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London Terrace Towers, 410 West 24th Street: Review and Ratings

between Ninth Avenue & Tenth Avenue View Full Building Profile

Carter Horsley
Review of 410 West 24th Street by Carter Horsley

A famous row on 23rd Street of four-story townhouses with large front gardens known as London Terrace and a similar row of two-story townhouses on 24th Street known as Chelsea Cottages, both designed by Alexander Jackson Davis in 1845, were demolished to make way for this gargantuan, 1,670-unit, full-block apartment project, which was completed in 1930.

The history of the site is wonderfully described in a well-illustrated chapter in Andrew Alpern's superb book, "Luxury Apartment Houses of Manhattan An Illustrated History" (Dover Publications, 1992).

Captain Thomas Clarke bought part of the Somerindyke farm in 1750 and named it Chelsea after part of London in his native England and built a "snug harbor" that he called Chelsea House, Alpern relates.

The building was destroyed in a fire in 1776 but the property stayed with his family and the house was rebuilt by his widow. Their daughter, Charity, inherited it and "added it to the holdings of her husband, Benjamin Moore, the Episcopal bishop of New York and president of Columbia College and in 1813 they ceded it to their son, Clement Clarke Moore, who wrote the poem that begins "'Twas the Night before Christmas."

Moore joined with James N. Wells, a local real estate broker, to develop the block with wood-framed, two-story houses on 24th Street for "working people" and 36 "grand brownstone row houses, all set well back from the pavement behind hedges and trees. "Each dwelling was designed in the popular Greek Revival style, creating a uniform vista of three-storied pilasters and recessed spandrels with Greek key carving." The 23rd Street row was called London Terrace.

Moore died in 1863 but Alpern wrote that his estate was not settled until 1907, a year of financial panic that marked "the beginning of the original London Terrace's decline" and soon many of the townhouses were subdivided into rooming houses and apartments and some were "thrown together as institutions."

The block was acquired by developer Henry Mandel and, "pleased with the round-arched and highly ornamental Tuscan style he had used repeatedly before," according to Alpern, he instructed his architects, Victor Farrar and Richard Warmough to design 12 buildings of 16 stories each and a cross-shaped tower, about twice as tall along Ninth Avenue.

That design, however, was modified, perhaps because of the Depression, and the Ninth Avenue tower was eliminated and the new design called for ten midblock buildings and four corner buildings a few stories taller, all connected. The midblock buildings were completed in 1930 and the corner buildings the following year.

The long courtyard was foreshortened for a large swimming pool pavilion at Tenth Avenue and a large restaurant at Ninth Avenue.

"With more than 4000 residential rooms, the density was vastly more than the worst slums of Calcutta," Alpern noted.

In addition to the courtyard and swimming pool, the project boasted a supervised rooftop children's play area, an equipped gymnasium, a penthouse recreational club, a sun deck, a rooftop deck along Tenth Avenue overlooking the river that was designed in an oceanliner style, "page boys for delivering messages within the complex or running nearby errands; a telephone message receiving service that would bring the message slips the apartments; and a mail and package room that would deliver to the apartments on call," Alpern wrote.

While one cannot describe the new London Terrace as stately or elegant, it is imposing. Indeed, it is the most monumental residential structure in Chelsea and one of the largest such full-block complexes in the world.

There are gardens between the two slabs of this "courtyard" development, the last of its kind prior to the new housing code.

Megastructures like this were briefly popular with planners in the 1960's, but fell out of favor as housing activists argued for smaller, more humane, less monolithic projects.

Paul Goldberger notes, in his book, "The City Observed New York A Guide To The Architecture And History Of Manhattan" (Vintage Books, 1979), that this project makes "a great wall across Chelsea."

"One thing like this is acceptable in each part of town: two can destroy a neighborhood, as happened in the East Sixties after other buildings set out to imitate Manhattan House, itself a postwar version of London Terrace. Happily there is only one London Terrace in Chelsea, and thus the effect of the monster is not so disturbing as it might be - although it is obviously far worse on the dark north side of the complex than it is on the sunny south side. And any monster with Romanesque details and decent apartments is not, by definition, quite so much of a monster. Imagine London Terrace's bulk in raw concrete or unrelieved red brick, and the complex as it now stands seems far more palatable."

Built at the start of the Depression, the development did not spur any significant redevelopment of the Chelsea neighborhood, which fell into a decline until the 1980's when it became to experience a major renaissance as a desirable residential community.

In their great book, "New York 1930, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Two World Wars," Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins, remarked that "While the skyscraper apartment was the most spectacular and visible housing innovation of the interwar years, the courtyard apartment - the single most impressive tuype of apartment house of the Metropolitan Era - continued to function as the period's most enlightened solution to the problem of high-density, large-scale development."

