Neville & Bagge, ca. 1903, 538 Riverside Drive at the corner of West 135th Street. St. Francis Court apartment house.
In the vaulted, marble piered entrance of the Panmure Arms Apartments at 593 Riverside Drive arched 'looking-glasses' once reflected opposing windows.
William Wells Bosworth, ca. 1900, Riverside Drive West 139th to 140th Streets. Convent of St. Regis Cenacle.
A benefaction of Broadway star Maude Adams the neo-Gothic Convent of St. Regis Cenacle, offered retreats 'in the upper room', to harassed ladies in a bucolic setting. It was replaced between 1962 and 1964, by the twin 24-storey River View Towers.
A State-subsidized housing project for Middle income tenants the modernist River View Towers high-rises were designed by Kelly Gruzen, with Irving Teich as associate architect.
Even with origional elements, such as balconies missing, some Riverside Drive apartment houses, finely designed, but poorly maintained, still manage to impress the passerby. Quietly detailed, Schwartz & Gross' 640 and 644 Riverside Drive, from 1913 are two conspicuous examples of this problem.
Schwartz & Gross' 640 and 644 Riverside Drive, both boast top-lit double-height vaulted lobbies. If the origional stained glass skylights are sadly lost the bright lobbies are still welcoming.
With advancing appreciation of the practicality of apartment living, the six-storey apartments of the 1890's and early 1900's, by 1910 gave way to buildings twice as high.
Denuded of its broad copper cornice and bracketed balconies, the Italian Renaissance-style Deerfield retains a marble paneled foyer.
Built and designed by whites, intended to be inhabited by whites, by the late 1940's the Deerfield was owned by Dr. Charles N. Ford, an African American dentist. Ford was one of a select group of black Americans out to invalidate James Weldon Johnson's stark warning. In his ground-breaking book, Black Manhattan, Johnson worried that New black Yorkers would continue to be pushed out of neighborhoods without property ownership. Even as property investors, he speculated that the value of Harlem real estate might grow to such an extent that blacks might still be pushed out.
Augustine Austin, boxing champion Harry Willis and Eugene Ramsey were other African American landlords in West Harlem. At around the same time that Dr. Ford bought the Deerfield, Mr. Ramsey, a Jamaica native, acquired the Beaumont at 730 Riverside Drive .
Leading to a cul-de-sac turn-a-round, the 145th Street archway under Riverside Drive was meant to access a projected elevated extension of Eleventh Avenue.
Accented by concrete tiles, varied bonds of complex tapestry brickwork provide subtle distinction in this modest offering by Candela. Here, even the common brick side-elevation is laid in an English bond.
Rosario Candela, 1923, 680 Riverside Drive.
Almost nothing is known about either Thomas P. Neville or his partner George A. Bagge. Convenient to the uptown neighborhoods where construction was booming, they had established an architectural office by 1892 on West 125th Street in Harlem. Both hailing from first generation Irish immigrant families, theirs was the most prolific firm focused on apartment house design active at the turn of the 20thcentury. In 1924 Bagge’s son joined the firm, which as George Bagge & Sons practiced until 1936. Enthusing about the architects productive practice, Christopher Gray wrote:
“…unlike many of their colleagues, [Neville & Bagge] were able to evolve into an apartment-house firm when row-house production dwindled. Their firm didn't last much past 1920, but in the early 1900's they churned out designs of very limited variety at an astonishing rate. In their peak year, 1909, they filed plans for 57 projects just in Manhattan. Neville & Bagge's bay-windowed facade for El Nido [1901, at the northwest corner of St. Nicholas Avenue and West 116th Street] is seen on many rectilinear buildings. But on the angled corner site the commonplace blossomed into the wonderful.”
Emery Roth, born Imre Róth in 1871 in Galszecs, Hungary, which is now Slovakia was perhaps the most gifted and inventive architect of speculative apartments at work 100 years ago. He had emigrated to the United States at the age of thirteen, arriving in Chicago with no money and having lost the address of the relative he was to stay with. Diligent, creative and a brilliant draftsman, Roth, unusually for one of his humble circumstances and rudimentary education, began his architectural apprenticeship as a draftsman for a firm with national renown. Burnham & Root’s innovatory Chicago offices were working on the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 when Roth happened along. His meticulously detailed drawings and delicate watercolor renderings served him well. When John Wellborn Root unexpectedly died in 1891 this well developed facility made Richard Morris Hunt all too happy to snap the young designer up and he quickly invited Roth to work in his office in New York. Soon enough Hunt also died, in 1895. Had Roth already met elegant Ogden Codman, Jr., when both he and Hunt were working on Cornelius Vanderbilt’s ornate seaside house, the Breakers at Newport? At any rate, it was to Codman’s small office, with its select clientele, to which Roth moved next.
