The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart Close
Key Figures Commercial Architecture
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George and Edward Blum
The little-known architectural partnership of the brothers George Blum (1879–1928) and Edward Blum (1876–1944) provided designs for some of the finest apartment buildings built in New York City in the early twentieth century. Of French-Jewish ancestry, the Blums spent their childhood in France before moving to New York in 1888. Edward received his degree in architecture from Columbia College in 1899 and both studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Unlike most contemporary American architects, they understood French architectural trends beyond those studied at the Beaux-Arts, which may account for the novel use of materials and unique vocabulary of exterior ornamentation that distinguished their designs. In the twenty years following the establishment of their partnership in 1909, at least 120 apartment houses were built according to their designs. Among the most notable are the Phaeton and Rockfall (both 1909), Oxford Hall and Cambridge Hall (both 1911), the Dallieu (1912), the Hotel Theresa (1912), and the Vauxhall (1914). They also built office buildings, including the Greeley Building (1928) and the Lefcourt-Marlborough Building (1924) on 1359 Broadway.
Fred F. French (1883–1936)
An innovative real-estate developer, Fred F. French had an unusual beginning to his career. In 1907, unemployed and hungry after a series of temporary jobs, French spontaneously convinced a superintendent of the Board of Education to lend him 500 dollars. A few years later, French returned to the Bronx to mortgage his childhood home under the F. French company name. This one-man company soon became the multibillion dollar business behind several large projects in Manhattan, including Tudor City (1928), which brought middle-class respectability to a neighborhood once filled with electricity generators, tenement homes, and slaughterhouses. Not only was Tudor City the largest housing project ever in mid-Manhattan, but it was also financed by French's revolutionary stock-issue plan that repaid investors with net profits and gave them a 6 percent dividend. Another urban redevelopment project, Knickerbocker Village (1934) in the Lower East Side, was one of the country's first projects to be publicly subsidized and privately owned. French also developed several commercial properties, including the Fred F. French Building on Fifth Avenue (1927).
Henry J. Hardenbergh (1847–1918)
After graduating from Hasbrouck Institute in Jersey City, New Jersey, Henry J. Hardenbergh began work in the Manhattan office of the French- and German-trained Detlef Lienau, and five years later set up his own practice. Hardenbergh's first important commission was the Dakota (1884), an early example of an apartment building planned specifically to house affluent upper-middle-class households. Hardenbergh gained particular recognition for his hotels, which included the first Waldorf and Astoria hotels (1892, 1896; demolished 1931 to allow for the construction of the Empire State Building) and the Plaza Hotel (1905–7). Hardenbergh also designed the Western Union Telegraph Company buildings (1884), one of Fifth Avenue's first commercial buildings, and the building for the American Fine Arts Society (1891–92; now the Art Students League), of which he was a founder.
Schwartz (1877?–1956) and Gross (1877–1950)
After graduating from Hebrew Technical Institute on New York's Lower East Side, Simon I. Schwartz (1877?–1956) and Arthur Gross (1877–1950) founded an architectural firm in 1902, which for almost forty years specialized in the construction of speculative apartment buildings. Known more for the volume than the artistry of its designs, the firm was responsible for hundreds of apartment buildings constructed in New York City in the early twentieth century. Its projects ranged from modest middle- and upper-middle-class buildings in Morningside Heights and Washington Heights to upper-class apartment houses on the Upper West and Upper East sides.
Neville (dates undetermined) and Bagge (dates undetermined)
Thomas B. Neville joined the architectural practice of George Bagge in 1892 as a partner, and for thirty years the firm specialized in residential buildings on the Upper West Side and Washington Heights as well as commercial real estate in Midtown. After spending the 1890s designing a large number of Upper West Side row houses, they turned their attention to apartment houses. The firm was one of three, along with Schwartz and Gross and George Pelham, that were together responsible for an enormous percentage of the many apartment buildings built in the early twentieth century. They are generally credited with rationalizing the design of speculative apartment houses through their placement of courtyards in the center, front, and rear of their buildings. The firm survived until 1922 when it was succeeded by George Bagge and Sons until 1936.
