795 FIFTH AVENUE (Pierre) and 781 FIFTH AVENUE (Sherry Netherland)

(Southeast corner at 61st Street: Pierre)(Northeast corner at 59th Street: Sherry Netherland)

Developer: Charles Pierre (Pierre); The Sherry Netherland Hotel

Architect: Schultze & Weaver (both)

Erected: 1929 (Pierre); 1927 (Sherry Netherland)

Pierre and Sherry Netherland Hotels seen from Central Park South

By Carter B. Horsley

Although the Plaza Hotel dominated the midtown gateway to Central Park for about two decades before these two skyscraper hotels were built, the Pierre and the Sherry-Netherland hotels, two blocks and two years apart, quickly became two of the most recognized profiles in the world until the incursion several decades later of the mammoth General Motors Building.

The Pierre and Sherry Netherland hotels from Central ParkThe two hotels are quite different. The Pierre, shown at the left in the picture at the right, is light colored and the Sherry Netherland, in the center of the picture in front of the taller General Motors Building, is dark. The Pierre has a green mansard-style roof and the Sherry Netherland has an elaborate minaret. Both have slender shafts rising from fairly large bases.

The General Motors Building replaced the very elegant, formal, twin-chimneyed Savoy Plaza Hotel that had been designed by McKim, Mead & White directly across Fifth Avenue from the Plaza Hotel. The Savoy Plaza was, in fact, the best looking of this group of super luxury hotels though it was far shorter and bulkier than the Pierre and Sherry Netherland. (The Sherry Netherland has the best architecture of this group with its truly exotic top and svelte lines, but the Savoy Plaza had a more regal, palatial air to its exterior.)

Because the Plaza was older and more established and had far larger and far more spectacular interiors than the rest of the group, the Pierre and the Sherry Netherland hotels have not shared as much limelight despite their far greater visibility. As elegant as the area was before their arrival, the hotels, nevertheless, incredibly enhanced the prestige of this district with their towering presence and romantic silhouettes, giving hope, realized decades later when design styles had changed markedly, that the Plaza District might become Manhattan's third major skyline district after Lower Manhattan and 42nd Street.

Pierre and Sherry Netherland hotelsAlthough the silhouette of the Sherry Netherland is infinitely more memorable and dramatic and interesting than the Pierre's, the Pierre's more conventional formality and light tones made for a more compatible transition with the white mansions of "Millionaire's Row" north of it on the avenue that were already being razed to make way for expensive apartment buildings.

Furthermore, in an age when contextual design had not yet reared its wagging head in architectural circles, the Pierre's light colors were more appropriate as a backdrop for its very impressive small neighbor on the same Fifth Avenue block, the Metropolitan Club.

(Quality architecture in the city in the 1960's and 1970's was a rarity as evidenced sadly by the terribly bland and ugly apartment buildings at 800 Fifth Avenue, across 61st Street from the Pierre, and 775 Fifth Avenue, across 60th Street from the Metropolitan Club, as shown in the picture at the left. Ulrich Franzen & Associates and Wechsler & Schimenti were the architects of 800 Fifth Avenue, whose rear facade facing an utterly unnecessary, large, heavily fenced garden plaza is far better than its pedestrian park frontage. The incongruous rear plaza was perhaps some misguided city planner's brainstorm to recall the walled in, unattended gardens of the former Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge Georgian-style red-brick mansion that formerly occupied, rather dourly, this large important site. Mrs. Dodge, a niece of John D. Rockefeller, had been married to Marcellus Hartley Dodge, the chairman of the Remington Arms Company, and was known as the "first lady of dogdom" and had founded, with her husband, the Morris and Essex Kennel Club in New Jersey and their estate, Giralda Farms in Madison, N.J., was the scene of many important dog shows. Over the years she acquired several adjacent brownstones and tore them down letting the foliage grow wild next to her austere 61st Street 35-room mansion filled mostly with animal paintings. The other apartment building, known as the Parc V and located adjacent to the Sherry Netherland Hotel, would be unattractive even in a slum except for the nicely appointed bank branch on the ground floor that has expensive looking, French antique style furniture.)