Codman’s rich patrons were among the nation’s most discerning. The largely self-taught taste-maker, possessed of a small income, impeccable antecedents and tastes, but alas he could not draw. Unsigned, it seems likely that the glowing perspective presentation drawings produced by Codman’s firm while Roth worked there, such as room schemes made for the Harold Brown House in Newport might be credited to the young draftsman? Establishing his own office in 1898, Roth’s first great opportunity came in 1903, when he was employed by Leo and Alexander Bing, then New York's leading property developers. Open to a wide variety of design influences, whether stone or terra cotta, Emory Roth assiduously avoided stock ornament. How did he manage to devise custom-made unconventional decorations and adhere to his clients budgetary limitations?
Emory Roth, 1920, 149th Street, Temple B’nai Israel.
Progress, or perversity?
Among his several synagogue buildings Emory Roth’s neo-Classical Temple B’nai Israel of 1923, which stood on West 149th between Broadway and Riverside Drive, must rank as a masterpiece. Brilliantly detailed to include beautiful representations of sacred iconography, including carvings of citrons, menorahs and an unfurled torah scroll, replete with bell bedecked finials, the limestone edifice's great square copper dome also displayed heroic-sized masks of the fierce Lion of Judah. Reminiscent of Hunt's Columbian Exposition Administration Buinding the dramatic copper-clad dome presented an imposing presence on the narrow side-street, enabling the building to visually compete with the density and scale of surrounding apartments. As at St. Peter's in Rome, internally the high dome required to establish a landmark, was expressed as a far shallower structure. Sky-lit, the saucer dome inside is proportioned in accord with a noble auditorium that seemed as grand as one might hope. Molded plaster work ornamented the dome and polychrome glass mosaics embellished the ark sanctuary.
Large enough to contained a school, with a gymnasium and swimming pool, Temple B’nai Israel was established by upper middle class Jews in the area, who, while the edifice was being built, worshiped temporarily nearby in the ballroom of the Hamilton Theatre.
Later serving two separate African American Christian congregations, its steel-framed roof, stripped of copper, the debased building was unceremoniously demolished. In a move that’s becoming commonplace, the small congregation was given a ground-floor space in a large condominium apartment building built to entirely cover the through-block site.
Emory Roth, 1912 Riverside Drive at 148th Street, the Picken Court Apartments.
An engineer, F. Stuart Williamson designed Riverside Park's handsome architectural enrichment, including the now waterless cascade at 147th Street and this Chateauesque tool shed which still survives.
Blum & Blum, the forgotten architectural partnership of brothers George Blum (1879–1928) and Edward Blum (1876–1944), is different from the apartment-house specialists discussed so far. Unlike Rosario Candela, theirs was not a practice devoted to housing the richest of the rich. Neither despite being immigrants and Jewish, were they handicapped by an education that was less rigorous or respected than the training accorded the elite of the architectural world. Spending their childhood in France before moving to New York in 1888 both studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
Blum & Blum, 1912, Riverside Drive at the north-east corner of 149th Street, the Andrew Jackson Apartments. Both the rooftop's pergolas and the ground floor's arcade have been lost.
That even Blum & Blum's fire-escape railings were elegantly individualized is clear when contrasting surviving origionals with standard fire-escapes later added to the Andrew Jackson.
The Andrew Jackson's generous ground-floor arched windows have been sadly reduced.
Typical of other apartment buildings by Blum & Blum, the Andrew Jackson's facade is studded with art-tiles. Depicting Cardinals, the most delightful examples here were manufactured by the Mercer Tile Works.
Moreover, unlike most contemporary American architects, they appreciated French architectural innovations more dynamic than anything studied at the Beaux-Arts. This surely accounts for their novel use of materials and the distinctive vocabulary with which they embellished their imaginative work. With Emory Roth they are unmatched as designers who consistently transformed what might well have been ordinary structures into someplace that was wonderful. Also like Roth, in utilizing inexpensive tiles and complex brick work, they specified costly custom carving, terra cotta, iron work and plaster work. Most auspiciously, they compare to Roth as master managers. Although they too required expensive ornamentation, they insisted on high quality without exceeding their patron's budget. How did they manage it?
The Blum brother's Beaumont, at 730 Riverside Drive, completed in 1912, is their most lyrical work.
The beautiful Beaumont.
In addition to colored tiles, the Beaumont's lively facade is charmingly embedded with rondels of terra-cotta parrots and owls supplied by the Federal Terra-Cotta Co.