"Regrettably," they continued, "the quality of courtyard apartment houses declined after World war I as increased construction costs resulted in designs that were schematic and stripped down by comparison with the boldly scale ad richly ornamented monumental buildings of the preceding years."

"At the end of the 1920s," they said, "the pressure to shoehorn more people into each acre and the provisions of the Multiple Dwelling Law, which by permitting interior bathrooms made such close-packing easier, resulted in yet taller courtyard apartment houses with courtyard walls so high was to raise serious questions about the continued viability of the type. Farrar & Watmaugh's London Terrace of 1929, occupying a full block between Ninth and Tenth Avenues at Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth streets, was a colossally scaled complex of fourteen continuous buildings containing 1,670 apartments in all. The last courtyard apartment to be built before the enactment of the Multiple Dwelling Law, London Terrace was unprecedented dense, its clifflike mass rising sixteen stories from the street and interior courtyard with no setback. Small gardens buffered the buildings along Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth streets, in part a means of complying with zoning restrictions, and in part a rather feeble homage to the gardens of the Green- Revival-style London Terrace townhouse development, which was torn down to make way for the new apartment building. Breaking with he traditional courtyard apartment, the London Terrace's narrow and very long courtyard did not function as a cour d'honeur - the individual buildings were entered directly from the street, and ground floor shops were located along the avenues. In many ways the London Terrace qualified as a city-within-a-city. An oasis for its residents, incorporated not only shops and housekeeping services, but also recreation facilities that including Manhattan's largest swimming pool and a rooftop clubhouse, complete with a Marine Roof set up lie the deck of a transAtlantic liner. Three restaurants served the complex, the most elegant of which overlooked the garden court. A separate garage was built a block away."

Several houses on the site had served as home to the New School for Social Research that subsequently moved to West 12th Street.

The four corner buildings are known as London Terrace Towers and they are cooperatives with about 178 apartments each. They were converted to cooperatives in 1986. The middle ten buildings are known as London Terrace Gardens and they are rentals.

The corner buildings are 410 and 470 West 24th Street and 405 and 465 West 23nd Street.

The complex is close to the High Line Park, and the many art galleries in the West Chelsea area and the Chelsea Piers are a few blocks away to the west.

410 West 24th Street has a 24-hour concierge, a doorman, a roof deck, storage, garden, an indoor basketball court and a billiards room as well as a fitness center, a bicycle room and a live-in super.

In the 1967 edition of "The A.I.A. Guide to New York City," Norval White and Eliot Willensky wrote of London Terrace that "This vast buff brick pile, in protomodern planar style with faintly Gothic verticality, is actually two rows of connected apartment buildings flanking a block-long private garden. All in all, it contains 1670 units, with swimming pool, solarium, and shops and banks on the avenue fronts. The name comes from a row of four-story houses that once stretched along the same 23rd Street frontages, facing the 18th Century [Clement] Clarke mansion. When the present complex was new, doorman were dressed as London 'bobbies,' as a play on the name"

The Roof Garden/Sun Deck is located at 470 West 24th Street. It features some of the best views in NYC, and lounge chairs are available. The roof deck is open from April 1st until November 30th at the following times: April and May 9:00AM to 8:00PM; June, July, August and September 8:00AM to 9:00PM; October and November 9:00AM to 5:00PM. Each resident is permitted to bring two guests with them when visiting the roof. A valid London Terrace Towers ID card is necessary in order to gain access. Roof deck hours are extended on holidays such as the 4th of July. The Fire Department has established a maximum occupancy of 150 persons.

The pool, located in the 465 West 23rd Street building. It features a sauna and steam room in each of the locker rooms. It is for use only by the residents of London Terrace Towers or London Terrace Gardens who must have a valid building ID. Guests are permitted when accompanied by the resident who has obtained a guest pass from the Management Office. The current fee is $12.00 per guest. The hours of Operation are: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 6:30 AM to 9:45PM; Wednesday closed; Saturday and Sunday 9:00 AM to 6:45 PM. Children's swimming classes are available through Imagine Swimming exclusively for residents and their guests.

The Health Club is located in the 465 West 23rd Street building. It is for use only by members who reside in London Terrace Towers or London Terrace Gardens who pay a membership fee to join the Health Club. The hours of operation are: Monday through Friday 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM; Saturday and Sunday 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM. The Health Club hours are restricted during some holidays, the times will be posted in both the lobby and Health Club.

There are two bicycle rooms in the complex - one located in the 410 West 24th Street basement and the other located in the 470 West 24th Street basement. The available spaces are assigned on a "first come" basis to shareholders. Rental tenants may be accommodated, space permitting. There is a $10.00 per month fee that is billed on the maintenance/rental statement.

There are two laundry rooms available for use by the residents. They are located in the 405 West 23rd Street basement and the 465 West 23rd Street basement. They operate with the SmartCard system - so no coins are needed. They are open 24 hours a day and are monitored by closed circuit television at the Lobby Attendant's desk in all four lobbies.

