By Carter B. Horsley
Although the Dorilton has
not always been one of the city's most prestigious residential
addresses, it is one of the most spectacular architecturally.
It is flamboyant, exuberant,
Its boasts the most attractive
entrance gate in the city, one that surpasses that of the Frick
Collection on Fifth Avenue. Two putti gracefully surmount a very
substantial entranceway flanked by very ornate cast-iron fences
all joined by globe-topped columns. The side-street entrance is
particularly impressive because it leads into a courtyard "light-well"
that is bridged at the ninth story by an arch.
The building's Beaux-Arts,
Parisian grandeur abounds: there are balustraded continuous balconies
at the fourth and tenth floors; there are marvelous sculptures
supporting other balconies; the limestone base is finely banded,
the three-story, copper and slate mansard roofs, that once contained
artists' studios, have chateau-style chimneys and pointed roofline
Of course, to some the building's
strong personality was a bit much. In his book, "Historic
Manhattan Apartment Houses," (Dover Publications, Inc., 1996),
Andrew Alpern illustrates the building on his cover and remarks
on the building's "overblown ostentation," quoting a
cynical review by famed critic Montgomery Schuyler in Architectural
Record shortly after the building was completed in 1902:
to drown out everything else," Schuyler maintained, bemoaning
the "detestable spirit that reigns throughout...[and] sets
the sensitive spectator's teeth on edge." Alpern noted that
Schuyler was upset at the "stone balls on the gate posts
of the entrance, two feet in diameter, left there for titans to
roll at ten pins."
Indeed, in his 1979 book,
"The City Observed, New York, A Guide To The Architecture
of Manhattan," (Vintage Books, a division of Random House)
Paul Goldberger wrote that "Now the building seems more to
be pitied than censored, a rather too eager-to-please piece of
Second Empire foppery. Once, some thought that a mansard roof
and a lot of sculpture and cartouches make a building French;
now we know better. Still, it is sad to see this building, for
all its foolishness, in the sorry state of decay it has descended
to, with unsympathetic storefronts along the Broadway side and
a facade that clearly has not been cared for in years."
"It was only with conversion
as a cooperative in 1984 that the depredations of decades began
to be turned along....and with patience, imagination and a large
amount of money, the Dorilton may yet recover its lost outrageous
glory," Alpern wrote.
"The Dorilton's bold
massing dominated Sherman Square....The Dorilton was distinguished
by the astonishing voluptuousness of its details....It was precisely
the intricacy and the burly swagger of the Dorilton which was
the source of its drama and expressed the optimism of the new
century," observed Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin
and John Montague Massengale in their book, "New York 1900,
Metropolitan Architecture and Urbanism 1890-1915," (Rizzoli
International Publications, 1983).
One of the building's early
residents was William Zeckendorf.
The building, which has
no garage, originally had 48 apartments and how has 59. It was
developed by Hamilton M. Weed, and designed by Elisha Harris Janes
and Richard Leopold Leo, who, Alpern noted, designed a somewhat
similar but smaller building, the Alimar, at 925 West End Avenue
a few years earlier.
are the two Brobdingnagian, classically draped maidens serenely
surveying the passing scene from their perch overlooking Broadway
at the balustraded fourth floor. Comparably unusual, along West
71st Street, are the two pairs of near-nude muscular men supporting
(with great effort) iron-railed balconies at the sixth floor,"
Over the years, the Dorilton
was overshadowed by the high visibility of the nearby Ansonia,
the celebrated legends of the Dakota and the skyscraping glories
of the multi-towered apartment buildings of Central Park West.
In their fine book, "The
A.I.A. Guide to New York City Architecture, Fourth Edition,"
(Three Rivers Press, 2000), Elliot Willensky and Norval White
describe the Dorilton as a "cornice-copia" and advised
their readers to "Look up at the frolicking free-standing
Despite decades of neglect,
the Dorilton has survived, thank goodness, a masterpiece of urban
architecture, a lively, enriching edifice that Paris would love