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The Sonora, 770 Park Avenue

Between East 72nd Street & East 73rd Street

90
Carter Horsley
Review 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.
 

One of the city's finest apartment buildings, 770 Park Avenue on the southwest corner at 73rd Street is a 19-story Georgian-style confection designed by Rosario Candela, widely regarded as the foremost architect of grand apartment buildings in the city. 

Born in Sicily, Candela came to the United States in 1909 and graduated from the Columbia School of Architecture in 1915.  His other famous buildings include 834 and 960 Fifth Avenue, 720, 740, 775 and 778 Park Avenue, and 19 East 72nd Street, all considered among the most glamorous addresses in the city.

Erected in 1930 by the Edgar A. Levy construction co., for Gertrude V. Rushman, this very handsome building has 41 apartments.

Bottom Line

One of the great pre-war apartment buildings on Park Avenue designed at Rosario Candela, this very prime location is at the heart of the Upper East Side.

Description

The building has a three-story limestone base with a canopied entrance flanked by very elegant hanging lanterns in a two-story-high arched entrance surround.  The limestone bandcourse above the third floor has a center balustrade beneath the three central windows with elegant surrounds.  The brown-brick façade of the top of the building has ten floors before the first of four setbacks at the asymmetrical top, which is highlighted by a flying buttress and a terracotta-outlined tower with a balcony next to a tall chimney.  The masonry façade on the avenue is symmetrical with its north and south ends having alternating floors of one-window and two-window bays.

Amenities

The building has a canopied entrance, a doorman, and tenant storage, but no garage, no roof deck and no balconies.

Apartments

The full floor apartment on the 17-floor have 5 bedrooms, a 35-foot-long living room with a wood-burning fireplace and a terrace, a 22-foot-long library, a 22-foot-long dining room with an octagonal 12-foot-wide breakfast room with a wrap-around terrace abound the breakfast room and the dining room and the entry from the  elevators.  The entry leads to a long reception hall that also leads to a very long corridor for the bedrooms and the three-maid’s rooms, the servants’ half and the butler’s room.  There is an 11-foot-wide pantry and a 17-foot-long kitchen off the breakfast and dining rooms. 

A 15-room duplex has a 13-foot-long reception hall off the small entry foyer , a 29-foot-long living room with a wood-burning fireplace adjacent to a 19-foot-long library with a wood-burning fireplace, a 21-foot-long dining room adjacent to a 12-foot-long pantry and an 13-foot-long kitchen near he 14-foot-long servants hall and two maid-s’ rooms on the lower level and five bedrooms and three more maid’s rooms on the upper level.

Penthouse 19A has a 14-foot-wide entry foyer on the lower level that leads directly to a 15-foot-long dining room with its own “wing terrace” next to a 17-foot-long kitchen and to a 25-foot-long living with wood-burning fireplace and three terraces.   The lower level also has a 21-foot-long master bedroom with a wood-burning fireplace and a 13-foot-long library.  There is a 16-foot-long bedroom on the 20th floor and a 12-foot-long staff bedroom on another level. 

Apartment 12/13C is a duplex unit with a 16-foot-long gallery with a curved staircase that leads to a 24-foot-long living room with a wood-burning fireplace and a 19-foot-long dining room with a 6-foot-wide loggia at one end.  There is also a 14-foot-long kitchen, a 12-foot-long laundry room and two maid’s rooms on this level.  The upper level has three more bedrooms. 

Apartment 14/15 A is a four-bedroom duplex that has a 14-foot-long entrance gallery on the lower floor that leads to a 29-foot-long living room with a fireplace, a 19-foot-long library, and a 21-foot-long dining room.  The lower level also has a 12-foot-long pantry, a 17-foot-long eat-in-kitchen, a 15-foot-long staff hall and a 17-foot-long family room.  The upper level has the four bedrooms, one with a small terrace, a 13-foot-long study with its own 19-foot-terrace, a laundry, two staff rooms. 

Apartment 14B has a 21-foot-long entry foyer with a semi-circular, 10-foot-wide dining alcove that leads to a 30-foot-long living room with a wood-burning fireplace.  There is also a 17-foot-wide pantry next to the 16-foot-wide kitchen, an 11-foot-wide maid’s room, two bedrooms and a 15-foot-wide library with a wood-burning fireplace. 

Apartment 10D has a 17-foot-long entrance gallery that leads to a 27-foot-long living room with wood-burning fireplace, a 20-foot-long library with wood-burning fireplace, a 22-foot-long dining room off a 17-foot-long kitchen and a 16-foot-long pantry.  The unit also has three bedrooms and a guest room/den. 

