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857 Fifth Avenue

Between East 67th Street & East 68th 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.
 

This rather gangly, 21-story structure at 857 Fifth Avenue on the northeast corner at 67th Street has only 17 apartments and is one of the city's most stylish white-brick apartment buildings with impressive layouts and fine views.

Designed by Robert L. Bien for the Frouge Corporation, the building was completed in 1963 and converted to a cooperative five years later.

Bottom Line

With its excellent apartment layouts and Central Park views, this rather daring post-war building has few apartments and a very distinctive side-street façade.

Description

The building is a bit reminiscent of an oceanliner with its very large curved window bays on the top two floors facing the avenue that are situated beneath its large enclosed watertank superstructure. The watertank encasement has a slightly rakish, abstract façade on the avenue that hints at the side-street's quite flamboyant façade. 

The central portion of the side-street façade has decorative angled piers that give the building a strong sense of upward thrust, although they are contained between horizontal bands of large picture windows at the building's corners. 

The central portion of the avenue frontage consists of balconies with thin railings that are largely recessed but that also protrude slightly. The base on the building on the avenue is recessed behind some landscaping and a grill wall. 

The composition is quite energetic and a blend of the delicacy of Edward Durrell Stone and the strength of Le Corbusier. 

While the building is not a masterpiece, its setback massing and façade experimentation is vigorous. In sharp contrast with the multitude of white-brick apartment buildings erected in its generation, this building is interesting, although a bit out-of-place for such a choice location across from Central Park. 

In his excellent book, "New York's Fabulous Luxury Apartments with Original Floor Plans from the Dakota, River House, Olympic Tower and Other Great Buildings," (Dover Publications, Inc., 1987), Andrew Alpern wrote that this building "represents a return to the privacy of one apartment to a floor and to the distinct separation of the private bedroom area from the more public entertaining rooms." 

"For parties, the plan affords three very spacious main rooms all of which open onto a large entrance gallery. Two bathrooms are available in this area together with ample closet space," Alpern noted. 

The two-story base of the building is recessed considerably at the Fifth Avenue corner. It is faced with polished red granite and is also lushly landscaped. 

Alpern was not, however, enthusiastic about the building's exterior: "It is unfortunate that the exterior of 857 does not approach the quality of its interior. The façade is a gauche assemblage of disparate materials that contrasts sharply with its more sedate neighbors. 

"Despite such criticism, the building is certainly one of the better post-war buildings on the avenue and its layouts and views are impeccable." 

In his September 25, 2005 “Streetscapes” column in The New York Times, Christopher Gray noted  that “Those who kneel at the altar of pre-war taste usually find the 1961 design for the apartment house at 857 Fifth Avenue, at 67th Street, far too Miami Beach,” adding that “from the park, it is notable for its waffle-iron pattern of lozenge shapes running up the side, and the curved to-level penthouse jutting out from the top, like the control deck of some futuristic ocean liner." 

Mr. Gray observed that the building’s architect, Robert Bien, was the son of Sylvan Bien, who designed the Carlyle Hotel nearby on Madison Avenue at 76th Street. Mr. Gray said that the lozenge shapes on the side-street of 857 Fifth Avenue were originally pink, “compounding its unforgivably Floridian character,” but added that, “a decade or two ago, the co-op building, perhaps wishing to tone down the flamboyant gesture, painted the pink an innocuous cream color.” 

The developer and his brother, John Frouge, had in 1959 filed plans for a blue apartment building on the northeast corner at 65th Street, and their architect for that project told Mr. Gray that “many different colored bricks were considered, such as green, gold, black and red,”  adding that “a blue glazed brick was finally selected because it was thought the blue would give the building a regal feeling, and also that the color blue offered many positive connotations such as the symbol of holiness, immortality and heaven.’" Mr. Gray noted in his January 5, 2003 “Streetscapes” column in The Times that the blue bricks were replaced that year with red ones as the blue bricks were not available. Mr. Gray noted that earlier patches to the façade were made in various shades of blue and that Sherida Paulsen, the former chairwoman of the Landmarks Preservation commission, notes that its distinctive blue brick façade is classified as ‘no style’ and is not protected by the commission, a rather strange interpretation of the commission’s regulations. 

Amenities

The building has a full-time doorman, a roof deck and a laundry. It is also pet-friendly.

Apartments

The maisonette duplex apartment has a 43-foot-long formal garden with outdoor dining overlooking the avenue as well as three upstairs bedrooms. It has an 8-foot-wide “greeting foyer” that leads to a 20-foot-long “grand gallery” that opens onto a 21-foot-long living room, a 20-foot-wide dining room and a 12-foot-long kitchen. 

The 8th floor unit has three bedrooms and a 21-foot-long entrance gallery that leads to a 29-foot-wide living room with a fireplace and a 24-foot-long library, both of which open onto a 14-foot-wide terrace on the avenue. There is also a 22-foot-wide dining room, a 21-foot-wide kitchen with a breakfast area and a 9-foot-long maid’s room.

History

The building was erected on the site of the mansion of George Jay Gould, the son of robber baron Jay Gould.

A dinner dance was held for Mrs. Gould’s debutante cousin, Miss Hope Hamilton, which The Times said was attended by “185 young buds” and that, following the supper, “which was served shortly after midnight, a minstrel band played.” 

A December 22, 1925 article in The Times noted that “last week Mrs. Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt, who has disposed of her residence at 1 West 57th Street, took possession of the former George Gould house at 857 Fifth Avenue.” 

One of its past residents was Seymour Milstein, the developer.

 

Location

It is convenient to cross-town bus service and a local subway station is at 67th Street and Lexington Avenue. Many of the world's most famous boutiques are just a block away on Madison Avenue.

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