Some famous buildings in
New York are best known for their unusual decoration and some
for their unusual shapes.
This is known for both,
although it is not as famous as it should be.
A thin, asymmetrical wedge,
it is neither typical, nor derivative. The architect, Herman Lee
Meader has framed the lower two stories in limestone friezes of
Wild West motifs and capped the building with a very pronounced
cornice that is arched in the center of the Riverside Drive frontage.
The cornice, however, is just below the roofline, which has curved,
arched elements at the corners and is angled to rise above the
arch of the cornice. The third-story window above the entrance
is also trimmed in limestone to reinforce the composition's dynamics.
The friezes are distinguished
by their fine detailing and are most notable for their buffalo
skulls, and the facade also depicts mountain lions and rattlesnakes.
In their superb book, "The
A.I.A. Guide to New York City, Third Edition," (Harcourt
Brace Jovanovich, 1988), Elliot Willensky and Norval White said
that it is "An odd building predating the Art Deco interest
in Mayan motifs." They said that the friezes "symbolize
the life of the Arizona cliff dwellers and serve to tie these
prehistoric people to Manhattan's modern cliff dwellers."
"All in all," they concluded, "an underrated facade."
The building was erected
in 1916 and converted to a cooperative in 1979. The 12-story structure,
known as the Cliff Dwellers' Apartments, has 43 apartments.
The yellow-brick building
is on the north side of a bridge over 96th Street and its facade
along the cross-street is marred by some fire escapes. It is across
the cross-street from a large playground, which contributes to
the building's considerable "light and air."
The building, which is quite
narrow nine feet - at its north end, permits protruding air-conditioners
and has consistent fenestration. It is convenient to cross-town
bus service and a local subway station at 96th Street and Broadway.
It has no garage, no roof deck, no sidewalk landscaping and no
balconies. It is convenient to public transportation and Riverside
It has fine views of the
Hudson River and Riverside Park.
In a January 6, 2002, article
in The New York Times, Christopher Gray wrote that that
the 12-story building was built by Leslie R. Palmer, a banker
who also built "the highly colored loft building on the southeast
corner of 14th Street and Seventh Avenue." Gray wrote that
the building was erected as an apartment hotel, with five one-
and two-bedroom suites on each floor served by a restaurant on
the mezzanine." The lobby, he continued, "was furnished
with Navajo rugs, tiles of ran, green, black and blood red; and
zig-zag designs on the lamps and elevator cages reminiscent of
American Indian designs." Gray added that the architect,
who had worked by Ernest Flagg, had "designed a simpler but
similar building for a different client at the southeast corner
of 25th Street and Lexington Avenue. "In 1932, the building
was converted to housekeeping apartments, and kitchens were awkwardly
installed in the old foyers and even living rooms.Because of its
small size and cramped kitchens, the Cliff Building has an unusual
provision: adjoining apartments have right of first refusal on
sales, and there have been numerous combinations in the building,"
Gray continued, adding that the building's metal and glass marquee
has been removed.
In 2002, construction began
on the site just to the east of the building on 96th Street of
an apartment building known as the Park West.