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550 Park Avenue & Diana Vreeland

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I took a walk across Central Park the other day and marveled at the leaves that now litter the ground. September, my favorite month, is gone, replaced by October ever so quickly. My strides led me to Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. The Documentary on Diana Vreeland “The Eye Has to Travel” was playing and since such movies only play in three or four theaters in the city, I decided to go to the one on the  West side.  Angelika theatre  on Houston Street was too far, and I don’t particularly like City Cinemas across from busy Bloomingdales.

On my way to the theatre I made sure to pass by Diana Vreeland’s former home at 550 Park Avenue. A very civilized building, nothing eye catchy about it. Diana lived with her husband Reed on the 9th floor. They did not have a particularly large apartment (for Park Avenue standards), but it was made distinctive by her choice of the color red used in her living room. She called that room “a garden in hell”. Lacking the serious money needed to properly decorate such an apartment, Diana instead chose a very inexpensive fabric, some would even call it hideous, and had her walls, her sofa, chairs and pillows upholstered in it. Other shades and patterns of red were added, and with her trained eye, the room came alive with excitement. It goes to show how you don’t always need a boat load of money when you have ideas. Designers such as Carolina Herrera and Anna Sui have paid homage to Diana’s inspirational room by having red rooms of their own. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

The documentary would not necessarily get a standing ovation but it was very informative. Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Diana’s granddaughter- in-law, was the director of this movie. She also wrote a book by the same name that was published in 2011.  The film mainly revolved around  the interview/talks that George Plimpton had with Diana in preparation for her autobiography “DV” which was published in 1984 and which Plimpton edited. One of my favorite lines in the film is when Diane is describing how to become a fashion editor and says in her deep drawn voice “One must first arranged to be born in Paris”. Indeed that was the city she was born in, (5 Avenue Foch) and the city she loved coming back to throughout her life.

Diana’s estate sold her apartment at 550 Park Avenue to W. Michael Blumenthal, a Carter-era Treasury Secretary. In 2008 Mr. Blumenthal decided to sell and combined his apartment with his neighbors for a total of about 6,500 square feet, making it one of the largest Park Avenue apartments in today’s era. I can think of a few larger apartments at 740 Park Avenue but not too many other buildings kept their 1920’s configurations. Socialite Phyllis Mack passed the board and now lives here, having paid only $20 million, a bargain.

Written by agnesbstanton

October 1, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Posted in Co-ops, Upper East Side

10 Gracie Square

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My husband’s childhood home was sold in early 2010 due to the fact that his mother had recently passed away. The writer Tom Wolfe once mentioned in a 1985 Esquire article that there are 42 “Good buildings” in Manhattan. Tim’s childhood apartment was in one of them: 10 Gracie Square.

I’ve visited a few times when Tim’s mother, Joan Stanton (her stage name as an actress was Joan Alexander) was still living, and there were things I liked and other things I liked less. I’ll start with the latter. As one enters the building, there really isn’t much room to sit and linger since not much of a lobby exists. You walk into what basically amounts to a driveway with three elevator banks. The driveway cuts right through the entire building from 84th street all the way to 83rd street coming face to face with Brearley, one of Manhattan’s top private all-girls schools. Some noted Brearley alumni include such stately and elegant women as Jill ClayburghTea Leoni, and Caroline Kennedy. Private individuals love this driveway, as it allows them to pull into the building, enter and leave without being seen. Security wise it makes sense, but the cost is reflected in not having a beatified entry.

Another slight detriment, in my opinion, as well as Christopher Gray’s, is rust. 10 Gracie Square, when built in 1930, was not made rust-proof. It was in fact not even primed, as Gray’s New York Times “Streetscapes” column, published November 1, 1992, makes note of. Renovations had to therefore be made and dealt with in the early 90’s.

There is one last bit of unmatched curiosity that abounds 10 Gracie Square. Is it one building or 3 put together? As my photos clearly show, the southeast corner bordering Carl Schurz Park, is made of limestone. It is bordered on both sides by red brick. The red brick side facing Carl Schurz Park houses many of the bedroom wings with approximately 9 Ft. high ceilings. The limestone part is primarily occupied with 12 Ft. high living/dining areas with full East River frontage. The red brick part cornering 83rd Street has complete apartments all to themselves, a few lucky enough to even have balconies facing the River. The three different facades only slightly take away from uniformity, but in no way do they depreciate the building’s value.

