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

Carter's View

There are very few great blocks in Manhattan where almost all the buildings are at least handsome and there are no major visual blights.

East 64th Street between Park and Lexington avenues is one.

There are other blocks on the Upper East Side with more palatial townhouses but none with as nice a collection of very attractive buildings on both sides of the street including several that are quite spectacular.

The tree-lined block is also fortunate in having very handsome, low-rise buildings at its Park Avenue corner, which lets in more "light and air" than most blocks.

On the north side is 603 Park Avenue, a very handsome, red-brick townhouse erected in 1920 for Thomas Howell and designed by Walter Lund and Julius F. Gayler. On the south side is the impressive Central Presbyterian church that was originally the Park Avenue Baptist Church designed in 1922 by Henry C. Pelton and Allen & Collens.

At Lexington Avenue, furthermore, it is unusual in having a pair of quite similar pre-war, beige-brick apartment buildings, the 11-story 136 East 64th Street and the 12-story 133 East 64th Street, as an impressive and very attractive gateway. They are both shown in the photograph at the left.

The former occupies the full avenue blockfront between 63rd and 64th Street on land that was once owned by the Beekman families and the building was designed by George F. Pelham. The latter takes up only about half the avenue frontage and was designed in Renaissance Revival-style by Kenneth M. Murchison.

133 East 64th Street is the better looking of the two with a very handsome, two-step-up, barrel-vaulted lobby, better facade detailing, and very handsome bronze retail window surrounds on Lexington Avenue. It has two-story-high stone pilasters between the 2nd and 3rd floors and the 10th and 11th floors and ribbed lintels above windows. A penthouse apartment in the building was long occupied by Bernard Madoff, who was convicted of investment fraud.

136 East 64th Street has similar retail window surrounds, but one was painted. It also has a one-story limestone base, sidewalk landscaping, which 133 does not, a one-step-up entrance, inconsistent fenestration, protruding air-conditioners, and a nice decorative bandcourse above the third floor and quoins.

The mid-rise apartment buildings have canopied entrances and are not extraordinary but very typical of the better pre-war apartment buildings with large apartments.

The reason this block is great, however, is not because of these two corner properties.

The apartment buildings are desirable because they are on one of the most beautiful blocks on the Upper East Side.

The block is great because it has two very important properties, three very interesting townhouses and most of the rest are very attractive.

The more famous of the two "important" buildings is 130 East 64th Street because of its perforated grill facade designed by Edward Durell Stone (1902-1978). Stone was a co-designer of the original Museum of Modern Art building on West 53rd Street. He also designed Huntington Hartford's museum on the south side of Columbus Circle and the United States Embassy in New Delhi that was built in 1954 and was famous for a facade grill similar to the one on the face of this building that he renovated and reclad in 1956 for his own use.

A plaque next to its entrance was put up in March by the Historic Landmarks Preservation Center and noted its significance and Stone's "rejection of the austerity of modern architecture."

The grill facade was removed in 1987 but the Landmarks Preservation Commission ordered that it be rebuilt.

Further west, the other "important" property is the Russell Sage Foundation Building at 112 East 64th Street that was originally designed by Philip Johnson in 1959 as Asia House. It is faced with black glass and is one of the most elegant and beautiful modern buildings in the city.

In "The A. I. A. Guide to New York City, Fifth Edition," (2009), the building is described as "a decorous curtain of dark glass suspended in a gossamer grid of thin, white-painted steel" that "accommodates itself to this varied block." Its accommodation, in fact, is quite surprising and very successful and it and the Stone building are stunning evidence that contextual concerns perhaps can be fallible when new fine designs are presented.

The same guidebook noted that the building just to the west of the Russell Sage building, 110 West 64th Street was built in 1988 and designed by Agrest & Gandelsonas: "This very high-style urbane single house toasts its neighbors while demurely lifting its chin," adding "that fourth-floor inset terrace seems more an appropriate place for a prince to harangue the people, than a stance to enjoy the weather."

Across the street, there are several standouts.

129 East 64th Street is an extremely attractive, 7-story, 20-room townhouse that has a double-height library with an oculus window and was owned by Otto Preminger, the director of such great films as "Laura" and "The Man With The Golden Arm." It was renovated and given a new and very elegant facade in 2002 designed by Christopher Smallwood, architect to the British Royal Family.

It is adjacent to the handsome 131 East 64th Street, which was put on the market in January 2011 for $21.5 million by David Seldin, a former president of a firm that owned the New York Islanders hockey team. He had bought the building in 2006 for $5.8 million and had Siris/Coombs Architects restore the facade and renovate the interior. A March 19, 2012 article at ny.curbed.com, listed it as the third best of the 10 best apartment staircases in the city because of its "interesting curves, beautiful wood, and slim metal banister."
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Architecture Critic Carter Horsley Since 1997, Carter B. Horsley has been the editorial director of CityRealty. He began his journalistic career at The New York Times in 1961 where he spent 26 years as a reporter specializing in real estate & architectural news. In 1987, he became the architecture critic and real estate editor of The New York Post.