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Whitney Condos, 33 East 74th Street: Review and Ratings

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Carter Horsley
Review of 33 East 74th Street by Carter Horsley

After a long planning process, the southward expansion of the Whitney Museum of American Art on the Upper East Side has retained the cornice line of the existing low-rise buildings and only their façades that have been redeveloped in 2014 into 10 large condominium apartments at 33 East 74th Street and no space for the museum that decided to relocate to a new building designed by Renzo Piano at the southern base of the High Line Elevated Park in West Chelsea and let the Metropolitan Museum of Art use its great building for contemporary art.

The development is known as Whitney Condos.

Beyer Blinder Belle was the architectural firm handling the conversion and Champalimaud Interior Design, which has worked recently on interiors at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and the Pierre Hotel, was responsible for the interiors.

JZS Madison LLC, an affiliate of the Straus Group, was the developer.  The Straus Group is headed by Daniel E. Straus, who purchased the properties in the complex from the museum for $95 million.

A January 14, 2014 article in The New York Daily News by Matt Chaban said that “in 1984, he and his brother took over their dad’s five nursing homes in North Jersey” and “turned them into one of the largest assisted-living empires in the Northeast - leading to a $1 billion sale in 1997."

Bottom Line

This luxury residential conversion offers very large apartments at a very prime Upper East Side location that is convenient to Central Park and the great Sant Ambroeus cappuccino haven nearby on Madison Avenue.


Immediately to the south of Marcel Breuer’s great Whitney Museum of American Art, one of the world’s Brutalist masterpieces, this development preserves the avenue façades of six residential brownstone buildings whose bases had long since been converted to retail uses.

Four of the low-rise buildings on the avenues date to the 19th Century and two had fire-escapes that have been removed in the conversion. Originally there were 9 low-rise buildings on the site but their stoops were removed, according to the project’s website, when the avenue was widened.  The two “easternmost brownstones on 74th Street had been replaced by the Atterbury mansion."

The bottom two floors along the avenue continue to have retail spaces.

The complex features three setbacks above the roof-line on Madison Avenue.

The building’s entrance is on the side-street in between the low-rise buildings on the avenue and the former townhouse designed by Grosvenor Atterbury for Julian Wainwright Robbins and his wife, Sarah, a niece of Cornelius Vanderbilt.  The “Atterbury” building is 33-feet wide and has a three-step-up entrance and tall arched windows on the second floor. The red-brick building has quoins, multi-paned windows and a nice cornice.

“The lobby façade ties the buildings together using a rich terra cotta rain screen and a fenestration pattern informed by the flanking buildings.  The entrance, which is set back from 74th Street, accords residents maximum privacy while also allowing the brownstones on Madison Avenue to round the corner as they did when built in 1876" when they were designed by Silas M. Styles.

"The new structural and mechanical systems at 33 East 74th Street create residences with all the benefits of state-of-the-art construction, materials and technology while maintaining and preserving the historic essence of these buildings,” according to the project’s website.

In recent decades, the upper stories of the buildings on the avenue were not especially elegant as the museum grappled with plans to redevelop them for needed expansion.


The building has a concierge, a fitness center, a roof deck and storage.


Apartments have approximately 10-foot-high ceilings and ebony double doors and travertine flooring in the long galleries.

Because of their project’s spatial complexity some of the broad hallways have stairs.

The Atterbury Townhouse is a five-bedroom quadruplex unit with 10,088 square feet of space and 536 square feet of private terrace.  The second floor has 12-foot-high ceilings has a 20-foot-long entry foyer that opens onto a 28-foot-wide gallery that leads to a 19-foot-long living room and a 16-foot-long library and a 16-foot-long lobby entry foyer and a 23-oot-long kitchen and a 10-foot-long pantry and a small bedroom.  The first floor has a 23-foot-long family room that opens onto a 25-foot-long rear terrace adjacent to a small bedroom.  The third floor has a 30-foot-wide living room with a fireplace, and a 24-foot-wide dining room.  The fourth floor has three bedrooms.

