By Carter B. Horsley
By the late 1920’s, the era of building
great luxury apartments on Fifth Avenue was beginning to wind
"The designs became more perfunctory,"
noted Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins
in their excellent book, "New York 1930, Architecture and
Urbanism Between The Two World Wars," (Rizzoli International
Publications, Inc., 1987), citing this building, among others,
for "bland and somewhat repetitious" facades, "demonstrating
a shifting of emphasis to the continuity of the avenue’s
wall, as they formed a front to the park." "The individual
apartments," they continued, "became less elaborate
as well, reflecting not only a simplification of living style
but also the fact the very rich increasingly looked on a New York
apartment as a pied-à-terre rather than as a permanent
At 969 Fifth Avenue, a building with a longer
frontage on the sidestreet than on the avenue, the "look"
was down upon one of the city’s most beautiful mansions,
the large, limestone house modeled in 1912 by Horace Trumbauer
after the Hotel Labbatière in Bordeaux, France, for James
B. Duke, the president of the American Tobacco Company. Duke,
who was known as "Buck," lived in this magnificent home
with his only child, Doris, who in 1958 gave it to New York University,
which uses it for its prestigious Institute of Fine Arts, a breeding
ground for museum directors and curators.
A 16-story, dark brown brick building with
a one-story stone base and only 13 apartments, 969 Fifth Avenue
was built in 1924 and converted to a cooperative in 1946.
The building has very attractive window grates
on the first floor but only one of them has brass cross bars and
the others are black.
While the design of this building by Joseph
L. Raimist is uninspired, its location and its few apartments
make it very desirable. One block away from cross-town bus service
and a major entrance to Central Park, it is convenient to the
avenue’s many museums (and the Whitney Museum of American
Art on Madison Avenue at 75th Street) as well as the many fashionable
boutiques of Madison Avenue.