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820 Park Avenue: Review and Ratings

between East 75th Street & East 76th Street View Full Building Profile

Carter Horsley
Review of 820 Park Avenue by Carter Horsley

This eclectic, 14-story, apartment house at 820 Park Avenue on the northwest corner at 75th Street was originally designed to contain nine apartments including five duplex apartments and a spectacular triplex for its developer, Albert J. Kobler, the publisher of the American Weekly Magazine and later publisher of The New York Mirror for Hearst publications.

Harry Allen Jacobs was the architect.

The building was erected in 1926 and converted to a cooperative in 1957. It now has 21 apartments.

Bottom Line

The top of this building is whimsically uncontextual, but the location and pre-war detailing remain very attractive.

Description

The building has a slightly inclined, three-story roof for the northern half of the avenue’s frontage while the southern half is a rather robust Edwardian-style tower that is flush with the façade of the rest of the building although set off by balconies at 11th floor.

The asymmetrical design tops a brown-brick shaft with an irregular window pattern, all above a very handsome two-and-a-half story base of variegated, tan-colored sandstone.

The shingles of the mansard-like, inclined portion of the roof were originally slate, but later replaced with regular shingles.

The overall effect is a bit disconcerting and not harmonious.

Amenities

The building has a full-time doorman and an elevator operator and storage. It is pet-friendly.

 

Apartments

The "typical" apartment in the new building was a 17-room duplex, but the most spectacular was a triplex penthouse Kobler reserved for himself. "The entrance hall had a low groin-vaulted ceiling set off with shallow stone arches and richly carved doors. A stone Gothic stairway led up from the entrance hall to the library, and down to the dining room, which had stone walls, a massive stone fireplace and a coffered ceiling produced from the Uffizi Palace. But even the massive three-story story, embellished with wrought iron from the forge of Samuel Yellin, paled beside the spectacular drawing room. Two stories high, the room was lighted by leaded and stained-glass windows and a large multi-armed chandelier. It served as a setting for Kobler's extensive collection of rare old French Gothic furniture and artworks, and was dominated by an exceptional 16th century carved stone fireplace, which drew the eye up to a deeply carved and polychromed ceiling. A profusion of stone arches offered views of a music alcove, the entrance hall and the great Gothic stairway. The library on the floor above included a small stone oriel window looking down upon the drawing room and its wall-hung tapestry, whose previous owners are said to have included Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey. The furniture had similarly lofty pedigrees, boasting prior tenancy in the Strozzi and Barberini palaces.

The Penthouse is a two-bedroom unit with a very long entry foyer that leads to a 19-foot-long living room with a fireplace that opens onto a 15-foot-long dining room next to the pantry and a 11-foot-long kitchen and an 11-foot-long maid’s room.

The maisonette apartment has a 22-foot-long entrance foyer that leads up a staircase to a 38-foot-long living room with fireplace, a 14-foot-long kitchen and two bedrooms.

The 12th floor is a two-bedroom unit that has a small entry foyer that opens onto a 40-foot-long gallery that leads to a 22-foot-long living room with fireplace, an 18-foot-long library with fireplace. A 13-foot-long dining room next to an enclosed, 15-foot-long kitchen.  The apartment also has a 14-foot-square family room and a 9-foot-long staff room.

The 15th floor is a three-bedroom unit that has a small entry foyer that opens onto a 36-foot-long gallery that leads to a 25-foot-long living room with fireplace, a 21-foot-long library with an angled wood-burning fireplace in one corner, a 15-foot-long dining room with a fireplace next to an enclosed 13-foot-long  kitchen.  The master bedroom has a wood-burning fireplace.

The 6th and 7th floors contain a duplex with a 26-foot-long entrance gallery with staircase on the lower level leading to a 36-foot-long living room with a fireplace, an 18-foot-long library, a 22-foot-long dining room, a 16-foot-long pantry, a 16-foot-wide kitchen, an  18-foot-long dens and a 12-foot-long bedroom.  The upper level has a 26-foot-long gallery that leads to a 22-foot-long entertainment/media room, a 9-foot-long office, an 8-foot-long darkroom, a 9-foot-long office, and four bedrooms.

History

The narrow building is intriguing.

It replaced an elegant but rather spartan mansion that had been designed by John Mead Howells for Mrs. Millbank Anderson and completed in 1920. "The traditional Classical forms and detailing were so restrained that they were more a memory than a reality. The building was bloodless, lacking any of the charm or exuberance of good Classical design," remarked Andrew Alpern in his fine book, "Luxury Apartment Buildings of Manhattan, An Illustrated History," (Dover Publications, Inc., 1992).

The limestone mansion may have been bloodless but it was quite refined and subtle in both its detailing and proportions and it featured a very stunning fifth floor setback with large arched windows. Mrs. Anderson did not move into her mansion, which remained vacant until 1924 when Mr. Kobler acquired the property and commissioned Howells to remodel and redecorate it.