Penthouse 3 is a five-bedroom triplex unit with 6,312 square feet of interior space and 2,287 square feet of exterior space.  The first level has a 14-foot-long entrance gallery and the second floor has a 17-foot-long entry foyer that leads to a 29-foot-long living room that opens onto a 33-foot-errace and it also has a 16-foot-long dining room next to a butler’s pantry and an 18-foot-long enclosed kitchen with an island.  The third level has a 19-foot-long dining area that opens onto an 18-foot-long family room.  This level also has a kitchenette alcove and a 33-foot-long terrace on the side-street and a narrower terrace at the rear.  This apartment also has a 38-by-33 foot private roof terrace.

Penthouse 2 is a four-bedroom duplex with 4,844 square feet of space and a 2,867-square-foot terrace.  The first floor has a 23-foot-long entry foyer that leads to a 23-foot-wide living room that opens onto a 23-foot-long dining room that leads down a hall to a 23-foot-long open kitchen with an island and a 19-foot-wide family room and a bedroom and a 65-by-31-foot terrace.  The second floor has three bedrooms and a small terrace.

Penthouse 1 is a 4-bedroom unit with 5,577 square feet of interior space and 2,440 square feet of outdoor space.  It has a 12-foot-long entry foyer that leads to a 36-foot-long living room and a 22-foot-enclosed dining room with sliding doors next to a 23-fot-wide enclosed kitchen with an island that leads to a 22-foot-long gamily room.

Apartment 3A is a three-bedroom unit with 3,926 square feet of interior space.  It has a 23-foot-wide entry foyer that leads to a long gallery and a 27-foot-wide living room with a large bay window next to an 18-foot-wide dining room with sliding doors next to a 20-foot-wide enclosed kitchen with an island and sliding doors.  The master bedroom has a large bay window.

Apartment 4B is a three-bedroom unit with a 9-foot-long entry foyer that leads to a long gallery that opens onto a 20-foot-long living room and an 18-foot-long dining room that opens onto an 18-foot-long family room and next to a 15-foot-long kitchen with an island.


In their great book, “New York 1960, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Second World War and the Bicentennial,” Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman provide the following commentary about the Whitney Museum:

“Madison Avenue’s identity as an art center was solidified in 1966 when the Whitney Museum of American Art opened its headquarters at 945 Madison Avenue, on the southeast corner at Seventy-fifth Street….The museum had been founded in 1931 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney as an outgrowth of her Whitney Studio (1914) and the subsequent Whitney Studio Club (1918).  Its first home was a building at 8-12 West Eighth Street, renovated by G. McCullough Miller and Augustus L. Noel in 1931….When Whitney died in 1942, she bequeathed $2.5 million to the museum.  In 1943, a plan was announced by Francis Henry Taylor, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Whitney’s daughter, Flora Whitney Miller, in which the Whitney would abandon its independent facility on Eighth Street and be housed in a new wing at the Metropolitan to be built after the war….The plan for the Whitney Wing was abandoned in 1948, as was a subsequent plan for cooperation between the Whitney, the Metropolitan and the Museum of Modern Art.  In 1949 the Whitney entered into an agreement with the Modern to occupy part of its new wing at 22 West Fifty-fourth Street….Although the Fifty-fourth Street facility marked a significant functional if not aesthetic improvement over the Whitney’s former home, the museum’s trustees and staff almost immediately recognized that the building was woefully inadequate in size and was little more than a stepchild of the Modern.  In the 1958 the Whitney staff began to look for a site for a new building that would be three times larger.  In early 1963 they found a parcel…that the Jonathan Woodner Company had already begun excavating for a co-op apartment house, but was having difficulty financing.  The Whitney’s decision to purchase the lot was announced in June 1963 by which time Marcel Breuer had been selected after interviews with several other architects, including Edward Larrabee Barnes and Louis B. Kahn ... The new museum ... was perhaps the most talked about and written about new building in New York in the 1960s..."