At the Beaumont, Blum & Blum's ironwork was also a custom design.
Stylized leaves were among the Blums' innovative vocabulary of decoration.
Conventional motifs made cheaply from colored concrete, decorating the Beaumont's neighboring apartment on the south-east corner of 150th Street, help to illustrate the exceptional quality of Blum & Blum's ornamentation nearby.
A meander of pomegranates ornament each Beaumont entry.
Richard Harding Davis, above, his second wife, Bessie McCoy Davis, an actress and Vaudeville performer and their daughter Hope. Wed in 1912, in addition to their city apartment at 730 Riverside Drive, the Davis' had a country house at Mount Kisco, New York, Crossroads Farm.
In the 1920's actress and famed acting coach, Stella Adler, was another well-known early Beaumont resident.
Ann Dobson, a 6o year resident of the Beaumont, Mrs Dobson led the effort to create the Ralph Ellison memorial statue, Invisible Man.
Ca. 1963 Fanny and Ralph Ellison.
In 1998, adopting an effort started by Carolyn Kent and the Parks Committee of Community Board 9, the Ralph Ellison Memorial Committee, led by Ann E. Dobson, was established to plan a memorial celebrating Ralph Ellison’s legacy in the neighborhood he loved. Asked where he lived by McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee, Ellison responded, that his neighborhood had once been considered a part of Washington Heights, "But today I guess that everywhere that Negroes live uptown is considered to be a part of Harlem..."
Invisible Man by Elizabeth Catlett.
Ca. 1915: The Switzerland and the Onodaqa Apartments. At the time of Thaddeus Wilkerson's photograph the young Adolph Zucker of later Hollywood fame lived at the Switzerland.
By 1980 Riverside Park had lost its temple-form look-out at 151st Street.
Ms.Catlett's insightful work is yet the latest artistic effort to adorn Riverside Park. From its inception, in 1902, it was deemed advisable and probable that the Hudson River-Pennsylvania Railroad should be covered-over with a promenade. Several schemes were produced in the decades preceeding the Great Depression, when Robert Moses finally decided to cover the unsightly and dangerous tracks. Unfortunately, determining that, once a desirable, solidly middle-class community, Riverside Drive, between 125th and 158th Streets, was, for the foreseeable future, hopelessly lost to "Negroes", Moses declined to cover the traintracks in this 'benighted' half of the park.
Neglected and prey to vandals, it's no surprise that the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission similarly refused to consider this section for recognition when they designated Riverside Park a landscape landmark. Indeed, by the 1990s, the unprotected City Beautiful masterpiece, blighted by open tracks, was determined to be an ideal spot to relocate a sewage treatment plant, originally proposed for 72nd Street on the waterfront. People who lived nearby had been outraged by the idea. No one who didn't live Uptown, saw any problem with marring an unlandmarked park. To make the sewage processing plant less objectionable, it was covered-over by the new Riverbank State Park. As for the railroad? The tracks remain exposed.
Thanks to the City Beautiful Movement underway at the start of the last century, Parks Department engineer, F. Stuart Williamson had sought to endow Olmstead Brothers' Riverside Park landscape with the dignity of heroically handsome civic architecture. Public pride found expression in the articulation of an artificial wilderness with robustly rusticated ramparts, stairs, outlooks and pavilions. The neo-Classical detailing of this formal enframemement maximized the dramatic confrontation of architecture and nature. Somewhat marred by being over-lain by a massive sewage treatment plant, viewed from the West Side Highway or New Jersey, Williamson’s Piranesi-like loggia, ballustraded walls and curving flights still evoke a scene by Claude Lorraine or Hubert Robert.
Colossally scaled, ironically, Riverside Park's architectural setting was meant mostly to answer rather prosaic requirements. Yes, lighted by occuli, bowed ramparts, skirted by unfurled flights and surmounted by Roman temple-like lookouts, were meant in part to frame important vistas across the Hudson. Basically however, they functioned as storage and tool houses. Meanwhile, the gloriously grand loggia, was a mere shelter leading to a pair of wash rooms.
More remarkable than any architectural embellishments in the landmarked section of the park, those in the north are mostly neglected, with some elements even mutilated. Skillfully made from contrasted tooled and rock-faced pink Midford granite, now partly hidden, they are real treasures. Yet, except among certain joggers, residents walking their dogs and commuters these architectural riches are all-but unknown.
This obelisk was once a lamp standard.
The Baroque gandeur that was Riverside Park!
Images courtesy of Carolyn C. Kent, Ronald Mack, the Museum of the City of New York, the New York Public Library and the blogger.