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1 Sutton Place South

Block bounded by Sutton Place, FDR Drive and 56th & 57th Streets

1 Sutton Place South

1 Sutton Place South

By Carter B. Horsley

One of the city's grandest luxury apartment houses, 1 Sutton Place South is a freestanding structure overlooking the East River between 56th and 57th Streets.

The 13-story cooperative apartment house has an elegant triple-arched entrance driveway that opens to a lobby that, in turn, opens to its private garden facing the East River.

Passersby on the street can peer through the arches and glimpse the garden, providing a degree of transparency that is quite rare.

The very handsome building, which has Italian Renaissance detailing, was completed in 1927 and was designed by Rosario Candela and Cross & Cross.



Candela is widely considered to have been the country's greatest designer of luxury apartment buildings and he collaborated with many of the city's most famous architectural firms.

Cross & Cross is best known for its design of the former RCA Victor tower on Lexington Avenue at 51st Street overlooking St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church on Park Avenue. Candela also collaborated with Cross & Cross on the design of 720 Park Avenue.

Candela's buildings, "it is said, were the grandest of the decade that was itself the greatest," wrote Elizabeth Hawes in her book, "New York, New York, How The Apartment House Transformed The Life Of The City (1869-1930)", published by Henry Holt in 1993.

"He had a respect for privacy and an eye for significant detail. He was a complete thinker. He added duplicate water connections to street mains and multiple switches for ceiling lights as well as beautifully turned staircases and separate wine cellars. More significantly, he designed buildings from the inside out. He placed windows where they received light, balanced a room, or allowed a graceful arrangement of furniture. Candela also invested unusual energy in the entry hall. In a typical apartment, he made it a full-sized room with rich views into the interior because he thought it was important to greet a visitor with a full sense of a home. Candela liked puzzles. During the Depression, he took up cryptography, and during World War II, he broke the Japanese code," Hawes wrote.

1 Sutton Place South is the finest and most prestigious apartment building on Sutton Place and its only rivals along the East River in terms of grandeur are River House and 1 Beekman Place, a few blocks to the south.

Born in Sicily, Candela came to the United States in 1909 and graduated from the Columbia school of architecture in 1915. His other famous buildings include 834 Fifth Avenue (see The City Review article) and 960 Fifth Avenue (see The City Review article), 720, 740, 775 and 778 Park Avenue, and 19 East 72nd Street (see The City Review article), all considered among the most glamorous addresses in the city.

The building is topped by the penthouse in the city, a 17-room unit that has 5,000 square feet of interior space and 6,000 square feet of terraces that wrap entirely around it. The apartment is notable for having two very large "drawing rooms" with curved bay windows at their north and south end of the building. The spectacular rooms had very tall ceilings, one of which contains a skylight.

The building was built in 1927 by the Phipps family and the penthouse was created originally for Amy Phipps as a duplex. When her son, Winston Guest, the famous polo player and husband of C. Z. Guest, the garden columnist, took the apartment over, the lower floor was subdivided into three separate apartments, one of which was occupied by Bill Blass, the designer. The Guests lived on one side of the penthouse and one of their sons, Alexander, lived on the other side for several years and sold the apartment in 1963 about the time that their daughter, Cornelia Guest, was born.

The apartment was then acquired by Janet Annenberg Hooker, the philanthropist who died in late 1997 and was a sister of Walter Annenberg, the communications magnate and art collector. The legendary apartment was put on the market in early 1998 with an asking price of $15 million, then highest price for an apartment in the city.

Mrs. Hooker had lived formerly at 895 Park Avenue and had purchased a 60-inch dining table from French & Co., and ordered six 24-inch leaves for it. Robert Samuels Sr., the director of the famous antiques store asked why she got the leaves when she had no space. "One day I will," she was said, by her son, to have replied and indeed she used them all to create the 18-foot-long table in the penthouse's 28-foot dining room.

The plot behind 1 Sutton Place is "one of the most contested green spaces in the city, with a nine-year turf war raging between the star-studded East Side co-op and city officials over use of the property," according to an article  by Heather Haddon published in The New York Post December 19, 2010.

"City and state officials accuse the co-op of illegally squatting on a section of the secret gated garden, arguing that a sweetheart deal from the city for exclusive access to the roughly half-acre plot expired more than a decade ago. The high-strung co-op board (which once made the late Bill Blass promise to not have overnight guests) appears to be ready to give up a quarter-acre strip of the garden for a public park, according to those close to the negotiations," the article said.

