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The Jewish Museum

(originally the Felix and Frieda Warburg House)

1109 Fifth Avenue

Northeast corner at 92nd Street

The Jewish Museum

The Jewish Museum at 92nd Street

By Carter B. Horsley

In the controversial history of additions to landmarks in New York City, there is perhaps no happier story than that of the 1993 expansion of The Jewish Museum.

The museum's original structure was the Felix and Frieda Warburg mansion, designed by C. P. H. Gilbert and completed in 1909 on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street. Frieda Warburg donated the François I chateau-style building to the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1944 and subsequently the museum was able to acquire the adjacent property on the avenue just to the north of it and built a modest expansion building that was significantly setback from the building line on the avenue and raised up a few steps to create an entrance plaza.

Not only did that expansion break with the avenue's traditional building line, it also was a pretty bland and unattractive modern structure that was out of context with the Warburg building and its apartment house neighbor to the north.

Facade details

Facade detail

Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo & Associates were commissioned by the museum to fill in the plaza with a new structure in 1993 and they opted to replicate the François I chateau style to make it appear as the expansion had been built at the same time as the original mansion. To passerbys today, it is just about impossible to recognize that the mid-block expansion on the avenue was not part of the original building.

The accomplishment is all the more remarkable given the fact that Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo & Associates are best known for such modern projects as the Ford Foundation Building on East 42nd Street, which is noted for its huge atrium, and the mammoth expansion of the Metropolitan Museum of Art including the glass pyramid structure of its Lehman Wing.

In his fine book, "Touring The Upper East Side, Walks in Five Historic Districts" (The New York Landmarks Conservancy, 1995), Andrew S. Dolkart provides the following commentary:

"Apparently, Felix and Frieda Warburg, prominent members of New York's German-Jewish aristocracy, were so impressed with the François I chateaux that C. P. H. Gilbert had designed for the Fletchers [at 2 East 79th Street][see The City Review article] and Woolworths [formerly at 990 Fifth Avenue] farther south of Fifth Avenue, that they commissioned a similar house for themselves. For the Warburgs, Gilbert created a house that, in its basic form, is similar to the Fletchers', but is somewhat more refined. The Warburg House is more artfully massed, with a subtle balance of window and door openings and projecting and receding planes, but it is less whimsical than the earlier dwelling, lacking much of the droll detail that so enlivens the 79th Street house."

Mr. Dolkart praised the carved limestone detail of the 1988 expansion as "expertly replicated," but added that "the balance and integrity of the original mansion have been compromised," a criticism that is far too harsh and unjustified.

C. P.H. Gilbert was an associate architect for Otto Kahn's great mansion at 1 East 91st Street that is now the Convent of the Sacred Heart School (see The City Review article), another Carnegie Hill neighborhood landmark.

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