The 83rd Street corner of 10 Gracie Square showing the red brick part of the building

That being said, 10 Gracie Square has many charming aspects centered primarily on the individuals who have resided in between its walls. The list is not short by any means, and the varied stories could easily fill a Dominick Dunne novel. I’ll just have to give you the short version.

10 Gracie Square was designed by architects Van Wart & Wein, Pleasants Pennington & Albert W. Lewis. It is part of a square block between 83rd and 84th streets and East End Avenue and the East River. The 15-story building was built in 1930. Originally there was a private club on the lower level below the street, that opened onto a yacht mooring. This was demolished to make way for the FDR Drive in later years.

 The Stairs that once led to the yacht mooring

The building ran into financial problems in 1937 and suffered a foreclosure. It was said that Margaret Mellon Hitchcock, one of the residents, helped to bring back financial stability to the building. Margaret was a descendent of the well-known Mellon family. She married Tommy Hitchcock, Jr., a polo player, whom after F. Scott Fitzgerald loosely modeled his character Tom Buchanan in the Great Gatsby. One of their sons, William Hitchock married my sister-in-law, Jane Stanton Hitchcock.  They moved into their own apartment at 10 Gracie on a low floor, closer to 83rd St., with direct views of the East River. 10 Gracie was favored by the Stanton family including my husband’s uncle, Frank Stanton, who chose to reside in the maisonette. One of his sons, James Stanton, recently bought an apartment in the building as well.

Another family with strong roots at 10 Gracie would be the Rudin family. Beth Rudin DeWoody, the socialite known for her art patronage, has lived on the 4th floor for quiet some time, while Eric Rudin, just recently bought  a 6th Floor apartment. Both Rudins are on the board of Rudin Management, one of the largest landlords in New York City.

The apartment that Eric Rudin bought once belonged to Albert Gordon, a financier who is credited in saving Kidder Peabody during the stock market crash of 1929. Albert passed away on May 1, 2009  having lived 107 years. Coincidentally this was only 20 days before my mother-in-law, Joan Stanton, died at the age of 94. They lived in such close proximity that Albert at times could even be found having a drink with Joan even though they did not run in the same circles.  He was known for being an extremely hard worker throughout his life and didn’t stop at 65 but continued to work until he was 105. Albert took care of himself with early morning jogs well into his 90’s. As a child, my husband remembers getting ready for school each morning, and witnessing, through his bedroom window, Albert wearing a tracksuit, coming up the East River and through Carl Schurz Park. He was a mighty force to be reckoned with and also one of the friendliest men around.

Security had to be tightened when Madame Chiang-Kai Shek moved into 10 Gracie in 1975, after the death of her husband. Having once been the First Lady to the Republic of China, as well as appearing on the cover of Time Magazine, undoubtedly, required her have an over-the-top security force. My husband remembers there being security whenever Madame Chiang-Kai Shek left or entered the building. He doesn’t remember much of Madame Chiang-Kai Shek, except for maybe a foot or  arm, entering a chauffeured car. Too bad there wasn’t much to see, as she was known for her style, the reason Vanity Fair included her in their annual International Best-Dressed List in 1943. She unfortunately did not have the luxury of being able to just stroll and go about as she pleased. Her comings and goings were a very stringent affair. She died in 2003 at the age of 105. A biography on her life was recently written by Hannah Pakula and published in 2009 titled “The Last Empress”.

Jean Queen and socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, chose to reside at 10 Gracie after not being able to get past the co-op board of River House. She bought the penthouse apartment after the death of her fourth husband. One of her sons with fourth husband Wyatt Emory Cooper, is Anderson Cooper, the well-known CNN anchor. Her other son, Carter Cooper, committed suicide from the terrace of that apartment, at a very young age, not long after finishing his studies at Princeton. Anderson Cooper wrote this article about his loss. Gloria has two other sons, Stan and Christoper, with her second husband Leopold Stokowski.

Steve Ross, who invented the modern entertainment conglomerate Warner Communication, also lived at 10 Gracie Square in the late 70’s and early 80’s. He was married to his second wife Amanda Burden, daughter of socialite Babe Paley, during this time. Amanda had been previously married to Carter Burden, a man of great style and taste. When Steve and Amanda divorced, he hopped over to 740 Park Avenue after marrying his third wife, Courtney Sale Ross in 1982. Warner Communication merged with Time Inc. and became Time Warner in 1989. After Steve Ross died in 1992, Courtney started the Ross School in her husband’s memory, a very successful private school in the Hamptons. My husband Tim remembers Steve as a really friendly kind of guy who once invited him to the Atlantic Records Grammy party held at “21”. Steve also got him a summer job at Atlantic Records where he had to make an inventory of every record in their warehouse.

