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720 Park Avenue

Northwest corner at 70th Street

720 Park Avenue

720 Park Avenue is red-brick building on the left

By Carter B. Horsley

One of the city's most exclusive and prestigious buildings, 720 Park Avenue was designed by Rosario Candela and Cross & Cross, who also collaborated on the design of One Sutton Place South, another of the city's grandest residences.

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.

Cross & Cross is best known for its design of the former RCA Victor tower on Lexington Avenue at 51st Street overlooking St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church on Park Avenue.

720 Park Avenue entrance

Candela’s buildings, "it is said, were the grandest of the decade that was itself the greatest," wrote Elizabeth Hawes in her book, "New York, New York, How The Apartment House Transformed The Life Of The City (1869-1930)", published by Henry Holt in 1993.

"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.

Base of 720 Park Avenue

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, 740, 775 and 778 Park Avenue, and 19 East 72nd Street, all considered among the most glamorous addresses in the city.

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.

They noted that 720, completed in 1929, and 740 Park Avenue, together with the building at 730 Park Avenue designed by F. Burrall Hoffman Jr., and Lafayette A. Goldstone, "brought the avenue's tradition for luxurious high-rise domesticity to a brilliant crescendo on the eve of the 1929 stock market crash."

They quoted T-Square, an architectural journal, as commenting upon the completion of 720 Park Avenue that is was "quite a disturbing pile of architectural motives….It beings its upward career in an orderly enough fashion, starting from a prim base and reaching a main cornice at the twelfth story. However, this altitude is not attained without the interruption of several band courses which confuse the simplicity of the shaft. Above this main cornice, the building breaks out into a jumble of setbacks, stick-outs, bays, battlements, and buttresses. Doubtless these create numerous amusing roof spaces, but as a design they are rather incoherent."

Of course, such incoherence may offend architectural purists, theoreticians and some critics, but delight most New Yorkers who fancy the curious, are accustomed to chaos and applaud the individual and eccentric.

The cooperative building was developed by Starrett Brothers on part of the full-block site that had been previously occupied by the Presbyterian Hospital. One of the early residents was Jesse Isidore Straus, head of the giant Macy's department store, whose two-floor apartment had a 40-foot entrance gallery, a 36-foot library, separate wine and vegetable closet, a valeting room, a sewing room and a kitchen larger than most modern living rooms," according to Andrew Alpern in his book, "Luxury Apartment Houses of Manhattan, An Illustrated History," (Dover Publications Inc., 1992).

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