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The Colosseum, 435 Riverside Drive

Between West 115th Street & West 116th Street

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.
 

One of New York's few buildings with a major curved façade, the Colosseum anchors the west end of 116th Street along with another curved building, which is across the street, the Paterno at 440 Riverside Drive.

Both buildings were designed by Schwartz & Gross but their curves are different and in different directions. The Colosseum's curve faces towards the north-northwest and begins on Riverside Drive while the Paterno's starts on 116th Street where it meets Claremont Avenue, one of the city's loveliest.

Curved façades are unusual in New York. Riverside Drive has several buildings that curve to match the bends of the board, but none are as pronounced as these two, which also happen to face one another and provide an opportunity to reconsider the wisdom of the city's traditional rectilinear grid. The curves here, which actually turn away from one another, provide an interesting perspective for the main entrance gateway of Columbia University one block away at Broadway and 116th Street. They also significantly widen the intersection although in a slightly confusing fashion.

In his book, "The City Observed, New York, A Guide to the Architecture of Manhattan," (Vintage Books, a division of Random House, 1979), Paul Goldberger, then architecture critic of The New York Times and now architecture critic of The New Yorker magazine, noted the "echoes" of these curves and remarked that these "two buildings play off against each other like the curving lines of a Mir?." Remarking that both buildings are "antecedents" of the curved building at 200 Central Park South several decades later, Goldberger said that this intersection "deserves the enlargement of this grand gesture," adding that "It wouldn't work at a conventional corner, but it is splendid here."

When the school and office tower at 3 Park Avenue at 34th Street turned on its axis and created triangular plazas, some critics felt that such a dramatic break with the city's traditional grid pattern of construction was not splendid, not positive. The jury is still out. If the entire city were a helter-skelter of curved and angular streets and plazas, it might get pretty confusing for many New Yorkers, but many cities in fact have such environments. One needs only think of the crescent in Bath, England, to wax eloquent on the poetry of urban curves. It is probably not a good idea to tear down most of Manhattan and start over with more curves and angles. After all, we do have Lower Manhattan and its odd streets and great buildings. Still, surprise is what is perhaps most enjoyable in the city and they and grand gestures, especially when combined, are always welcome as are this splendid duo.

In addition to its great façade arc along Claremont Avenue and 116th Street, the Paterno's entrance on Riverside Drive has a very large enclosed driveway that leads to a stained glass vestibule and a very handsome marble lobby.

The 13-story Colosseum, however, has only one street façade and a less impressive, but still very attractive entrance. This curved façade is symmetrical and the entrance is placed in the its center beneath a central three-window section that is strongly accented on the façade by a quite, bold, zipper-like design above the four-story limestone base. The façade, in fact, is very handsome. The 11th floor has pronounced stringcourses above and below its windows and the top of the building is a large and elaborate cornice. The three center windows on the top floor are arched to reinforce the visual aids to finding the entrance, which has flanking lanterns and is topped with a balustraded balcony in a very elegant and distinctive composition.

Many of the finest buildings in this attractive neighborhood were erected by the Paterno and Campagna construction companies.

This neighborhood has many important institutions in additional to Columbia University such as seminaries and the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.

A subway station is at Broadway and 116th Street and buses run cross-town on 110th Street and north and south on Riverside Drive and Broadway.

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