Literature giants such as critic Alexander Woollcott as well as publishers John Fairchild and Horace Havemeyer III also resided in between 10 Gracie’s walls.

One of the heirs to the Mosler safes, as well as John Marion, a chief  auctioneer at Sotheby’s, Andre Kostelanetz a music conductor, and an ambassador to Turkey, all enjoyed their times in the building as well.

Written by agnesbstanton

September 2, 2011 at 10:05 am

Posted in Co-ops, Upper East Side

“Manhattan Murder Mystery” locations

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After a late night spent watching “Manhattan Murder Mystery” I decided to find the building where Larry and Carol Lipton (Woody Allen and Diane Keaten respectively) lived. Thankfully I didn’t have to wonder too far since the address is 200 E. 78th St., not far from where I live.  It’s been a good 18 years since the movie was shot and the building hasn’t changed much from the outside.  The light marble finish in the lobby looks like it has gone a couple shades darker, maybe due to some remodeling. While at it I headed downtown to see how a couple other set locations for this movie were holding up.

Hotel 17 located at 225 E. 17th St. was used for the exterior shots while the Chelsea Hotel was used for the interiors. In the movie, Lillian House hides out in this hotel as her husband collects the insurance money for her fake death. When I got to Hotel 17, just off of Rutherford Place, I spotted a couple teenagers coming out, puffing on cigs.  It certainly looks pretty run down for a hotel I thought,  and when I checked out the hotel’s website, I came to the conclusion that this place must have some of the cheapest rooms in the city. You don’t even get your own bathroom in most of them.  There’s a certain kind of charm to a run-down, gritty, New York hotel, which I guess was why Madonna once chose to stay here.

A few blocks northwest I came across The National Arts Club which was where Carol Lipton went for a wine-tasting. It’s still as charming today as it was in 1993. Being located at 15 Gramercy  Park South gives the club some wonderful views of the park across the street, especially from the bay window which was where, in the movie, Carol Lipton spotted Lillian House riding by in a bus.

Written by agnesbstanton

April 10, 2011 at 12:10 pm

11 E. 73rd St. The Pulitzer Mansion

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Joseph Pulitzer was a self-made man who was originally born in Hungary but came to the US as a teenager. He became a famous publisher who owned the New York World as well as the St. Louis Dispatcher. Pulitzer owned a townhouse on 10 E. 55th St. that unfortunately burned down, so he purchased a large plot of land on E. 73rd St. just off of 5th Ave. What he wanted to build was a grand home without too many frills. He hired the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, and in 1903 had his completed, specially soundproofed villa, ready for occupancy. Pulitzer was almost blind at the time and therefore, in compensation, had a very acute sense of sound. He wanted his home completely silent, but as we all know, that is a difficult feat to accomplish in any metropolitan city. What Stanford White, who specifically worked on this project, did was make Pulitzer a very insulated bedroom towards the back garden on the west side of the townhouse. Along with a squash court and even a swimming pool in the basement, Pulitzer’s mansion was a feat onto itself.

Pulitzer only spent a few years in this home before he died in 1911, after which the townhouse sat vacant for a relatively long time before the developer Henry Mandel started the conversion of this mansion into a 17 unit apartment building in the 1930’s. He hired the architect James E. Casale to do the conversions while trying to keep many original details such as the ceiling height in tact. Mandel’s plan ended up being carried out by the Pulitzer heirs as Mandel’s lease on the property fell through. Once the conversion was finished, the Astor Family Estate bought the townhouse in 1937 as an investment property. The trustees sold it in 1952 at which point it was converted into a co-op and has stayed this way ever since. The conversion allowed for Pulitzer’s “silent” bedroom to be given a private entrance through the garden which utilizes a grand entry gate.

Stanford White was inspired by Venetian architecture when he designed the Pulitzer Mansion specifically Palazzo Pesaro from 1682 as well as Palazzo Rezzonico from 1667.

Palazzo Pesaro, Venice, Italy.

Palazzo Pesaro, Venice, Italy. Venice; Pesaro Palace. Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival Collection (S03_06_01_027 image 3323).

The actress Sylvia Sidney once lived in the Pulitzer Mansion as well as the writer Emily Kimbrough who along with Cornelia Otis Skinner, wrote “Our hearts were young and gay”. Even though co-oped these days, this townhouse is a lasting memorial to the great newspaper man who also gave us Columbia University’s School of Journalism.

