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Mira Mar

452 Riverside Drive

Mira Mar

Mira Mar at 452 Riverside Drive
By Carter B. Horsley

This very handsome, 9-story apartment building at 452 Riverside Drive is known as Mira Mar and was erected in 1910.  It has 54 rental apartments.

It was designed by Gaetan Ajello and is a bit south of Grant's Tomb on Riverside Drive and is very convenient to Columbia University and Barnard College.

In his June 11, 2006 "Streetscapes" column in The New York Times, Christopher Gray wrote that "You can find his name carved in cornerstones all over the West Side, where he built dozens of distinctive apartment buildings."

"His first major commissions, in 1909 and 1910, were four buildings for Bernard Crystal, a developer, all in the early Italian Renaissance style, and all north of 116th Street: 452 Riverside Drive (the Mira Mar); 25 Claremont Avenue (the Peter Minuit); and 29-35 Claremont Avenue (Eton Hall and the adjoining Rugby Hall). Featuring richly worked white and cream marble, terra cotta and glazed brick, these early works shimmer like marble quarries in the Mediterranean sun, quite different from the red and earth tones typical of the time.

"In 1912, he connected with two influential clients, the Paterno and Campagna families. Among the most active apartment developers in New York, they ultimately built more than 100 buildings, most of them 12- to 15-story apartment houses. Perhaps the voluptuous modeling of Mr. Crystal's commissions had not sold well, because for these new clients Mr. Ajello developed a more subdued idiom, with simpler neo-Classical overtones in a softer white, sometimes a light gray.

"Several commissions for the Paternos are particularly memorable: In 1911 and 1912 he built the Luxor, the Regnor and the Rexor on three corners on the west side of Broadway, at 115th and 116th Streets, and from 1912 to 1917, he built 885, 895 and 905 West End Avenue, at the corners of 103rd and 104th Streets.

"For the same and other clients Mr. Ajello designed a dozen or so other buildings in the same style, all but one on the West Side. A typical commission, built in 1915, was 575 West End Avenue, at 88th Street.

"During this period Mr. Ajello developed a thoughtful formula for urban living. His entrances are usually framed by large terra-cotta pilasters or a similar feature, often with an escutcheon bearing the initials of the owner. In the lobby, he also tried to shield the elevators from first view, presenting instead a staircase with curved balustrade, reminiscent of a single-family home."

Riverside Drive has no street breaks for a few blocks north of 116th Street and this building would be about where 118th Street might have been.

The building is convenient to public transportation.

An ornate jewel designed by Gaetan Ajello in the very handsome stretch of Riverside Drive between 115th Street and the Riverside Church.

In his fine book on "Morningside Heights," architectural historian Andrew S. Dolkart described the white terracotta facade of 452 Riverside Drive as "flamboyantly vulgar," a surprisingly harsh judgment.

The building has a deep, center lightwell facing Riverside Drive with a two-story rusticated base with arched windows on the first floor and ornate Juliet balconies on the second floor.

There are bandcourses above the second and eighth floors, more Juliet balconies on the fifth floor and highly decorative balconies on the sixth and eighth floors.

The building has a dentilated cornice with a scalloped bottom.

The southern half of the building's front has sidewalk landscaping.

The building permits dogs on a case-by-case basis, but no cats.

The building originally had only about two apartments on each floor, one 9-room and one 10 room.

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