The cantilevered Breuer design had a large moat and a few, lovely, trapezoidal windows and a wonderfully textural staircase and the building provided very flexible, large exhibition spaces.  It was met with a very broad spectrum of criticism that was not amused with its somber look and aggressive stance.

The next book in Stern’s series, however, “New York 2000, Architecture and Urbanism between the Bicentennial and the Millennium,” co-authored with David Fishman and Jacob Tilove, found it necessary to devote more pages to the museum, which decided it had to expand.

“In the late 1960s,” they wrote, “at the request of David M. Solinger, the museum’s president, the Whitney acquired two of the brownstones in the middle of the block, thereby effectively blocking commercial interests from assembling the site for redevelopment.  In 1978, a group of Italian developers, Sviluppo Tecnica and SGI/Sogene, commissioned two English architects, Norman Foster and Derek Walker…to prepare proposals for a mixed-use tower on the southern half of the block, the base of which would provide 5,000 square feet of expansion space for the Whitney while the tower would contain apartments.  For two years the museum and the developers studied the projet, encourage by the Museum of Modern Art’s success with its expansion plans.  Ada Louise Huxtable likened foster and Walker’s proposal…to a ‘startling, vertical Beaubourg,’ referring to the museum (1971-77) in Paris designed by Foster’s friend and former partner turned rival, Richard Rogers, in partnership with Renzo Piano.  That the proposal for a thirty-five–story building did not go forward can be attributed to a certain reluctance on the part of the trustees to participate in a speculative project and, in part to a growing belief that the bold, highly techtonic design, with its dramatic slope side glass base and overall exploration of expressed superscale metal framing, might experience rough sledding in the Upper East Side Historic District plan which was expected to be implemented by 1981.”

Foster and Walker’s plan was sensational.  The highly transparent inclined base permitted great visibility for the museum’s cantilevered form and its tower consisted of metallic, interchangeable panels with different geometric cut-outs for windows to permit residents to experiment with different viewpoints.  The top of the tower was a glass, multi-faceted low dome.  It was, without question, one of the greatest skyscraper designs in history.

The museum completed its assemblage of the southern part of the avenue block and in 1981 commissioned Michael Graves to design a single-use, non-skyscraper for the site.

Graves designed a red and pink granite building that would more than double the museum’s size by “adding a ten-story building south of the museum the top five floors of which would extend over the existing building,” the authors wrote.

“One feature of Graves’s design that proved to be particularly controversial was his decision to tear down Breuer’s concrete party wall and replace it with a hingelike stair tower intended to mediate between the thirty-foot street-level setback of the original building and the street-hugging wall of the proposed addition,” the continued, adding that New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger said that the “hinge” “would create a kind of architectural diptych out of the old and new buildings, a ‘masterly’ stroke.”

Atop the Breuer building, Graves designed a low, arched “eyebrow” window that was supposed to unite the two parts of the building and convey a sense of “lightness.” 

“Release of Graves’s design to the media unleashed a firestorm of controversy,” the authors write and Abraham W. Geller remarked in his 1985 acceptance speech for a Medal of Honor from the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects that Graves’s “philosophy is the antithesis of the philosophy of the museum’s originate” and that his use of “applied classical forms” represented the museum’s “backing away from its original concept” and that Graves’s design “literally crushed” Breuer’s building.

Michael Sorkin, they continued, declared that Graves’s design was “hostile, an assault on everything that makes the Breuer original particular,” adding that “it’s a petulant, Oedipal piece of work, an attack on a modernist father by an upstart, intolerant child, blind or callow, perhaps, but murderous.”

A hearing on the proposal by the Landmarks Preservation Commission was postponed and the public debate grew louder with I. M. Pei and Isamu Noguchi coming out against the design by Graves and then Suzanne Stephens wrote that Post-Modernism, at least as practiced by Graves was not immune to criticism that it is a “trivialization of architecture,” adding that “pretty drawings, it is not evident, don’t guarantee great buildings.”  Graves was widely considered a master of architectural drawing.

