By Carter B. Horsley
With an extremely choice location, very close
to midtown, this 19-story building, which was erected as a cooperative
in 1963 and has only 30 apartments, is one of the more elegant
apartment buildings of its era as its avenue frontage is clad
almost entirely in limestone.
It has a stringcourse above the first floor
that is at the same level as that of the adjoining very fine Italian
Renaissance-palazzo style apartment house at 810 Fifth Avenue
that was designed by J. E. R. Carpenter. The design of 812 Fifth
Avenue by Robert L. Bien also pays some contextual homage to the
other building by creating terraces in the middle of its facade
that begin at the same level as the lower of two stringcourses
at the top of 810 Fifth Avenue. The terraced design is handsome
and symmetrical and culminates in a large watertank enclosure
with a large grill.
This building replaced three townhouses on
the site. "The new apartment house was more dignified than
most of its contemporaries," Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins
and David Fishman noted in their book, "New York 1960, Architecture
And Urbanism Between The Second World War And The Bicentennial,"
(The Monacelli Press, 1995). "Above the thirteenth floor
symmetrically arrayed setbacks created a ‘tower’ partially
clad in the glazed white brick what was becoming such a ubiquitous
feature of the Upper East Side," the authors wrote.
In discussing the adjoining building at 810
Fifth Avenue in his excellent book, "Luxury Apartment Houses
of Manhattan, An Illustrated History," (Dover Publications,
Inc., 1992), Andrew Alpern notes that that building’s original
sales brochure discussed the convenience of nearby subway stations,
a few blocks away.
"Perhaps the combination of bucolic and
urban amenities led Nelson Rockefeller to create a triplex penthouse
in the building for his first wife, Mary Todhunter Clark, and
himself. It was here that he raised his first family, and it was
this apartment he most considered home, despite houses in Westchester
County’s Pocantico Hills and in Venezuela. He liked it so
much, in fact, that he did not move out after his divorce. As
part of the settlement, he kept the lowest floor of the triplex,
while his wife retained the upper two levels and converted them
to a duplex for her own use. To provide for his second wife, Margaretta
Fitler (‘Happy’) Murphy, and her children, Rockefeller
expanded his one floor at 810 by connecting it to a full floor
he purchased in the newly constructed building at 812 next door.
Because of floor-level differences, a half-flight of steps was
needed between the two sections of the sprawling 12,000-square-foot
complex....Sensitive to his first wife, Rockefeller and his second
wife planned their new home so that they could use the 812 Fifth
Avenue entrance, thereby avoiding the possibility of chance encounters
in the elevator of Number 810."
Nelson Rockefeller, of course, was the Governor
of New York State and in 1963 former Vice President Richard Nixon
purchased the fifth-floor apartment at 810 Fifth Avenue, taking
possession not long after Happy and Nelson Rockefeller had moved
into their new home. The two would become major rivals in the
Republican Party and Nixon would eventually move out of the building.
Needless to say, any building good enough for
Nelson Rockefeller, a major art collector as well as politician,
is good enough for most people and this building has fabulous
Central Park views. It has a doorman and a concierge, but no garage
and no balconies.