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Trump Plaza, 167 East 61st Street

Between Lexington Avenue & Third Avenue   |    Lenox Hill

Carter Horsley
Reviewed 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.
 

In 1984, Donald Trump built this very glossy and handsome, 39-story, 175-unit cooperative apartment tower at 167 East 61st Street on the northwest corner at Third Avenue with a low-rise, double-height retail base with a curved glass roofline that extended the full-blockfront on the avenue to 62nd Street. 

It is known as Trump Plaza. 

It was designed by Philip Birnbaum.

Bottom Line

Brassy but quite bold, this tower heralded a resurgence in the revitalization of Third Avenue that led to several more high-rises in the 60s. For many years, its corner retail space was a very popular and very lively bar with its double-height windows that attracted shoppers from Bloomingdale’s and movie buffs from the several nearby attractive theaters.

 

Description

The building has a trefoil plan with wrap-around, bronze-topped balcony railings. 

The tower is setback a bit on a low-rise base with rounded curved windows.  

It has a double-height lobby and extensive polished red-granite sidewalk planters. 

Amenities

The building has a doorman, a concierge, a live-in superintendent, a roof deck, a gym, storage, and a garage.

Apartments

Penthouse E is a two-bedroom unit that has a 17-foot-long entry foyer with a circular end that opens to a 25-foot-long living room that opens on to a wrap-around corner terrace and has a 11-foot-long dining are next to a seven-foot-square kitchen. 

Apartment 19E is a two-bedroom unit that has an 8-foot-wide entry foyer that opens onto a 31-foot-long living room with a wrap-around corner terrace and an open dining area next to a 7-foot-long-kitchen. 

Apartment 21A is a two-bedroom unit that has an 8-foot-wide entry foyer that opens onto a 14-foot-wide open dining area next to the kitchen and a 24-foot-long living room with a wrap-around corner terrace. 

Apartment 20C is a two-bedroom unit that has a 13-foot-long entrance gallery that opens onto a 37-foot-long living room and dining area with a wrap-around balcony and a 12-foot-long windowed kitchen.

History

It is exceeding rare for competing developers to coordinate their building plans and produce projects that are mutually complimentary, if not beneficial. It is even rarer for such developments to have significant benefit for the city. 

Two years after Trump Plaza was erected, Morton L. Olshan and his partners began a larger, 234-unit condominium, catty-corner clone, the 42-story, 234-unit Savoy condominium at 200 East 61st Street.

The Olshan version is slightly different with a shinier base and more angled balconies, but from a distance these towers could almost be twins. 

More important, together they serve as a major gateway to the Upper East Side from the very hectic and important entrance and exit to the Ed Koch Queensborough Bridge and Bloomingdale's. 

Philip Birnbaum & Associates designed both buildings and Paul Goldberger noted in a column in The New York Times that Trump Plaza "could not be called distinguished, but it surely glitters amid the banality of the rest of Third Avenue." 

"Whose property was that building's design?" Goldberger asked. Normally, he continued, it belongs to the architect to prevent builders from re-using designs without permission. 

Justice Greenfield, Goldberger reported, noted that Birnbaum's contract with Trump provided that the architect not use the drawings for another project and maintained that "a knockoff of a known product is unfair competition." 

Goldberger remarked that the settlement in the case "sets an important precedent, for it is based on the premise that the design of a building is protected not only by copyright but also by the laws and customs of the commercial marketplace." 

"Twin buildings would not have helped Mr. Trump's marketing effort much, for they would have made Trump Plaza less of a special product. But they would have been reasonable urban design in a city in desperate need of more coherence on its streetscape. On the other hand, Mr. Birnbaum's record of concern for the streetscape is not a good one, and it is hard not to think that at Trump Plaza he had simply been pushed into doing something different from his usual work, knew that he had a winner in that design and wanted to duplicate his success. In the end, this case was less about architecture than it was about marketing - which might, of course, be said about the whole business of real estate in the first place. Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Olshan issued press releases hat suggested they had prevailed in the settlement, a probable sign of the Justice's wisdom," Goldberger wrote. 

In their great book, “New York 1980, Architecture and Urbanism between the Bicentennial and the Millennium,” Robert A. M. Stern, David Fishman and Jacob Tilove noted that Mr. Goldberger observed that Mr. Birnbaum had created what “looks as if it might be the finest building in Caracas – all of this sleekness is chic in a particularly Latin way, quite uncharacteristic of New York, despite the lavish use of limestone….No one looking at Trump Plaza’s strong horizontals and round balconies could possibly mistake it for yet another Third Avenue high-rise." 

Which three-winged tower is better is hard to decide. The Savoy has a flashier and more attractive base with a brightly colored, trellised sundeck on its setback, while Trump's tower form is a bit more soothing and a bit further removed from the area's hubbub and a bit closer to Central Park. 

By contemporary standards, both were far above the norm, although they both have disappointing low ceilings despite the regular roundup of amenities. 

The trefoil layout of each tower, of course, is the real winner, opening up unusual vistas and angles for both residents and passersby.

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