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Keeping Out The Masses, Keeping In The Few


Entrance at the Belnord


One of two entrance gates at the Belnord

By Carter B. Horsley

Gates are intimidating portals usually meant to keep out hoi polloi (the masses) and keep in the pit bulls.

Occasionally, however, they can be grand, befitting hoi oligoi (the few) and in this deluxe era it is not surprising that Manhattan has two new ones.

Quite ornate gates have recently been installed at the two major vaulted entrances on 86th Street to the large courtyard of the Belnord apartment building that occupies the full block bounded by 86th and 87th Streets, Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway.

The new, black, "decorative metal," spiked gates are topped by a large, italic and gilded "B" and have been designed by Page Ayres Cowley Architects. In approving the new gates in August, 2006, the Landmarks Preservation Commission noted that the "form, details and finishes of the gates" and a new security guard booth at the eastern entrance "will relate well to the arched entranceways and their decorative elements." The building was designed by Hiss and Weekes and built in 1909 and is one of the city's most spectacular "courtyard" buildings and boasts a rusticated limestone base.


Putti at the Dorilton

Great putti hover above Dorilton's entrance gate

The Upper West Side has several other very impressive gates on some of its better pre-war apartment buildings. At the Dorilton on West 71st Street at the northeast corner at Broadway it has two gracious putti hoving over its ornate entrance gates.

Inside of Broadway gate at Apthorp


Inside of Broadway gate at Apthorp

At the Apthorp, the fine full-block pre-war apartment building on the southwest corner of Broadway and 79th Street the inside of its Broadway gate sports two heads of horned animal sculptures facing its inner courtyard and barely noticeable from the sidewalk.

The imposing Belnord gates, of course, are not quite as grandiose as those at the Metropolitan Club at 1 East 60th Street, and they are not the city's only impressive new portals.


40 Bond Street

Gates at 40 Bond Street

When renderings were first released by Herzog & de Meuron for their design of 40 Bond Street, jaws dropped across much of Manhattan.

At first glance, the plan was an extremely modern interpretation in green glass of the classic cast-iron facades of the 19th Century that are found in many sections of SoHo, NoHo, and TriBeCa: big rectangular windows deeply set in multi-columned facades.

A closer inspection of the plans, however, indicated that the building's very handsome and impressive protruding thick green glass columns hovered over a set-back, two-story-high base behind a looping white screen that resembled the sun-dried and bleached remains of some vineyard.

The screen, of course, is the famous "Graffiti Gate," and is made out of aluminum in what appears to be a "wild and crazy," random and organic pattern.

Some observers initially thought, wrongly, the screen would be of uniform height, creating a frilly, lacy bottom border to the building's composition. In realty, the graffiti gate crawls upward at regular intervals like ivy stretching its tentacles.

The juxtaposition and contrast of the ordered, elegant, green-glass façade with the sprawling, amorphous dynamic of the gate is intriguing in theory and the aesthetic is strongly reinforced by the incised walls behind the gates and similar motifs in the lobby.

The overall affect is fractalization, which is to say it is optically fascinating and bedeviling.

For those too young to remember the ghastly graffiti attacks that slathered the city in ugliness, 40 Bond Street may seem too antiseptic, too pristine.

Give it time....

23 East 83rd Street

Unusual low gate at 23 East 83rd Street

Some buildings seem to languish in the marketplace for quite some time until they are "spruced up." The lions on the base facade at 23 East 83rd Street recently got cleaned and restored but even more noticeable was a new, low, ornate and curved low cast-iron gate that was something of a new twist on the tall but simple gates that proliferate in the vicinity.


This article appeared in the January 10, 2008 edition of The New York Sun with the pictures of the Dorilton, the Apthorp and 23 East 83rd Street



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