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800 Fifth Avenue

Between East 61st Street & East 62nd Street   |    Park/Fifth Ave. to 79th St.

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.
 

The large rental apartment house at 800 Fifth Avenue on the northeast corner at 61st Street has fabulous views and one of the best, most prestigious and most elegant residential locations in the city. 

It is directly across 61st Street from the very handsome Pierre Hotel and it shares its avenue frontage to the north with the neo-Georgian-style Knickerbocker Club designed by Delano & Aldrich. 

This 33-story, yellow-brick tower was erected by Bernard Spitzer in 1978 and designed by Ulrich Franzen & Associates with Wechsler & Schimenti serving as associate architects. 

Mr. Spitzer also developed another high-rise apartment tower on the avenue, 985 Fifth Avenue, between 79th and 80th Streets. His other major projects have included the Corinthian at 38th Street and First Avenue and 200 Central Park South

The building has 208 apartments.

Bottom Line

This large rental apartment building with a retail base has a large rear courtyard and is situated at one of the city’s premier locations.

Description

The base of the building on the avenue is faced with limestone and contains commercial space. The tower is setback from the base, which helps preserve vistas of the very handsome towers of the Pierre and Sherry Netherland hotels from the north. Because the Pierre’s tower is setback considerably on its base, this building has many good corner views of midtown as well as Central Park. There are corner windows along the side-street to take advantage of the views. The building has many balconies, which are curved, on its east façade. 

It also has a very large rear courtyard. 

Amenities

The building has a concierge and doorman as well as a garage and a gym and it allows pets. It has consistent fenestration and discrete air-conditioners. 

There is excellent bus service on Fifth Avenue and a subway station is one block away to the south. This site has considerable traffic, but is convenient to many fashion boutiques and restaurants. 

Apartments

Apartment 9A is a one-bedroom unit that has a 12-foot-wide entrance gallery that opens onto a 22-foot-long living room and an enclosed kitchen. 

Apartment 31D has a 14-foot-wide “marble gallery” that leads to a enclosed kitchen and a 17-foot-long bedroom/library/dining room. 

Apartment 31A is a one-bedroom unit that has a 12-foot-wide marble dining gallery adjacent to the enclosed kitchen and a 28-foot-long living room that opens onto a curved balcony. 

Apartment 18F is a two-bedroom unit that has an entry foyer that leads to a 17-foot-long elliptical gallery that opens onto a 28-foot-long living room and a 18-foot-long library and 12-foot-long corner gallery adjacent to an enclosed kitchen. 

Apartment 25C is a two-bedroom unit that has an entry foyer that leads to a 14-foot-long curved gallery that leads to a 16-foot-long enclosed kitchen and a 25-foot-long living room. 

Apartment 25EF is a three-bedroom unit that has an entry foyer that leads to a curved 16-foot-long gallery that leads to a 26-foot-long living room adjacent to a 23-foot-long library.  It also has a 17-foot-long dining room next to a 16-foot-long, enclosed kitchen and a 12-foot-long breakfast room.

History

800 Fifth Avenue was erected on the site of a large neo-Georgian-style townhouse owned by Mrs. Marcellus Hartley Dodge, who lived in New Jersey and so rarely used it that it was considered one of the city's "mystery houses," especially since its large garden facing the avenue was for decades boarded up behind a tall fence. 

The house was designed by R. S. Shapter in 1922 for Mr. and Mrs. Marcellus Hartley Dodge. He was head of the Remington Arms Company and she was a Rockefeller heir. 

After her husband's death, she spent almost all her time on her estate in Madison, New Jersey, and used the front yard of the New York townhouse for her many dogs on her occasional visits back to the city and the house was filled with much of her art collection of animal paintings by Rosa Bonheur. The house appeared boarded up, but a housekeeper lived in it most of the time. 

Interest in such a prominently sited yet unused property was such that a story by Carter B. Horsley about its redevelopment made the front page of The New York Times after she died in 1973. 

In their excellent book, "New York 1960, Architecture and Urbanism Between the Second World War and the Bicentennial" (The Monacelli Press, 1995), Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman provided the following commentary on the redevelopment of this site: 

"As originally proposed for the site, 800 Fifth Avenue was to take advantage of bonuses recently made available to park-fronting property owners, awarded not for the inclusion of plazas but for financial contributions to the maintenance of Central Park. In order to facilitate the bonus application, the City Planning Commission urged Bernard Spitzer, the developer, to retain a design architect to rework the plans drawn by...[his architects], who had also worked with the developer on 200 Central Park South....Spitzer chose Ulrich Franzen, who eventually presented a design he described as 'a stern, proper bottom breaking into a “joie de vivre” top'; It consisted of fourteen floors built up to the Fifth Avenue street wall and, set slightly back, a nineteen-story slab punctuated by bay windows and topped by an ornamental copper roof loosely suggesting the mansard roof of the Hotel Pierre, its immediate neighbor to the south. A low wing containing offices was proposed to run along Sixty-first Street, set back behind a small plaza." 

"Despite the support of the editors of The New York Times," the authors continued, "Franzen's design was rejected on May 8, 1976, by Community Planning Board 8, which objected to its height, its mid-block plaza and the use of brown brick for the façade instead of the limestone or light tan brick typically used along Fifth Avenue. By late June, Franzen had come up with a second proposal, which Paul Goldberger called an 'impressive improvement over the old.' In this scheme, Franzen pushed the tower back twenty feet from the avenue and lined the base up with the street, treating it as a Classically inspired limestone screen wall that echoed the base of the Pierre and the total mass of the Knickerbocker Club. The east façade of 800 Fifth Avenue, which overlooked a still quite intimate, low-lying landscape of townhouses, featured boldly staggered ranks of balconies that were meant to complement the area's residential scale but did not quite succeed. In July the revised scheme was approved by the City Planning Commission, and demolition on the Dodge house was completed by February 1977." 

"In 1979," the authors noted that Paul Goldberger, then architecture critic of The New York Times, "characterized the design as one that 'rejects the modernist principle' of a building as a 'pure object' and seeks an accommodation with the context, 'at the price of consistency or even at the price of any rigid ideology at all.' While Goldberger found this approach fine in theory, in reality the building was 'so big that ideas and principles don't matter.' Though he found the limestone front along Fifth Avenue handsome, 'and a welcome attempt at craftsmanship in a day when putting a chandelier in the lobby is considered fancy apartment-house design' it was not enough to 'offset the immense mass behind it.'" 

Franzen's first design actually was the better of the two as its base was quite vigorous and bold and complex although the top curved bay windows were unrelated to the rest of the design. Franzen employed low-curved arches for the fence of the building's mid-block plaza and Spitzer would subsequently employ large curved bay windows to great effect in his impressive Corinthian apartment tower on First Avenue at 38th Street, a building designed by Michael Schimenti.

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