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A blog from CityRealty (Links below will take you to the 6sqft site)

River House, 435 East 52nd Street

Between First Avenue & FDR Drive

99
Carter Horsley
Review by Carter Horsley
Carter Horsley Carter B. Horsley, a former journalist for The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Post. Mr. Horsley is also the editorial director of CityRealty.com.
 

Arguably the city’s, if not the world’s, finest apartment building, River House at 435 East 52nd Street is the epitome of "swell" living. 

Erected in 1931 when its area still teemed with tenements, it was mocked in the famous and popular 1936 movie, "Dead End" that was Lillian Hellman’s adaptation of Sidney Kingsley’s play. The play and movie, which starred Humphrey Bogart, focus on the not always communal coexistence of the rich in their spectacular tower of luxury and the poor swimming in the adjacent river off the dead-end street. 

That image of startling juxtaposition was not inaccurate as the area had been a slum and river breezes could still waft the stink of the slaughterhouses a few blocks south until they were demolished to make way for the United Nations complex in the 1940’s. 

It was designed by Bottomley, Wagner & White and has 64 apartments. 

Bottom Line

Even bereft of its East River yacht mooring, River House is very dramatic, most grand, alluring and quite overwhelming. Its dead-end location is a sort of reverse snobbery to its more open, more visible, towered cousins on Central Park West. 

For most New Yorkers, it’s the end of the quest. It is ne plus ultra.

Description

The U-shaped plan of the building consists of 14-story wings flanking a 26-story tower on a 200-by-200-foot plot that runs through to 53rd Street. 

River House embodies Hollywood’s preoccupation with palatial luxury in the Art Deco days of the Thirties. If you’re lucky, you’ll think you see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers waltzing in the garden overlooking the river on which the very large lobby looks. The lobby, of course, is entered through the ornately gated and large, landscaped driveway on 52nd Street. 

The building is massive, but the architects modulated it well with many bay windows, limestone trim and dark gray brick and topped it with terraces and a curved finial top.

Although some critics have not been totally awed by the building, perhaps because of its relative lack of decoration, it is a masterpiece of the Art Deco period. It simply reeks with elegance and glamour. 

In his superb guidebook, "Essential New York, A Guide to the History and Architecture of Manhattan’s Important Buildings, Parks and Bridges," (Holt Rinehart Winston, 1979), John Tauranac observes that "Clearly the architects could not make up their minds about the best style for River House, an ambivalence that is manifested in microcosm in the gates." "Ziggurated, molded, Art Deco stanchions topped by stylized eagles flank rococo iron gates, disparate styles that ordinarily clash yet seem to work fine together," Tauranac explained. 

Amenities

Riverhouse has a very large and impressive gated driveway and a very large, see-through lobby with a large concierge station.  

At either end of the lobby are large cloakrooms for residents’ guests who attending the very swank parties being given with great regularity by the illustrious residents. 

There are elevator persons. 

The River House originally had its own dock on the river, but the FDR Drive curtailed that amenity. 

The sedate River Club has its own tennis and squash courts and swimming pool and dining facilities. 

Apartments

It must seem almost criminal not to entertain nightly in such digs. 

The apartments themselves are noble. 

Very large rooms. 

Very fine proportions. 

High ceilings. 

Large windows for great views. 

Wood-burning fireplaces. 

The layouts vary considerably. There are many duplexes and a triplex maisonette. Some apartments, however, are not quite as grand as others. 

Apartment 7C is a one-bedroom unit that has a 18-foot-long entrance gallery that opens onto a 24-foot-long living room next to a 19-foot-long library.  The apartment also has an 18-foot-long dining room, an 18-foot-long kitchen and a 14-foot-long staff room. 

Apartment 7B has a 14-foot-wide entrance gallery that opens on to a 39-foot-long corner living room with wood-burning fireplace that is adjacent to a 17-foot-long dining room next to the 23-foot-long kitchen.  The apartment has four bedrooms and a staff room. 

Apartment 8Z has a 28-foot-long entrance gallery that has two openings into the 28-foot-long living room with wood-burning fireplace that opens to a 21-foot-long library with a large bay window and a 25-foot-long dining room with a large bay window.  The apartment also has a 16-foot-long butler’s pantry, a 16-foot-long kitchen, a 13-foot-long recreation room, a maid’s room, a laundry and four bedrooms. 

Apartment 6A has an 11-foot-wide entry foyer next to a 17-foot-long bar room that opens onto a 29-foot-long living room with wood-burning fireplace next to a 25-foot long library and a 18-foot-long dining room, both with large bay windows facing the East River.  There is also an 18-foot-long sitting room, 15-foot-long pantry, a 16-foot-long kitchen with a 15-foot-long breakfast room, a 60-foot-long corridor, four bedrooms, a laundry and two maids’ rooms. 

Apartment 15C is a two-bedroom unit that has a 15-foot entry foyer  with an 18-foot-square living room with a wood-burning fireplace and a 19-foot-long dining room. 

Apartment 12D has an 18-foot-long entrance gallery that leads to a 22-foot-long living room with a wood-burning fireplace on one side and a 20-foot-long dining room on the other with a 13-foot-long pantry and a 16-foot-long kitchen.  The apartment also has three bedrooms, a 14-foot-long study, a laundry and a maid’s room. 

Apartment 13 G has a 25-foot-wide entrance gallery that leads to a 30-foot living room with a wood-burning fireplace, a 19-foot-long library with a wood-burning fireplace, and a 24-foot-long dining room.  The apartment has two bedrooms, a 17-foot-long pantry, a 15-foot-long kitchen and three staff rooms. 

Penthouse 15B has an 18-foot-wide entrance gallery that opens onto the corner 31-foot-long living room with wood-burning fireplace that is adjacent to the 23-foot-long dining/library next to the 16-foot-long kitchen.  The three-bedroom unit has an 11-foot-square office/staff room and a very large wrap-around terrace. 

Apartment 1E is a duplex with three bedrooms with three large bay windows facing the river and the lower level with a maid’s room. Two of the bedrooms have wood-burning fireplaces.  The main level has an 18-foot-gallery that opens on a 44-foot-long drawing room with a large bay window and a wood-burning fireplace that is next to a 17-foot-long dining room with a large bay window and a wood-burning fireplace next to a 150-foot kitchen.  The main level also has a 25-foot-long entry hall, a 17-foot-long library, and a 19-foot-long curved sitting room.

History

The Georgian Style-inspired design was "a critical milestone in the evolution of the skyscraper apartment house type, synthesizing for the first time the tower and the courtyard palazzo base," according to Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins in their book, "New York 1930, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Two World Wars," 1987, Rizzoli. 

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