A year later, however, the building was demolished, Alpern recalled, adding that "Clearly, that project represented the last gasp of the old ways of living in Manhattan," referring to the era of building great private houses.

Kobler acquired an adjoining property and commissioned Harry Allan Jacobs to erect what Alpern described as "a thoroughly modern concept in apartment-house living: multiple mansions stacked one upon another for soaring status and expansive living."

Jacobs had designed the Friars Club as well as lavish townhouses for Adolph Lewisohn, Herman Lehman, Adolph Zucker and Martin Beck. (His son, Robert, became a partner with architect Ely Jacques Kahn in the firm of Kahn & Jacobs that would design many office buildings in the city.)

Alpern wrote of the new design that "Perhaps in reaction to the limestone chill of the previous residence on the site, this design in aggressively warm."

Governor Herman Lehman also lived in the building

According to James Trager, the author of "Park Avenue, Street of Dreams," (Atheneum, 1990), "Kobler came to New York from his native Vienna in 1906 at age twenty, worked in the textile business for eight years, and then become an advertising solicitor for the New York Globe." "William Randolph Hearst had put him in charge of the American Weekly in 1917," Trager continued, "and Kobler was on his way to increasing circulation of the Sunday supplement from 2 million to 25 million and boosting revenues from $35,000 per year to $13,000 per page.

Having bought three 75th Street row houses to enlarge his plot, Kobler engaged Harry Allan Jacobs to design a fourteen-story building for nine families who had closed their private houses and could afford rents of between $2,088 and $3,333 per month for apartments that, being on higher floors, were brighter and sunnier than most townhouses.

Tenants soon included Herbert H. Lehman, governor of New York from 1932 to 1942 and United States Senator from 1949 to 1957, and Carl H. Pforzheimer - Jewish, like Kobler, but both men of higher social standing....Kobler became publisher of Hearst's New York Mirror in 1928.

A few years later he was able to settle a $500,000 debt for $150,000 in cash plus perhaps $25,000 from his $100,000 life insurance policy. He moved out of his luxurious aerie, and at the time of this death, on January 1, 1937 (he came down with the flue and died four days later), was living with his wife, Mignon, at the Madison Hotel, 10 East 58th Street.

The triplex at 820 Park was shorn of its splendor and subdivided, as were most of the other apartments in the building at various times. The gray-shingled facing on the north section of the top three floors dates from 1940."

In his July 2, 2000 “Streetscapes” column in The New York Times, Christopher Gray noted that Jacobs, the architect, had “predicted in a 1925 article in The New York Times that soon ‘the private house will be forgotten and a thing of the past,’ because of taxes, problems with servants, and the construction of other tall apartment buildings in elite neighborhoods, most of which ‘are rather barrack-like and unattractive.”

“Jacobs’s design,” Mr. Gray continued, “remains unusual: above a two-story stone base rises a façade of mottled amber brick with windows arranged in vertical bays.  These terminate at the Kobler apartment, marked by bans of plum-colored terra cotta and, on the north end, a three-story slate-shingled roof arranged as a mock-mansard roof.  The base is a delicious orange and yellow Ohio sandstone from the Mississippian era, 3 million years gold, according to Sidney Horenstein, a geologist at the American Museum of Natural History.  The ironwork at the entryway is one of the most unusual on Park Avenue: dark, hammered shapes worked in medieval designs, including the shapes of blades and a knight.”

“Sometime before Kobler’s death in 1937 at age 60, he leased his custom-built apartment to the automobile manufacturer Walter Chrysler,” Mr. Gray continued, noting that  it was subsequently subdivided in 1941. 

That year the Greenwich Savings Bank subdivided and its double-height stained-glass windows were removed, apparently because a new floor was inserted into the living room, according to a September 6, 1992 “Streetscapes” column by Mr. Gray. 

Mr. Gray quoted Denise LeFrak Calicchio as stating that two of the old duplexes had been “rejoined”’ in recent years.  She owned Governor Lehman’s duplex on the 11th and 12th floors.

Location

The building has a very convenient location, close to many art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and the Whitney Museum of American Art on Madison Avenue, Lenox Hill Hospital one block north on Park Avenue and a local subway station at Lexington Avenue at 77th Street.

Rating

26
Out of 44

Architecture Rating: 26 / 44

+
26
Out of 36

Location Rating: 26 / 36

+
19
Out of 39

Features Rating: 19 / 39

+
9
=
80

CityRealty Rating Reference

 
Architecture
  • 30+ remarkable
  • 20-29 distinguished
  • 11-19 average
  • < 11 below average
 
Location
  • 27+ remarkable
  • 18-26 distinguished
  • 9-17 average
  • < 9 below average
 
Features
  • 22+ remarkable
  • 16-21 distinguished
  • 9-15 average
  • < 9 below average
  • #48 Rated co-op - Park/Fifth Ave. to 79th St.
 
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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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