1 Sutton Place South gardens

1 Sutton Place and its gardens over FDR Drive, left

The article said that Mark Thompson, the chair of Community Board 6, said that "The city has really treaded very gingerly about it, but this is too important to wait,"

"In 1939, the city gave the building exclusive access to the East River waterfront garden for a buck a year, and, in exchange, the co-op gave up a chunk of its land to build the FDR. That deal expired in 1990, and officials started making a stink about it in 2003, when renovations to the FDR brought the ownership issue to light," the article said.

The residents of the building sued the city in 2007 to "to keep their precious urban oasis - or get $10 million in compensation," the article continued, adding that Peter Neger, the co-op's lawyer, said he expects the board to eventually sign off on an agreement" and "a spokeswoman for the city Law Department said they were 'actively trying to resolve the matter.'"

One Sutton Place South, one of New York's most exclusive co-ops, has tried for years to keep the public out of its backyard plot, with its stunning East River views, but city officials expect to reclaim the land shortly, according to an article February 4, 2011 by Amy Zimmer at

City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin told Community Board 6 last month she has already secured $1 million to transform the gated oasis into a public park, the article said.

"There is still one outstanding issue that needs to be hashed out, according to people familiar with the negotiations between the building and various government agencies," the article said, adding that "after that's resolved - which insiders say is likely - it's just a matter of crossing 'T's and dotting 'I's before the new park can be built."  

"'Discussions are ongoing,' Elizabeth Thomas, of the New York City Law Department said of the land deal. 'We remain hopeful that the matter will be resolved amicably.' The co-op's lawyer, Peter Neger, concurred," according to the article.

"The spat over the land," the article continued, "stems back to a complicated deal worked out in 1939 when the city gave the tony building a 50-year lease for the outdoor space for $1 a year in exchange for building the FDR Drive, which the green space now sits atop. No one paid much attention when the lease expired in 1990, but the ownership of the garden attracted scrutiny when the FDR's renovation came up for review in 2003.  A ploy four years ago by state and city agencies to retake roughly half of the land to build a quarter-acre park didn't go over well with residents of the 13-story elite enclave at 57th Street, once home to the likes of socialite C.Z. Guest, fashion designer Bill Blass and actress Sigourney Weaver. Public officials accused the well-heeled co-op of squatting on the open space. The co-op filed a lawsuit to thwart any groundbreaking and sought $10 million in compensation for the property, according to reports."

Community Board 6, which has a dearth of open space and has been working on reclaiming its waterfront, clamored for the land to be transferred to the public. "Community Board 6 fought hard to make sure that this public space was returned to the people of New York," the CB6 Chair Mark Thompson told DNAinfo. "We're proud of the work we've done and look forward to enjoying the new park in a few years."

Lappin, who has been working with the neighborhood on securing the space, also said she looked forward to the day it opens. "This park, while small in size," she said, "is a huge and critical piece of our efforts to build a continuous loop of green space around the island of Manhattan."

A June 19, 2007 article in The New York Times by Charles V. Bagli said that "the owners of an exclusive co-op on Sutton Place South have taken to the barricades, or at least to State Supreme Court in Manhattan, in an attempt to block the city from seizing a swath of their emerald green backyard for a public park.

The owners of the 13-story building at 1 Sutton Place South have long regarded the quiet, grassy oasis, which stretches over Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive and offers strictly private views of the East River, as one of the most compelling amenities in a building where apartments routinely sell for many millions of dollars.

The city and the state notified the co-op in May, 2007 that the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation was about to start construction of a fence and park “on Parks property adjacent to 1 Sutton Place South.”

The residents, including John Fairchild, the retired publisher of Women’s Wear Daily; and Carl H. Tiedemann, the former president of the investment banking firm Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, vowed to defend their piece of Manhattan against all intruders.

The co-op sought to extend the lease before it expired in 1990. Later, the owners took steps to keep the matter from becoming public by requiring prospective buyers to review the legal status of the backyard and sign a strict confidentiality agreement.

The question of ownership came to a head in 2003 when the state’s Department of Transportation began a $147 million rehabilitation of F.D.R. Drive between 54th and 63rd Streets and had to tear up the garden to fix the deck.

For more information on 1 Sutton Place South check its entry at

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