By Carter B. Horsley
One of the most elegant buildings on Madison
Avenue, this handsome cooperative apartment building has an undulating
base that is perhaps the most attractive in the city as its sinuous
curves ripple and soften the building's mass.
The building was designed by Rosario Candela
and Mott B. Schmidt, two of the city's foremost residential architects,
to replace one of the city's most celebrated mansions.
Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas
Mellins devote considerable attention to Candela in their book,
"New York 1930, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Two
World Wars," Rizzoli, 1987:
"Candela's last luxury apartment, designed
in collaboration with Mott B. Schmidt, was 19 East Seventy-second
Street of 1936, replacing McKim, Mead & White’s fabled
Tiffany mansion, which had stood at the northwest corner of Seventy-second
Street and Madison Avenue since 1882 and which was torn down without
much notice by the public."
"The 100-by-140-foot site was large enough,"
the authors continued, "to permit the new building to wrap
around a small garden court, directly visible form the lobby through
a broad expanse of glass. Many features, such as the metal balcony
rails, reflected the designer's response to Modernist work, yet
the massing of the sixteen-story limestone-clad building was traditional,
with two projecting end 'pavilions' bracketing the broad central
motif along Seventy-second Street. While there was no cornice,
and the fenestration along the upper floors was freely arranged,
the first three stories of the building, probably based on Josef
Hoffmann's Austrian Pavilion at the 1925 Paris Exposition des
Arts Décoratifs, alternated continuous bands of cyma moldings
to form a base that was at once unconventional and fundamentally
within the Classicist tradition. Above the entrance, C. Paul Jennewein
carved a marble relief panel populated with storks, deer, and
other delights of nature and the imagination."
An article in the May, 1998 issue of Quest
magazine by Andrew Kay noted that the animal and nature motif
of Jennewein is evident in several places in the building: carved
into the handsome wood doors are a snail and lizard; the elevator
walls are covered with panels of animals etched in relief; in
the garden stands a bronze sculpture of a fawn that serves as
the building's mascot." The article noted that residents
in the building included architect Richard Meier, magazine editor
Lewis Lapham and Joseph Cullman, chairman emeritus of Philip Morris.
The building has several duplex apartments.
The Charles L. Tiffany mansion that it replaced
"looked like it might have been Stanford White's homage to
his mentor, H. H. Richardson," wrote Hawes, adding that "It
was a huge brick fortress on a heavy, parapetlike stone base,
with a steeply pitched gable for a roof and a wide semicircular
arch and grille for a front door."
"While the massive masonry and the authority
of expression were reminiscent of Richardson, the design was in
fact part White, part Louis Comfort Tiffany. Tiffany, an artist
whom White admired and with whom he had already collaborated on
interior decoration, had been delegated by his father to oversee
the project, and he had sketched he shape of the building and
the design for his own quarters under the roof. The Tiffany house
was divided into three apartments…The six-story, fifty-seven
room mansion on 72nd Street excited constant comment in New York.
Given Louis Tiffany's reputation as America's leading decorator
and the ever-growing interest in the field, his own apartment
was of particular note. Inside, it was a grand and theatrical
place of resident, with long perspectives on central park and
the sleepy East side….He installed a portion of a two-thousand-year-old
Indian palace in one room and decorated the mantelpiece of another
with his collection of Japanese sword guards and Pompeian glass.
In his studio, located at the top of a palatial staircase, Tiffany
indulged his decorative genius further, setting his glasses high
in the walls, where they were lit by outside light; suspending
lamps of many shades of red, rose, cream, and yellow from the
twenty-foot-high ceiling; carving four immense fireplaces from
a central chimney, painting black….With the appearance of
the new Tiffany house, the idea of sharing houses made a tiny
inroad into high society," Elizabeth Hawes observed in her fine book "New York, New York, How
The Apartment House Transformed The Life Of The City (1869-1930)",
published by Henry Holt in 1993.
The loss of the Romanesque Revival Tiffany
mansion was a sad commentary on the city's sensitivity to the
need for historic preservation, especially since it was catty-corner
to Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo mansion that was to become the Ralph
Lauren boutique at 867 Madison Avenue.
There are many, although not enough, limestone-clad
luxury apartment buildings in the city. Such facades, in fact,
probably are the easiest clue that an apartment is truly "luxury,"
which is not to imply that brick and glass structures are automatically
Many fine apartment buildings may only have
limestone bases and most are rusticated, that is sharply, or roughly,
delineated as large blocks, usually in a quite bold, horizontal
pattern follow the model of many Italian Renaissance palazzos.
This fine building, clad entirely in limestone,
has perhaps the best base in the city. It is sinuous. Its very
graceful and subtle arcs of the curves are superbly proportioned
and soften the what would otherwise be the traditionally hard
edges of the building. The vertical curves, which are limited
to the lower three stories, give the otherwise quite formal building
an undeniable and memorable air of graciousness. They are a constant
reminder that too many developers, architects and particularly
building managers are contemptuous of pedestrians and their occasional
need or desire to lean, sit or perch against or on a building
and that curved surfaces are more inviting than spikes, or hard
The use of curves in architecture is fairly
uncommon simply because it is not "industry-standard"
and costs more. The huge popularity of architect Frank Gehry’s
geometric convolutions, such as in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao,
Spain, however, is likely to encourage more usage of curves (see
The City Review article on Gehry).
The rectilinear street grid of most of Manhattan, of course, is
still very influential, almost as much as the city’s building
code and the economic realities of development.
This 17-story, 40-unit building’s has
a canopied entrance with a doorman and a concierge and there is
a pleasant garden court visible from the lobby. The building has
some terraces and few but large apartments, but no garage, not
health club and no sundeck.
The top of the building, which was erected
in 1936 and converted to a cooperative in 1949, has some unusual
windows, reflecting some unusual apartments, although the facade
above the base is quite plain.
Because 72nd is a Central Park transverse road
as well as a major cross-town street, there is considerable traffic
at this location, which is convenient to famous boutiques on Madison
Avenue and many leading art galleries and museums.
Candela is widely considered to have been the
country’s greatest designer of luxury apartment buildings
and he collaborated with many of the city’s most famous architectural
firms. This was his last major project.
Candela’s buildings, "it is said,
were the grandest of the decade that was itself the greatest,"
wrote Hawes in her book.
"He had a respect for privacy and an eye
for significant detail. He was a complete thinker. He added duplicate
water connections to street mains and multiple switches for ceiling
lights as well as beautifully turned staircases and separate wine
cellars. More significantly, he designed buildings from the inside
out. He placed windows where they received light, balanced a room,
or allowed a graceful arrangement of furniture…. Candela
also invested unusual energy in the entry hall. In a typical apartment,
he made it a full-sized room with rich views into the interior
because he thought it was important to greet a visitor with a
full sense of a home…. Candela liked puzzles. During the
Depression, he took up cryptography, and during World War II,
he broke the Japanese code," Hawes wrote.
Born in Sicily, Candela came to the United
States in 1909 and graduated from the Columbia school of architecture
in 1915. His other famous buildings include 834 and 960 Fifth
Avenue, 720, 740, 770, 775 and 778 Park Avenue, all considered
among the most glamorous addresses in the city.