London Terrace Towers is wired for Time Warner Cable. Due to the high usage in the building, all users receive a discount off the standard rates.

All four tower buildings are served by elevators.

An article in the May 1933 edition of the London Terrace Tatler said the complex's first tenants were Mr. and Mrs. Robert W. Braney who moved into 455 West 23rd Street on May 1, 1930. At the time, only the 455 and 460 West 24th Street buildings were ready for occupancy and the article noted that "The garden was piled with lumber and other materials. There was no grass. Every gentle spring zephyr swirled clouds of dust through the open windows. For eight hours every day, there was the noise of construction - din would be a better word. But the pioneers took it all smiling and their numbers increased steadily as each month witnessed the opening of two more units."

"In those days," the article continued, "the sites of the present corner buildings were merely holes in the ground. Even the foundations had not been set and no steel work had been stated. But, by October 1, which was the next big moving day, there were more than 700 families in the Terrace. With October 1 also, came that distinctive show, now regrettably gone - this being deflated 1933 - the dress parade of the uniformed service. By this time, of course, the garden had become a garden, and every afternoon at 4:45, the peal of a bugle would sound from the vicinity of the fountain and all the bobbies and patrolmen would line up for the changing of the guard. It was a highly impressive affair. So impressive in fact that one six-year-old visitor at the Terrace, on hearing the bugle and rushing to the window to see the military spectacle, cried, "Mamma, come quick. The London Terrors are going to parade."

"Christmas Eve was the next big day for London Terrace. On that bitterly cold evening in 1930 was dedicated the bronze tablet in the garden containing a facsimile of the original manuscript of 'The Night Before Christmas,' as a permanent Christmas shrine."

The January 1934 edition of London Terrace News recounted the local story of the "Cowboys of the Cobblestones":

"Every resident of London Terrace knows, and, we believe, likes, the cowboy riders of the New York Central, who day and night, rain or shine, majestically precede the electric trains along Tenth Avenue. For over eighty years this unique custom has been in existence, but now, even as the riders of the West have faded into glamorous limbo of romance, their own day is drawing to its close. With the early completion of the overhead roadway, they will disappear from the streets of New York, leaving many to change 'The Last Round Up' as the brass bands announce the official opening of a modern Manhattan miracle.

"The story of these riders goes back to December 4, 1850 when the City Council passed a law compelling trains on the streets of New York to be preceded by a rider on horseback, one block ahead of the locomotive, waving a red flag by day and a red light by night to warn pedestrians and prevent runaways of horse-drawn vehicles. This quaint law is still in force, and the New York Central must, until it rises above the street, provide its riders or suffer revocation of its franchise.

"The Tenth Avenue freight route extends from 30th Street south to St. John's yards below Canal Street, a distance of about two miles. To cover the operation of the various trains, a staff of twelve riders is maintained. These boys, who must all be over eighteen years old, are almost wholly recruited from Tenth Avenue and West Street, and strange as it may appear, riders are difficult to find, and only those who have, by strange fortune, learned to ride in the country are used, because a country boy knows and understands horses, and is thus prepared for any unexpected excitement that might affect his steed.

"The 'Ranch Boss' of these cowboys is the Superintendent of the New York Central Freight Yards, and since the law has been in effect two of the riders have risen from the range to the important position of Yard Masters.

"The horses used in this unusual service are tried and true, and are perfectly aware of their important mission in life. They know traffic and excitement, thick fogs and blinding storms, the deep-throated adieus of departing liners and the tremendous thrill of screaming fire engines, but through it all they move surely and serenely, carrying out the Law of the City Council and giving opportunity for their gallant riders to amuse the passerby with amazing variation of the routine waving of the red lanterns. The effective term of duty of these mounts for this service is over eight years, due to the special care and the use of rubber padding on their hoofs, and when their usefulness on the city pavements is over they are auctioned off at the Bulls Head Horse Market to continue their lives on softer turf in greener pastures."

Henry Mandel, the developer, went into foreclosure in 1934. He died in 1942.


Out of 44

Architecture Rating: 30 / 44

Out of 36

Location Rating: 25 / 36

Out of 39

Features Rating: 19 / 39


CityRealty Rating Reference

  • 30+ remarkable
  • 20-29 distinguished
  • 11-19 average
  • < 11 below average
  • 27+ remarkable
  • 18-26 distinguished
  • 9-17 average
  • < 9 below average
  • 22+ remarkable
  • 16-21 distinguished
  • 9-15 average
  • < 9 below average
  • #14 Rated co-op - Downtown
  • #2 Rated co-op - Chelsea
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1289 Lexington Avenue
at The Northeast corner of East 86th Street
Carnegie Hill
Refined Residences that Redefine life on Lexington Avenue.
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