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19 East 88th Street

Northwest corner at Madison Avenue

19 East 88th Street viewed from the southeast

By Carter B. Horsley

This handsome building, which was built in 1936, is one of the city's Art Deco masterpieces.

The light gray-brick structure has beige-brick banding that is horizontal in the main body of the building and vertical on its rooftop watertank enclosure.

The impressive, 15-story building was converted to a cooperative in 1972 and has 88 large apartments, many with corner bay windows.

19 East 88th Street from northeast

Building viewed from the northeast

The building has a canopied entrance flanked with tall lanterns highlighted by three-story limestone pilasters. The inner door in the vestibule has an abstract design of angle lines. The building has sidewalk landscaping and handsome, almost Japanese-style metal window grills on the first floor. The building has some terraces and a few dramatic balconies near the top of the building with stainless steel walls, which are quite unusual. It permits protruding air-conditioners.

Sidestreet entrance

Sidestreet entrance

The building is on the same street as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

This is a prime Carnegie Hill location, close to several private schools, many major cultural institutions and several religious institutions.

This is an attractive quiet block. A supermarket is a block away and there are several nice restaurants along Madison Avenue a few blocks to the north. There is excellent cross-town bus service at 86th Street.

Building has corner windows

Building has corner windows and handsome second-floor limestone medallions

The building has no garage, no health club and no sundeck.

In his March 12, 2006 "Streetscapes" column in The New York Times Christopher Gray noted that "Not many developers had the courage to build tall in the middle of the Depression, but Nathaniel Wallenstein put up two at the same time, one on 88th Street and one at 411 West End Avenue, at 80th Street," adding that "Together they play a modernistic, long-range duet within a matrix of 1910's-1920's neighborhoods."

"The 411 West End building opened in 1936," the article continued, "the same year that Wallenstein completed 19 East 88th Street, in a completely different vocabulary and designed by William Dowling. The Times said that both 411 West End and 19 East 88th were 'hailed by builders and realty interests as an omen of recovery.' The Wallenstein project at 88th and Madison had interiors similar to those at 411 West End Avenue - advertisements for both boasted air-conditioner electrical outlets - but it also had a noticeably different take on Art Deco. Unlike 411 West End, which is purely vertical, the 88th Street building is an unresolved 16-story battle. Horizontal forms of dark- and light-brick bands tussle with the centrally placed vertical bays of windows. But there is more to look at here than 411's single trick in stainless steel. At 19 East 88th Street, the horizontal terrace grilles on the topmost floors race around the balconies like zipper lights, their curved corners suggesting streamlined ocean liner design. There are several patches of patterned brick, like the huge sawtooth-pattern panels near the top. And, in the rear, there are two flying buttresses, which are not used for the sake of the structure - as in supporting the sidewalls of a medieval cathedral - but to enclose vent or plumbing chases as they go up the outside wall and jump in midair across two terraced setbacks. 'In 1935, he began these two much-more-ambitious projects on opposite sides of Central Park. At 80th and West End, he had the veteran architect George F. Pelham design a 20-story building, its cream-colored facade relieved by casement windows, some wrapping around the corners because of newly developed cantilever construction methods. But what makes pedestrians pause and look up are the flowing stainless steel bands running across the top and dripping down the front like a metallic waterfall.  Developers had new ideas about interiors, too, and ads for 411 West End Avenue specifically mentioned sunken living rooms, colored tile in the bathrooms, Venetian blinds, glass-enclosed tubs - and 'stall showers in every bathroom,' according to an advertisement in The New York Times in April 1936. A five-room apartment had a circular entrance gallery, and there were duplex apartments with terraces on the setbacks of the building."

"Over the years," the article said, "these two siblings, built as rental apartments, have aged differently. The facade of the Pelham-designed apartment house at 411 West End Avenue looks fairly clean, perhaps because of the scouring winds along Riverside Drive. All of its metal casement windows have been replaced by modern ones meant to evoke, although not match, the originals. This effort is quite presentable, but the aluminum of modern replacements lacks the spiky sharpness of steel. On the other hand, the co-op specified a creamy vanilla color, sympathetic to the softly colored brickwork."

"At 19 East 88th Street," Mr. Gray wrote, "most of the casement windows are intact. Julian Berkeley, the managing agent, said that although the co-op has suggested replacements, 'people just love those windows' and most have kept them. The Landmarks Preservation Commission's Carnegie Hill Historic District of 1993 excludes 19 East 88th Street, but includes many other apartment houses in the area. Indeed the bulk of the district's Fifth Avenue frontage is made up of apartment houses. The district map shows a distinct notch omitting 19 East 88th. The building at 19 East 88th Street is now undergoing major repairs to its facade, and workers, with rigging and ladders all over the building, lend a certain interest, like Navy crews repairing a battle-damaged aircraft carrier. In this case, landmark designation would have brought some benefits, at least for passers-by, because in several previous repair campaigns many of the joints have been pointed with bright white mortar, and some brick patches are way off in color."

"The next project on which Dowling and Wallenstein collaborated was another apartment house, at 25 West 54th Street, which was completed in 1939. Like its precursors, it uses cream-colored brick, but there are no stainless steel strips, no sawtooth brick, no flying buttresses - it is just a plain-vanilla box," the article maintained.

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