120 East End Avenue

Northwest corner at 85th Street

Block 1582 Lot 23

120 East End Avenue

120 East End Avenue

By Carter B. Horsley

This huge limestone palazzo apartment building was erected by Vincent Astor, who for many years occupied its top floor. It was the third and most luxurious of three large apartment houses developed by Astor in the area. The others are 520 and 530 East 86th Street.

Designed by Charles A. Platt in an understated International Style and overlooking Carl Schurz Park, the 17-story building has large apartments, three to most floors, and five duplex apartments. Since its completion in 1931, it has been one of the premier residential buildings around Carl Schurz Park.

120 East End from ne

View from the northeast

Platt's design was "a preeminent example of his restrained, even dry approach," according to Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins in their book, "New York 1930, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Two World Wars," (Rizzoli, International Publications, Inc., 1988). They noted that the building "troubled" famed architecture critic Lewis Mumford who found it "chaste," adding that "The taste is excellent; the architectural conception, deficient…The virtues of 120 East End Avenue are perhaps real, but they are negative; its vices are positive….it disregards the standards that are now accepted as minimal for the lower income groups….Obviously, the sound doctrine that every house must provide, part of its original cost and equipment, the open spaces needed for amenity and decency has a long way to go, particularly in upper-class housing....Mr. Vincent Astor's standards would not do for the Amalgamated Clothing workers."

In pre-air-conditioned days, of course, such concern for "light and air" was not entirely unjustified, but few today would worry about having a very large apartment with park and water views.

View from the southeast

View from the southeast

The entrance to 120 East End Avenue is on the sidestreet, but a large maisonette unit in the building has its own entrance on the avenue.

The façade is without decoration but fine thin courses, or projecting horizontal elements, add strong accents. The façade is also delicately enlivened by balustrades at the 16th and 17th floors and by a fenestration pattern for the lower 13 floors that has broad windows at the 83rd Street corner and narrow windows in the central portions. The top four floors have a different pattern of mostly broad windows and the narrower avenue frontage is the more attractive because it is symmetrical and not as bland as the sidestreet frontage. The building also has small corner setbacks.

This building, which is also known as 533-543 East 85th Street, has immensity and is an imposing, modern, white castle.

Although the neighborhood is relatively inconvenient for public transportation, its devotees swear by the pleasant park and the celebrated nearby schools such as Brearley and Chapin.

In an article in the April 24, 2008 on-line edition of The New York Observer Max Abelson wrote that Asher B. Edelman told him in an interview about a rumor that he had once been rejected by the building's board at 820 Fifth Avenue that had turned away people such as Steve Wynn and Ron Perelman.

Mr. Edelman told Mr. Abelson that he "never actually made an offer," but offered the following commentary:

“At the time, I was between marriages, it was in the 80s, and I looked at an apartment at 820 Fifth. I knew more or less all the tenants of the building, and the president of the building....So I told him to ask among the tenants, because I didn’t want to ask, whether they thought I would get into the building. And Mrs. Wrightsman, who I knew, she said, ‘You know, I like Asher very, very much, but we just turned down Freddie Koch - Freddie, you know, very out-there gay, and was very out - there gay in those days; it should make no difference to them, but they are who they are - ‘we just turned him down, and we told him that to be in this building you had to be married with a family, or at least married, so if we took Asher in between marriages, it would cause us potentially some problems,
so if he is ready to get married, we’re sure he would get into the building, but if he’s not ready to get married, then we would have to
stay no until he got married.’ It was fine, I understood completely the risk.”

Mr. Abelson's article added that Mr. Edelman "never moved in to 820 Fifth, but he did own Vincent Astor’s old apartment at 120 East End Avenue, long before he got his current townhouse. Is the former raider sorry that his old 10,000-square-foot Astor apartment wasn’t on Park or Fifth Avenue? 'My co-op was 800 times nicer than that,' he said."

For more information about 120 East End Avenue check its entry at CityRealty.com

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