring the top of the building, which has its centrally placed watertank in a decorative tower.

Building's entrance

Building's marquee and handsome base

"It would be several decades before the movement of modernism reallyachieved ascendancy in New York (and then with commercial skyscrapers), but in 1929, a building went up at 55 Central Park West that looked like a new beginning. Critics called it 'innovational,' but to a lay person, who sees a building not as a matter of design choices but as whatever he wishes - an image, a person, a sculpture, a metaphor - and who can free-associate without the constraints of professional discipline, the building was the note of honest fantasy that the mind of the age desired. It romanticized modern imagery so unabashedly that it might have been drawn by Hugh Ferriss [the famous architectural draftsman]. Everything about it, the stepped tower form, the fašade overlaid with a pattern of vertical bands, the stylized fluting, like vestigial wings on the top stories, focused upward. The structure seemed to celebrate the height it achieved; this impression was reinforced even by the coloring of the brickwork, shaded in tones from red at the base to pale tan at the top, forty different hues of earth colors, Lewis Mumford reported done, it was said, to create the illusion that the sun was always shining on the building. The architects of 55 Central Park West were Schwartz and Gross, who achieved here, at the end of their careers, one of their most spectacular successes. After years of producing safe and proven forms, they were the first to treat the apartment house as a unified whole from sidewalk to summit. The building rose on its own like an organic growth, unencumbered by demarcations of house line or balustrades or cornices. Even the stylized portal blended into the surface....Inside the apartments, there was evidence of an honest and economical mind at work. The gracious basics were there - a large entrance gallery, a living room, a dining room, good closets, maid's rooms - but no hall, no extras, no surprises, no conspicuous waste, no historical debris. The architects' attitude might be said to have been embodied in their decision to set the living room two steps below the other rooms, which created a feeling of spatial change without sacrificing real space," observed Elizabeth Hawes in her excellent book, "New York, New York How The Apartment House Transformed The Life Of The City (1869-1930)," An Owl Book, Henry Holt, 1993.

View from the southeast

View from the southeast

"The building at 55 Central Park West," she continued, "was neither the most sophisticated nor the most explicit example of the modern ideology to appear at the end of the twenties, but the very naivetÚ of its winged setbacks and soaring water tower made it the most passionate."

Building's marquee

Building's impressive marquee continues the stylistic theme

The building's large entrance marquee continues the stylistic, fluted theme. The same architects also designed 101, 241 and 336 Central Park West.

Marquee

Marquee

In his excellent book, "New York Streetscapes, Tales of Significant Buildings and Landmarks," (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2003), Christopher Gray devotes a chapter to this building, which he said was "the first full-blown Art Deco Building on the thoroughfare," and provides the following commentary:

"Schwartz & Gross...were working for Victor Earle and John C. Calhoun, who had been active on the Upper West Side since the 1910s. Victor Earle and his brother, Guyon, developed a dropped living room design that distinguished the interiors from others of the time. Opened in 1930, the building had apartments of from three to nine rooms - the largest with four bathrooms....George S. Chappell, the New Yorker's architecture critic, praised the use of color, saying that 'the total effect is exhilarating' and singling out for particular praise the lobby and hallways, in gray-green marble and green plaster with metal trim."

The building has great park views but no health club and no garage and there is considerable traffic at this location. The cross-town bus to the East Side stops at this corner.

For more information on this building, check its entry at CityRealty.com


Use the Search Box below to quickly look up articles at this site on specific artists, architects, authors, buildings and other subjects

 

Home Page of The City Review