George F. Pelham (1866–1937)
George F. Pelham was the descendent of a British naval architect and the son of a New York City architect. He was one of the most prolific architects of apartment houses in the 1920s, a period when many town houses on the Upper West Side were being converted to or replaced with apartments. He moved to New York City from his native Ottawa, Canada, in his teens and, after receiving private tutoring in architecture, began work as a draftsman. He established his own office in 1890 and quickly gained a reputation for residential buildings designed in a variety of styles. The red-brick and limestone seven-storied Fowler Court (1909) is perhaps one of the finest examples of a modern French apartment on Morningside Heights. Pelham designed many new-law tenements, particularly in northern Manhattan, and more expensive buildings on the Upper West Side and elsewhere in the city.
Mayer (1897–1981) and Whittlesey (1905–95)
Formed in 1935, the partnership of Albert Mayer (1897-1981) and Julian Hill Whittlesey (1905–95), and its successor firms, focused on large-scale urban housing projects and city planning. In New York City, the firm was known for its modernist apartment buildings, especially the 240 Central Park South apartments (1940) and Manhattan House (1950), with its influential glazed white-brick exterior. The parklike settings of both buildings allowed each apartment access to abundant fresh air and light, which reflected the firm's commitment to social as much as structural engineering. Mayer and Whittlesey were also known internationally for planning towns and cities—such as Chandigarh, India, and Kitimat, British Columbia—designed to curb urban sprawl and instill a sense of community. Along with Lewis Mumford and Henry Wright, Albert Mayer cofounded the Housing Study Guild, an influential housing and planning research organization that led to the formation of the U.S. Housing Authority in 1937.
Richard Meier (b. 1934)
With a career that has spanned over forty years and has included numerous significant projects around the world, Richard Meier is one of the leading modernists in architecture today. After receiving his bachelor's in architecture (1957) from Cornell University, Meier moved to New York City and worked with Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, and in the office of Marcel Breuer, before establishing his own practice in 1963. In the mid-sixties he designed private residences, such as the Frank Stella Studio and Apartment in Manhattan (1965) and the Smith House in Connecticut (1967). His acclaimed conversion of the Bell Laboratories in Greenwich Village to the Westbeth artists' housing complex (1970) brought him more public projects, such as the aluminum-paneled Bronx Development Center (1977), the brick Twin Parks housing project, and the Aye Simon Reading Room in the Guggenheim museum (1978), as well as the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and other national and international projects. Among other awards, he won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1984. His recent work includes three residential towers in Greenwich Village constructed in glass and white metal, where the celebrity of his name alone is said to have driven the sale of apartments.
Charles Paterno (1877–1946)
Charles Paterno became a prominent New York builder and real-estate developer almost by accident. He graduated from medical school in 1899, but before he was able to start a medical practice, he and his brother were called in to complete the construction of an apartment house upon the death of their father, John, a builder. Charles never returned to medicine as that first residential project led to others of increasing scale and complexity, and in 1907, he established the Paterno Construction Company. The firm constructed many apartment buildings in Upper Manhattan, including 37 in Morningside Heights alone. Paterno is best known for two residential developments, Hudson View Gardens (1924) and Castle Village (1939), which were among the first in America to situate apartment towers in a park setting. Paterno was also known as a philanthropist whose gifts included the endowment for the Paterno Library in the Casa Italiana at Columbia University.
Alfred Tredway White (1846–1921)
Born into a wealthy Brooklyn family, Alfred Tredway White led the movement to improve living conditions for the urban poor in New York. White took up the cause of housing reform after teaching in the settlement school sponsored by the First Unitarian Church of Brooklyn and superintending the church's settlement work in 1869. Appalled by living conditions in the tenements and inspired by the church's mission, White planned healthy housing for low-income working families based on British models. In 1877 he completed the Home Buildings, the first model tenements in America, in the Brooklyn neighborhood now known as Cobble Hill. White constructed the Tower Buildings in the same area in 1878 and 1879, and in 1890 on nearby waterfront property he built the nine Riverside Buildings. White's projects turned a modest profit, validating his dictum "philanthropy plus 5 percent" and encouraging other landlords to enter the market for low-income housing. White's financial success and public advocacy of his cause also influenced passage of the New York state tenement reform legislation. White's other reform endeavors included support for the Tuskegee Institute, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, the Children's Aid Society, and endowment of a chair at Harvard University.