In "Fifth Avenue, A Very Social History," published in 1978 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., Kate Simon recounts some of the Pierre Hotel's early history:

"Ambitious and tenacious, like many of his fellow Corsicans, Charles Pierre Casalesco left his father's Ajaccio restaurant where he had been the busboy, to go as Charles Pierre to the brilliant Hotel Anglais in Monte Carlo....On a job foray to London, he was picked out by Louis Sherry for a position in New York. Twelve years of Sherry's brought him to an impasse. Smart women were beginning to smoke in public rooms. Mr. Sherry forbade it in his restaurant, an irritating, old-fashioned prohibition, Pierre thought, and, after flights of heated words he left. A stint then at the Ritz-Carlton on Madison Avenue at Forty-sixth, followed by his own restaurant, first on Forty-fifth immediately west of Fifth Avenue, and later at 230 Park, a place equally famous for its cuisine and for its care of American heiresses who, it was seen to by M. Pierre (himself occasionally the escort) went directly home to Mama. Inevitably he became a conservative elder statesman, deploring the vast democratic size of World War I parties and the unrestrained Prohibition guzzling that followed after. He soldiered on in this frantic new world that had lost its manners until a group of admirers and financiers, among them Otto H. Kahn, Finley J. Shepherd (who had married Helen Gould), Edward F. Hutton, Walter P. Chrysler, Robert Livingston Gerry (the son of Elbridge Thomas Gerry, lawyer, philanthropist and grandson of Elbridge Gerry, the inventor of 'gerrymandering') and others decided to use the site of the Gerry mansion at Sixty-first Street and Fifth Avenue for a hotel to be managed and run by Charles Pierre. The new structure, rising forty-two stories, could hardly keep the Richard Hunt chateau quality of the pink mansion it replaced, but a few old France touches were built into the hotel whose motto was 'from this place hope beams.'"

The Depression took its toll, however, and the hotel went into bankruptcy in 1932. Six years later, oilman J. Paul Getty bought it for about $2.5 million in 1938 and subsequently sold many cooperative apartments in the building. The hotel's operations changed hands a few times until Trust Houses Forte Corporation took it over in 1973 and finally the Four Seasons luxury hotel chain in 1986.

(Having sold his townhouse for the new hotel, Elbridge T. Gerry bought a Georgian-style townhouse on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 94th Street from Mrs. Leonard K. Elmhirst, who, according to Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins in their book, "New York 1930, Architecture and Urbanism Between the Two World Wars," published in 1988 by Rizzoli, "stipulated that it not be demolished. Mrs. Elmhirst was Dorothy Payne Whitney Strait, one of the country's leading heiresses, suffragettes and a founder of the Junior League whose first husband, Willard Strait, had founded The New Republic magazine. She and her late husband, Mr. Elmhirst founded and operated Dartington Hall, a very progressive school and cultural center in England.)

Pierre Hotel seen from 59th Streettop of the Pierre is duplex penthouseIn 1988, the hotel's duplex penthouse, shown at the left, with an enormous ballroom with double-height arched windows, was put on the market with the highest price tag ever believed then asked for a single co-op - $20 million. A couple years later, it was sold to Lady Fairfax for about $12 million, who was reported to have sold it in 1998 by The New York Observer for more than $20 million.

The ballroom, which had served for a while as a supper club, had been rented for parties over the years had long been not in use as the hotel had redone its main public spaces in its base where it had another ballroom as well as a circular double-height lounge with a painted mural that included a portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

The penthouse ballroom, with views in all directions, large mirrors etched with palm trees, a small bandstand and some peeling pink paint when it was offered in 1988, can hold 285 people at once, according to a Fire Department sign that then hung on a wall. It had not been used as a ballroom since 1973. A hotel employee said that the views from its corner terraces were so grand that they had been used as lookouts by the Police Department. The views, in fact, from its terraces are grand. In 1994, the building, shown at the right above in a view from 59th Street, announced it would have to replace its three-story-high copper roof, but since the building is within the Upper East Side Historic District and therefore a landmark the new roof will not alter the hotel's appearance. The hotel originally had 714 guest rooms, but many of them were combined into larger suites over the years.

