By Carter B. Horsley
One of the city's most exclusive and prestigious
buildings, 720 Park Avenue was designed by Rosario Candela and
Cross & Cross, who also collaborated on the design of One
Sutton Place South, another of the city's grandest residences.
Candela is widely considered to have been the
country’s greatest designer of luxury apartment buildings
and he collaborated with many of the city’s most famous architectural
Cross & Cross is best known for its design
of the former RCA Victor tower on Lexington Avenue at 51st Street
overlooking St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church on Park Avenue.
Candela’s buildings, "it is said,
were the grandest of the decade that was itself the greatest,"
wrote Elizabeth Hawes in her book, "New York, New York, How
The Apartment House Transformed The Life Of The City (1869-1930)",
published by Henry Holt in 1993.
"He had a respect for privacy and an eye
for significant detail. He was a complete thinker. He added duplicate
water connections to street mains and multiple switches for ceiling
lights as well as beautifully turned staircases and separate wine
cellars. More significantly, he designed buildings from the inside
out. He placed windows where they received light, balanced a room,
or allowed a graceful arrangement of furniture…. Candela
also invested unusual energy in the entry hall. In a typical apartment,
he made it a full-sized room with rich views into the interior
because he thought it was important to greet a visitor with a
full sense of a home…. Candela liked puzzles. During the
Depression, he took up cryptography, and during World War II,
he broke the Japanese code," Hawes wrote.
Born in Sicily, Candela came to the United
States in 1909 and graduated from the Columbia school of architecture
in 1915. His other famous buildings include 834 and 960 Fifth
Avenue, 740, 775 and 778 Park Avenue, and 19 East 72nd Street,
all considered among the most glamorous addresses in the city.
Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas
Mellins devote considerable attention to Candela in their book,
"New York 1930, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Two
World Wars," Rizzoli, 1987.
They noted that 720, completed in 1929, and
740 Park Avenue, together with the building at 730 Park Avenue
designed by F. Burrall Hoffman Jr., and Lafayette A. Goldstone,
"brought the avenue's tradition for luxurious high-rise domesticity
to a brilliant crescendo on the eve of the 1929 stock market crash."
They quoted T-Square, an architectural
journal, as commenting upon the completion of 720 Park Avenue
that is was "quite a disturbing pile of architectural motives….It
beings its upward career in an orderly enough fashion, starting
from a prim base and reaching a main cornice at the twelfth story.
However, this altitude is not attained without the interruption
of several band courses which confuse the simplicity of the shaft.
Above this main cornice, the building breaks out into a jumble
of setbacks, stick-outs, bays, battlements, and buttresses. Doubtless
these create numerous amusing roof spaces, but as a design they
are rather incoherent."
Of course, such incoherence may offend architectural
purists, theoreticians and some critics, but delight most New
Yorkers who fancy the curious, are accustomed to chaos and applaud
the individual and eccentric.
The cooperative building was developed by Starrett
Brothers on part of the full-block site that had been previously
occupied by the Presbyterian Hospital. One of the early residents
was Jesse Isidore Straus, head of the giant Macy's department
store, whose two-floor apartment had a 40-foot entrance gallery,
a 36-foot library, separate wine and vegetable closet, a valeting
room, a sewing room and a kitchen larger than most modern living
rooms," according to Andrew Alpern in his book, "Luxury
Apartment Houses of Manhattan, An Illustrated History," (Dover
Publications Inc., 1992).