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910 Fifth Avenue

Northeast corner at 72nd Street

910 Fifth Avenue

910 Fifth Avenue

By Carter B. Horsley

The reconstruction of this building was a dramatic example of how insensitive many developers and many civic groups were to contextual architecture in the late 1950s, especially given the importance of very high visibility of this site.

No better indication of changing architectural fashions in New York City exists than this 16-story apartment building that occupies a very prominent site at a major entrance to Central Park.

910 Fifth Avenue entrance

Sidestreet entrance

The original building was erected in 1920 by the Fred F. French Company and designed in Italian-Renaissance-palazzo-style that was quite similar to that used by J. E. R. Carpenter for the building directly across 72nd Street, 907 Fifth Avenue. This building, in fact, was a bit more attractive because it was not as bulky and had more decorative elements on its facade and a very attractive, large, enclosed driveway and curved walkway on 72nd Street.

The French Company was one of the city’s most famous developers and would become best known for its skyscraper office building on Fifth Avenue at 45th Street and Tudor City (see The City Review article).

In 1959, the Pador Realty Corporation stripped away the building’s limestone facade and virtually everything but its steel skeleton, increasing the number of apartments to 49. The rebuilt structure had 16 floors instead of the original 12 and a large, attractive and rather glossy lobby has replaced the driveway. Sylvan Bien and Robert L. Bien were the architects of the rebuilding, which was unfortunate, to say the least. "Its present appearance is unworthy of pictorial documentation," noted Andrew Alpern in his book, "New York’s Fabulous Luxury Apartments With Original Floor Plans from the Dakota, River House, Olympic Tower and Other Great Buildings," (Dover Publications, Inc., 1987), which has an illustration of the original building.

The building, which was converted to a cooperative in 1978, has excellent views and is close to private schools and fashionable Madison Avenue boutiques.

View from Central Park

910 Fifth Avenue, left, view from Central Park

This reconstruction was a travesty and this is the most unattractive building along Museum Mile.

In their excellent book, "New York 1960, Architecture and Urbanism Between the Second World War and the Bicentennial" (The Monacelli Press, 1995, Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman wrote that the design of this apartment house "arguably represented the nadir of the avenue's postwar architecture."

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