Base of Pierre Hotel

The Pierre Hotel's Fifth Avenue entrance, under a white and gold canopy, is very disappointing as the main entrance is really on the sidestreet. The Fifth Avenue entrance leads up a few stairs to the elevator bank and also has stairs leading down to a restaurant. A pleasant window-less, street-level cafe has its own Fifth Avenue entrance. The main sidestreet entrance opens onto a pleasant, but low-ceiled lobby and raised alcove, but is rather restrained and not spectacular, similar to the lobby treatment at the Carlyle Hotel on Madison Avenue at 76th Street.

The hotel's tower was marred somewhat by repairs to its corners over the years and much of its south facade is blank because of the placement of the elevator bank.

In 2007, the 200-room hotel announced that it would close its hotel operations in 2008 for about a year for renovation work although it will remain open for its 75 co-op apartment residents. A December 29, 2007 article in The New York Times by Anthony Ramirez noted that "For decades, the Pierre has been a favorite of people who had little in common except a taste for luxury, including Audrey Hepburn, William S. Paley, and Mikhail Gorbachev," adding that "And then there was Frank Sinatra, who was unintimidated by the hotel's hushed elegance."

Sherry Netherland seen from plaza

According to authors Stern, Gilmartin and Mellins, Buchman & Kahn assisted Schultze & Weaver in the design of the Sherry Netherland Hotel that replaced William H. Hume's New Netherland Hotel of 1892, "one of the city's first steel-framed buildings." They also noted that the small lobby entrance is adorned with sculpture panels salvaged from the William K. Vanderbilt mansion that was demolished to make way for the Bergdorf Goodman store nearby on the southwest corner of the avenue at 58th Street. During its construction, a major fire broke out in its scaffolding before its standpipes were functioning, but the hotel was not destroyed. The 570-foot-high, 38-story building was the world's tallest apartment hotel when it was opened and all the floors above the 24th had only one apartment each.

Sherry Netherland seen from West 58th StreetBecause it was erected during the Prohibition, the Sherry Netherland, shown at the left from across Fifth Avenue, developed by Louis Sherry and Lucius Boomer, did not have major dining facilities, although its basement was converted in the 1970's to a very exclusive private disco and restaurant known as Raffles that within a few years was renamed Doubles and redesigned by Valerian Rybar in bright red colors. It remains one of the most elegant and exclusive nightspots in the city for its members.

Unlike the Pierre, which was located in a residential zone, the Sherry Netherland's retail frontage has always been supremely elegant. The long-term tenant of the corner store has been La Vieille Russe, specializing in extravagant Russian bibelots. South of the entrance, the restaurant space has been operated for several years by Harry Cipriani as one of the city's most elegant restaurants. North of the entrance, Diane von Furstenberg commissioned architect Michael Graves to design an opulent salon in 1984 that was subsequently taken over by Geoffrey Beene. It is the best design by Graves, a great draftsman who is a far better designer of storefronts and kitchen appliances than buildings.

base of the Sherry NetherlandThe base of the hotel, shown at the right, is the most elegant and wonderful in the city because of its travertine marble facing and, most particularly, its fantastic griffins with hanging lanterns. The subdued, understated ambiance of the Sherry Netherlands's small lobby exudes refinement and attracts the world's elite. While the griffin lanterns may frighten off the hoi-polloi, the elegant sidewalk clock is a very handsome public gesture.

One of the great joys of life must be a walk around the tiny parapet at the base of the hotel's crowning fleche.

Despite its relative modest size, the Sherry Netherland must be considered one of the world's greatest skyscrapers and is, in my opinion, the best in midtown. The monumental scale of the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings have made them more famous, but the Sherry Netherland comes closer to perfection in its massing and wondrous top. (The original R.C.A. building that became the original G.E. building and is now simply 570 Lexington Avenue comes in second, closely followed by the Chanin Building at 122 East 42nd Street whose decorative elements, especially within its lobby, are masterpieces of modern art.) The Woolworth Building probably qualifies as the best skyscraper downtown while the Metropolitan Insurance Company tower on Madison Avenue at 24th Street is the best in Midtown South.)

For more information on The Sherry-Netherland see its entry at

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