History

Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins devote considerable attention to Candela in their book, "New York 1930, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Two World Wars," Rizzoli, 1987: 

"Although Candela designed 775 Park Avenue, as well as 47 Plaza Street in Brooklyn in 1928 on his own, he frequently collaborated with other, more established firms. In the late 1920's and early 1930's, Candela reached his peak in four splendid apartments, one of which, 770 Park Avenue, he designed on his own. Number 770 Park Avenue of 1929-30…was a...Georgian building, housing forty families in an H-shaped plan that maximized light and air for each apartment on a deep site. Candela created a complex of interlock of duplex and simplex apartments so that no unit was denied a street orientation. Though the massing was simple, the complex window rhythms suggesting the plan enlivened the composition as did the terraced setbacks rising to a domed penthouse. 

"The elegance of the building's massing and detail was carried to the interior, which included Modern Classical lobbies and hallways decorated by Mrs. George Tuckerman Draper - who, as Dorothy Draper, would become one of the most successful decorators of the 1930's and 1940's - as well as to the design of the individual apartments, many of which were duplex units….most double-hung windows in the libraries and living and dining rooms of apartments were brought to within ten inches of the floor and protected by ornamental iron balcony rails to suggest the typical condition of the piano nobile of an elegant townhouse. 

"Candela's smaller English Renaissance apartment house at 778 Park Avenue at the northwest corner of Seventy-third street, built in 1929-31, entered into a remarkably coherent and lively dialogue with his earlier work at 770 Park Avenue; the pair of towered buildings formed a monumental gateway west toward Central Park." 

Candela's buildings, "it is said, were the grandest of the decade that was itself the greatest," wrote Elizabeth Hawes in her book, "New York, New York, How The Apartment House Transformed The Life Of The City (1869-1930)", published by Henry Holt in 1993. 

New zoning in 1929 permitted taller buildings on Park Avenue and "Candela's buildings began to fly and to suggest on the outside some of the extravagant behavior inside," Hawes wrote, adding that "The first to appear was 770 Park...which rose to twelve stories and then broke up into tiers of setbacks that were topped with a lantern-like penthouse tower. A year later, 778 created a similar silhouette on the northwest corner, and together, the pair framed the street like important monuments. The rooflines could be seen from far way, and they expressed the essence of these buildings elegantly, for they looked like clusters of houses or small European villages." 

Hawes noted that the developers of 770 Park Avenue, which has 39 apartments, described the apartments as "country houses" and that the building's "irregular fenestration animated the façade... adding rhythms that suggested the life within." 

Candela, she continued "had a respect for privacy and an eye for significant detail. He was a complete thinker. He added duplicate water connections to street mains and multiple switches for ceiling lights as well as beautifully turned staircases and separate wine cellars. More significantly, he designed buildings from the inside out. He placed windows where they received light, balanced a room, or allowed a graceful arrangement of furniture.... Candela also invested unusual energy in the entry hall. In a typical apartment, he made it a full-sized room with rich views into the interior because he thought it was important to greet a visitor with a full sense of a home....Candela liked puzzles. During the Depression, he took up cryptography, and during World War II, he broke the Japanese code," Hawes wrote. 

Born in Sicily, Candela came to the United States in 1909 and graduated from the Columbia School of Architecture in 1915.  His other famous buildings include 834 and 960 Fifth Avenue, 720, 740, 775 and 778 Park Avenue, and 19 East 72nd Street, all considered among the most glamorous addresses in the city. 

In his important book on “The New York Apartment Houses of Rosalrio Candela and James Carpenter,” Andrew Alpern, provided the following commentary about 770 Park Avenue:

“Replacing eight old houses, including a seven-story apartment building, this 35-unit apartment structure was harshly treated by the architecture critic of The New Yorker at the time of its construction, who asserted that ‘the architecture throughout seems entirely undistinguished,’ adding that ‘there is a distressing amount of this half-baked architecture in New York, an architecture that seems to proclaim loudly a lack of training necessary for fine work.’” 

In his June 8, 2003 “Streetscape” column in The New York Times, Christopher Gray identified the New Yorker critic as George Chappell, noting that the critic “considered the staggered, irregular window pattern on No. 770 ‘as confusing and disturbing an arrangement of windows as one fill find in a long day’s walk.’ 

Presumably, then, that critic would find Jean Nouvel’s fancy fenestration at 100 Eleventh Avenue worth dying for, or at least having a heart attack.” 

If the architecture of this building is undistinguished, heaven help us from what that architecture critic might have though about the residential architectural of the last half of the 20th Century. 

The base of the building is simple, formal and elegant and the top is an eerie worthy of the city’s few hawks and passing eagles.

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