In 1987, Graves produced a second plan that reduced the mass of the addition by about 25 percent but retained the general pastiche of the original design with some variations and retained the “hinge.” 

As the Landmarks Preservation Commission was about to vote on whether the low-rise buildings could be demolished, Graves unveiled a third scheme that eliminated the hinge, and, according to the authors, “introduced a bold red and gray granite colonnade facing Madison Avenue to replace the reinterpreted ‘cyclops’ window that had been the dominant feature of the second scheme….the scheme, which owed much to the work of the Italian architect Aldo Rossi, was more abstract than its predecessors and therefore more like Breuer’s building.  A column made for a dramatic corner at 74th Street.”

The stock market collapsed and the project was placed on hold until it was officially abandoned in 1992.  Three years later, the museum hired Richard Gluckman for some nice renovations and a modest expansion of the Breuer building.

Graves’s designs were outrageously arrogant and inappropriate.  There is nothing inherently wrong with a free-standing Post-Modern building, but when it is slapped over a masterpiece of modern architecture it is blatantly and absolutely wrong.

Had the Whitney learned its lesson?

Well, in 2003 it commissioned Rem Koolhaas, the head of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam and the author of the highly influential book, “Delirious New York,” to design an expansion at Madison Avenue.

In a November 2, 2006 article in The New York Times, Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote that Mr. Koolhaas’s design “would have been one of the boldest pieces of architecture to emerge in years.”  “By accepting existing landmark restraints, including the preservation of a row of brownstones along Madison Avenue, Mr. Koolhaas seemed to imply that past, present and future need not be in violent opposition to one another.  Rising in aggressive contortions behind the brownstones, his design seemed to shelter the old granite Breuer building even as it loomed over it like a gigantic cat’s paw.”

Mr. Koolhaas’s design was not a cartoonish scrawl of classical elements, but a Godzillian beast of very aggressive asymmetry that was, thankfully, set back behind the brownstones.

The Whitney decided his plan was too expensive and the architect would move on to create world-class masterpieces in Seattle and Peking that would make him the second most important architect in the world after Frank O. Gehry and the great interiors of the Prada store in SoHo.  (In an article reviewing an exhibition on Gehry at the Whitney Museum I suggested that he would be a better choice than Graves for its expansion.  He wrote back stating that he was against criticizing other architects.)

In 2004, the Whitney decided to commission Renzo Piano, who was then designed a major addition to The Morgan Library further south on Madison Avenue for its expansion.  Subsequently, the Whitney, which had pioneered satellite museums, decided to completely relocate to the High Line Elevated Park in West Chelsea and retained Mr. Piano for that project.

While the Foster/Walker design was unquestionably the best plan, it is not always easy to muster the support of trustees, community groups, and preservationists and economics at the same time.

By cleaning up the brownstones, the Whitney Condos are a happy and very attractive ending made possibly by the recent stratospheric rise in condominium apartment pricing at the top of the luxury market.  The project is now a fine neighbor to the Breuer building that hopefully the Whitney will find a way in the future to make a satellite museum.

The loss of the garish designs by Graves is not tragic, but it is remarkable that they were  seriously considered for so long.


Out of 44

Architecture Rating: 28 / 44

Out of 36

Location Rating: 30 / 36

Out of 39

Features Rating: 20 / 39


CityRealty Rating Reference

  • 30+ remarkable
  • 20-29 distinguished
  • 11-19 average
  • < 11 below average
  • 27+ remarkable
  • 18-26 distinguished
  • 9-17 average
  • < 9 below average
  • 22+ remarkable
  • 16-21 distinguished
  • 9-15 average
  • < 9 below average
  • #15 Rated condo - Upper East Side
  • #5 Rated condo - Park/Fifth Ave. to 79th St.
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Forward-thinking and elegant homes on the Upper West Side. 3 bedroom residences | Immediate Occupancy
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