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863 Park Avenue

Northeast corner at 77th Street

Sidestreet entrance to 863 Park Avenue

Sidestreet entrance to 863 Park Avenue

By Carter B. Horsley

This handsome apartment building was erected in 1908 by William J. Taylor who also built 925 Park Avenue and the two buildings, which have multi-level units, "are the oldest luxury apartment buildings to survive on Park," Christopher Gray wrote in the July 12, 1998 "Streetscapes" article in The New York Times when the building installed new windows.

Mr. Taylor had filed plans earlier the same year for another luxury apartment at 925 Park Avenue at 80th Street and according to Christopher Gray of The New York Times they are the two earliest such surviving properties on the avenue.

Mr. Taylor, who also built 563, 823 and 829 Park Avenue, along with 140 West 57th Street and 130 East 67th Street, told The Real Estate Record & Guide, according to Mr. Gray, that ''we do not promote schemes'' but rather only help out ''when a few friends get together,'' like helping in the organizing of a private club.

863 Park Avenue

863 Park Avenue, photo taken before Lenox Hill Hospital replaced its pink facade across 77th Street

The building was designed by Pollard & Steinham and Mr. Gray characterized it as "chaste and classical, with columns flanking the doorway and buff brick walls frame by a limestone base and top."

"By the early teen years of this century," Christopher Gray wrote, "professional developers spotted the moneymaking possibilities in building for profit instead of out of friendship and the club-type apartment houses were soon superseded by more conventional projects. These later buildings were often more efficiently planned and, after the long siege of Depression struggles, it was usually the older co-ops that went into foreclosure, as did 863 Park Avenue in 1940. Most of the duplexes were divided at that time, but the building was reconverted to a co-op in the 1950's."

Many of the original units were multi-level and the building is unusual in that its Park Avenue facade has many bricked-up windows.

The building has a moat on the 77th Street where the elevation falls considerably from west to east. It has a nice rusticated base and cornice and an impressive five-step-up entrance to leads to a lobby with a two-step-up elevator level.

It is directly across 77th Street from Lenox Hill Hospital that in the early part of the 21st Century changed the facade of its north building on Park Avenue from pink to blue-green.

Mr. Gray noted that the new windows were "handsome, with muntins patterned after the originals and buff color," but added that "they also have the new, manufactured character that is out of synch with the observable age of the building, and the glass has that ghostly reflectivity that comes with modern double-glazing."

Mr. Gray responded to a query from Sylvia Steinbrock about the building's many bricked-out windows on the Park Avenue side because she could not "believe that these were actually windows that were later obliterated, nor can I believe the architect originally designed the building this way."

Mr. Gray wrote that "In designing 863 Park Avenue in 1907, the architects Pollard & Steinam chose to establish a regular, evenly spaced grid of windows - or blind windows - over the entire facade. The building was split between large duplex units on the Park Avenue side and smaller simplex units on 77th Street. The simplex units - with smaller rooms - required a fairly close spacing of windows, and this pattern was extended to the duplex section. Where there is a single blind opening on Park Avenue, it is a bedroom floor, and where there is a pair of blind openings, they cover the fireplace on an entertaining floor. The top floor, with four blind openings, marks a specially designed apartment. A regular pattern of fenestration was a fairly strong convention at this time. Although some buildings like 131 Riverside Drive (Neville & Bagge, 1910) defied it, most others observed it, like 535 Park Avenue (Herbert Lucas, 1911). By the 1920's, there was a freer approach and most architects were unworried by asymmetrical fenestration, as at 770 Park Avenue (Rosario Candela, 1930)."

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