In his March 12, 2006
"Streetscapes" column in The New York Times Christopher Gray noted that
"Not many developers had the courage to build tall in the middle of the
Depression, but Nathaniel Wallenstein put up two at the same time, one
on 88th Street and one at 411 West End Avenue, at 80th Street," adding
that "Together they play a modernistic, long-range duet within a matrix
of 1910's-1920's neighborhoods."
"The 411 West End building
in 1936," the article continued, "the same year that Wallenstein completed 19 East 88th Street,
in a completely different vocabulary and designed by William Dowling.
The Times said that both 411 West End and 19 East 88th were 'hailed by
builders and realty interests as an omen of recovery.' The
project at 88th and Madison had interiors similar to those at 411 West
End Avenue - advertisements for both boasted air-conditioner electrical
outlets - but it also had a noticeably different take on Art Deco.
Unlike 411 West End, which is purely vertical, the 88th Street building
is an unresolved 16-story battle. Horizontal forms of dark- and
light-brick bands tussle with the centrally placed vertical bays of
windows. But there is more to look at here than 411's single
stainless steel. At 19 East 88th Street, the horizontal terrace grilles
on the topmost floors race around the balconies like zipper lights,
their curved corners suggesting streamlined ocean liner design. There
are several patches of patterned brick, like the huge sawtooth-pattern
panels near the top. And, in the rear, there are two flying
which are not used for the sake of the structure - as in supporting the
sidewalls of a medieval cathedral - but to enclose vent or
chases as they go up the outside wall and jump in midair across two
terraced setbacks. 'In 1935, he began
these two much-more-ambitious projects on opposite sides of Central
Park. At 80th and West End, he had the veteran architect George F.
Pelham design a 20-story building, its cream-colored facade relieved by
casement windows, some wrapping around the corners because of newly
developed cantilever construction methods. But what makes pedestrians
pause and look up are the flowing stainless steel bands running across
the top and dripping down the front like a metallic waterfall.
Developers had new ideas about interiors, too, and ads for
411 West End Avenue specifically mentioned sunken living rooms, colored
tile in the bathrooms, Venetian blinds, glass-enclosed tubs
- and 'stall showers in every bathroom,' according to an
advertisement in The New York Times in April 1936. A five-room
apartment had a circular entrance gallery, and there were duplex
apartments with terraces on the setbacks of the building."
"Over the years," the article said, "these two siblings, built as rental apartments, have aged
differently. The facade of the Pelham-designed apartment house
at 411 West End Avenue looks fairly clean, perhaps because of the
scouring winds along Riverside Drive. All of its metal casement windows
have been replaced by modern ones meant to evoke, although not match,
the originals. This effort is quite presentable, but the aluminum of
modern replacements lacks the spiky sharpness of steel. On the other
hand, the co-op specified a creamy vanilla color, sympathetic to the
softly colored brickwork."
"The next project on
which Dowling and Wallenstein collaborated was another apartment house,
at 25 West 54th Street, which was completed in 1939. Like its
precursors, it uses cream-colored brick, but there are no stainless
steel strips, no sawtooth brick, no flying buttresses - it is just a
plain-vanilla box," the article maintained.