By Carter B. Horsley
The Upper West Side has many
twin-towered residential buildings, but not too many twins.
The pre-war, beige-brick apartment
houses that comprise the east blockfront on Broadway between 82nd
and 83rd Street is the most prominent. The two buildings were
designed by Emery Roth for Sam Minskoff.
In his great book on Emery
Roth, Steve Ruttenbaum provides the following commentary:
"A fever pitch in in the
construction boom was discernible as early as 1923. All over Manhattan,
row houses and tenements were being demolished to make way for
new high-rise buildings. The sounds of construction filled the
air. Few people could deny that Manhattan was being transformed
into a skyscraper city before their very eyes. Builders were so
confident in the city's future that they underestimated the risk
of investing such unprecedented sums in new residential construction.
Even Roth expressed unbridled optimism: 'The construction boom
is on. God only knows when it will stop, and anybody who thinks
they run a high risk because of the tremendous costs is wrong.'
"A growing number of clients
came to Roth because he had established a reputation as a good
architect who knew how to maximize the return on their investments.
One major builder of the period estimated that a good architect
could get as much as 20 percent more return out of a given building
than a mediocre one, with the help of the most efficient arrangement
of elevators and corridors. Two men by the names of Minskoff and
Uris, who were in the process of establishing vast real estate
empires, came to Roth and commissioned him to design scores of
apartment houses and hotels. And his clients of long standing,
like Bing & Bing, continued to call on him, too.
"Sam Minskoff, a Russian-Jewish
immigrant who started in business as a plumber, built his first
apartment house in New York in 1908. From there he expanded his
real estae development firm by building apartment houses, hotels
and commercial structures in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the
Bronx and suburban Westchester County. By the end of his career,
he had erected structures valued at more than $150 million. In
1922, he had erected structures valued at more than $150 million.
In 1922, Minskoff commissioned Roth to design the Myron Arms,
a fourteen-story apartment house located on the northeast corner
of Broadway and Eighty-Second Stret, diagonally across from the
Saxony. The following year, Minskoff had Roth design a twin to
this building, named the Jerome Palace, and together they filled
the entire blockfront on Broadway between Eighty-second and Eighty-third
streets. These two buildings, which were intended to house middle-class
tenants, typify the Italian Renaissance revival apartment house
that Roth repeatedly produced with slight variations all over
the city during the twenties.
"The Myron Arms and the
Jerome Palace are just two of the countless apartment structures
that create the rich masonry fabric that New Yorkers call home.
In and of thyemselves, these two structures are no architecturally
distinguished, but when taken in their urban context, they be
described as quintessential New York 'background buildings' because
they define the cityscape we know so well. Even though we may
not be impressed with the individual importance of such buildlings,
we cannot help but be influenced, if only on a subliminal level,
by their high level of craftsmanship and their lavish use of granite,
limestone, textured brick and terra-cotta ornament. The rusticated
limestone bases of the two Minskoff buildings, the portion of
the structures most readily experienced by pedestrians, contribute
an elegant texture to the streetscape and the classical pilasters
that flank their entrnace doors provide a feeling of ancient grandeur.
The design of the entrance in such buildings was, in fact, a focal
point for the architect's attention because it was here that he
was able to establish in the minds of the tenant and the visitor
a sense of high quality and age-old character.
"The vast brown brick
midsection of these buildings, between the base and the watertower,
impact an impression of great bulk and weight. They are mostly
unarodened, except for terra-cotta spandel panels and a few iron
loggias. The top three floors are divided from the lower portion
by terra-cotta string courses and ornately molded loggias, and
they are embellished with arched windows and pilasters of terra-cotta.
The ornamental program for such buildings was characterized by
restraint and good taste in 'reaction against the earlier ostentation'
of the preceeding decades. As illustrated in a contemporary trade
publication, it was the conventional wisdom of commerical architects
of this era that the facade between the lower floors and the roof
be designed with extreme simplicity, as a saving both in expense
and in architectural character. A style requiring ornate treatment
over an entire facade of such proportions would be tiresome in
the exterme. It is far better to adopt a simple, dignified treatment
and to concentrate the ornamental detail at the entrances and
perhaps in the lower courses of the building, with a repetition
of the motif as a crowning element at the top.
The windows, of course, contributed
significantly to the overall archiectural character of background
buildings like the Mryon Arms and the Jerome Palace. Even though
modern technology made it possible to install windows with large
panes of glass, Roth and his colleagues in the profession opted
to design windows with many small panes. The fenestration of these
two structures originally consisted of a double-hung eight-over-eight
configuation. Window openings, broken up by mullions into many
rectangular sections, provided texture and rhythm to the masonry
walls. They also provided what real estate agents like to call
'Old World charm.' From an interior decorative perspective, they
lent an air of domestic intimacy that could easily be lost in
such densly inhabited buildings. In recent years, many residents
who reside all over the city in buildings similar to the Minskoff
structures have replaced the original windows with insulated picture
windows in an attempt to modernize (or maybe suburbanize) their
homes and conserve energy. Though energy-conservation goals are
laudable, the results are regrettable from an aesthetic standpoint.
Masonry openings filled with modern, plate-glass windows render
the facade flat and without texture or character. They offer little
visual interest to the viewer and, moreover, they detract from
the very substance of the structure. Now it is understandable
why Roth and his colleagues selected multipane windows.
"The moderately proportioned
cornices of the Minskoff buildings reach a height of fourteen
stories....Crowning each of the two buildings above the cornice
line is a stepped-back penthouse floor surmounted by a 'Roth tower.'
The towers' triple-arch openings, inspired by Italian Renaissance
precedents, completed the massive compositions. Despite their height
and bulk, the two buildings are not overbearing. Roth accomplished
this by maintaining the human scale in all elements. it is everywhere
preserved in decorative terra-cotta details, entranceways and
windows. This is, in fact, one of the major attributes of successful
background buildings, of which he produced so many."
The building has about 100 apartments.