By Carter B. Horsley
This handsome, 21-story, 162-unit cooperative
apartment house was one of the first to be erected after World
War II and the last one to be completed by Emery Roth, the architect
who designed many of the city's most famous residential skyscrapers.
It is the only twin-towered Fifth Avenue apartment building.
Built in 1948 for Harold and Percy Uris, who
went on to greater fame over the next two decades as the city's
most prolific commercial developers, this tower is stylistically
related to Roth's building at 875 Fifth Avenue, across 69th Street,
and to his earlier Normandy at 140 Riverside Drive.
All these buildings set a standard of "luxury"
construction in a "Moderne" style that was a few rungs
beneath the earlier and grander apartment edifices of an earlier
generation on Fifth Avenue, but which were highly influential.
Unlike their descendants a decade and more
later that used glazed white bricks, these all use buff colored
bricks over limestone bases, a far more elegant solution.
According to Steve Ruttenbaum's excellent book
on the architect, "Mansions In The Clouds, The Skyscraper
Palazzi of Emery Roth" (Balsam Press, 1986), Roth's plans
for this building were significantly altered by his son, Richard
Roth Jr., who had just returned from the Navy.
When the elder architect asked Richard why
he wanted to change his already completed plans, his son, who
went on to head the firm, replied, "Father, was that the
way you made your reputation?" Ruttenbaum recounts, adding
that his father later admitted that he cherished "that reprimand
more than any praise."
"Except for a few details, it was more
modern in conception than any design that ever came out of Roth's
office," Ruttenbaum observed.
"Undoubtedly, this was due to Richard's
influence. The vast expanses of unadorned brickwork decidedly
were an outgrowth of Richard's modern aesthetic sensibility. In
a few of the details, though, Emery's stylistic predilections
were still visible. Simplified classical moldings were wrapped
around the Fifth Avenue entrance, and in the two symmetrical towers,
flat brick pilasters support stylized capitals that hark bark
to the Viennese Secession. In addition, both towers were finished
off with courses of patterned brickwork. The apartment layouts
of this building also reflect the beginning of a new era in high-rise
residential design. All of the suites, which range in size from
two to eight rooms, were arranged with a more open plan than was
prevalent before the war. As in Roth's earlier buildings, each
unit was planned around an entrance foyer, but, at 880 Fifth Avenue,
divisions between some rooms were eliminated.…Each living
room has a fireplace, and the larger units have one or more maid's
rooms, butlers' pantries and separate service entrances leading
to service elevators. And nearly every apartment was endowed with
double exposures to facilitate the ventilation of air."
Despite such modern touches, the building is
a bit bland and too conservative, but then daring was not called
for at such a prime and expensive location. The small and very
attractive twin towers are most welcome, but the cantilevered
balconies near the top are rather disruptive of the façade.
The central portion of the avenue frontage is recessed a few feet
and is quite barren of detailing, while that façade's ends
are very nicely modeled vertically in brickwork to create the
impressions of pilasters.
Despite its bulk, this rather laid-back building
is pretty much a background building to the avenue's grander residences.
In their excellent book, "New York 1960,
Architecture and Urbanism Between the Second World War and the
Bicentennial" (The Monacelli Press, 1995, Robert A. M. Stern,
Thomas Mellins and David Fishman note that is building replaced
the houses of Edward H. Harriman, which had been designed by Herter
Brothers in 1881, and Adolph E. Lewisohn, which had been designed
by C. W. Clinton in 1882. "Both houses were vacant and had
been purchased previously by a British investor whose plans for
their future had been interrupted by the war, causing them to
be foreclosed," they wrote.
For more information on 880 Fifth Avenue check its entry at CityRealty.com