Written by agnesbstanton

March 19, 2011 at 10:05 am

Emery Roth’s Central Park West “El Dorado, Beresford, San Remo”

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I’ve recently had a chance to read a full account of Emery Roth’s life as an architect in the early 20th Century. “Mansions in the Clouds” by Steven Ruttenbaum gives an in-depth account of the famous buildings around the city that Roth designed. There are many worthwhile buildings to mention on Park and Fifth,
Sutton and Beekman, but I have chosen to focus on Central Park West, as three of his most famous creations are on that avenue; The El Dorado, The Beresford and The San Remo. Roth himself at one point lived in the Hotel Alden at 225 Central Park West, which nowadays has been converted to a co-op called the Alden. CPW deeply appealed to Roth for one reason or another, and we are fortunate to have such architecturally significant buildings in close proximity to each other.  The skyline that these buildings create is one of the reasons that eastsiders on Fifth Ave. value their views so much.

The least Roth-like building of these three would be the El Dorado located at 300 Central Park West between 90th and  91st Streets.  Roth only served as associate architect on this venture, with the main architect being Margon & Holder. Nonetheless, there are many features of the El Dorado that are clearly Roth inspired,  such as the twin towers which were modeled after the twin towers of the San Remo being built at around the same time.

The El Dorado was geared to appeal to a more middle-class and less affluent cliental. The apartment layouts were smaller and the outside styling was very Art Deco/modern, appealing to a less conservative crowd. The El Dorado was in essence “New Money” while the classical design and layouts of the San Remo as well as the Beresford were “Old Money”.  The variations are slight and the El Dorado till this day continues to be one of the finest Art Deco structures in this city with certain apartments selling for over 10 million.

Going down the avenue we come to the Beresford located at 211 CPA between 81st and 82nd Streets. At the time of its completion in 1929, it was the largest apartment house built to date. The Beresford took its name from the Hotel Beresford, which had previously occupied the site since 1889. There are three entrance awnings just as there are three majestic towers (one being the home to John McEnroe). The Beresford is unique in the fact that it has two major facades; the east-side facing Central Park West, and the south-side facing the park that is part of the American Museum of Natural History. This allows for at least half of the residents to have spectacular views. Ruttenbaum called the Beresford “an impregnable medieval fortress”. One thing is for sure, it’s a building you never overlook nor tire of admiring. If you are so lucky as to ever have a chance to pass through any of the three entrance lobbies, you’ll notice the “marble halls of your dizziest dreams”. The term opulent is an understatement, but for the pre-Depression era, such excess in luxury apartment living was the norm. There are 22 Floors in this building and about 175 apartments.

The 19th Floor alone has stars such as Jerry Seinfeld and Glenn Close, although Glenn is reportedly trying to sell her pad which once was owned by Rock Hudson. Earlier this year in January, Glenn’s apartment #19D was listed for $11.8 million only to be slashed to 10.8 million in March.  Somewhat mysteriously Glenn took it off the market for the time being. It’s only a two-bedroom, 2.5 bath for crying out loud. The outdoor terrace space is what you’re really paying for so their comes a point when you have to ask yourself, is it really worth the extra couple of million?

Located at 145-146 CPW between 74th and 75th Streets,  the San Remo, rather than looking like a medieval fortress along the lines of the Beresford, is more akin to a medieval cathedral. It was the first apartment building in New York to be built incorporating twin towers. Having served as the inspiration for Roth’s other work the El Dorado, the San Remo also inspired  two other CPW buildings not designed by Roth; The “Majestic” and the “Century”.

Famous residents who have at one time made the San Remo their home include Steven Spielberg (13th Floor), Demi Moore (South Tower duplex), Glenn Close (before she moved to the Beresford), Steve Jobs (bought his north tower duplex in 1982), Barry Manilow (who subletted his apartment to Raquel Welch), Dustin Hoffman, Steve Martin and Rita Hayworth (who lived out the remaining years of her life in the building).

Written by agnesbstanton

August 22, 2010 at 9:34 am

Posted in Co-ops, Upper West Side

927 Fifth Ave. (Pale Male’s Home)

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So you might be wondering who Pale Male is as he’s not a typical resident. For one thing he doesn’t live in a respectable 14 room layout, nor will the co-op board comment on why they had to evict him at one point. He did after-all come back to live in the building, having bypassed the co-op board entirely. This little fellow sure has clout. After his friends came out to support him, the co-op had no choice but to let him back into his penthouse.

For those of you who do not know, Pale Male is a red-tailed hawk and quite the celebrity. He’s 19 years old and has made 927 Fifth Avenue his home since 1993. During his exciting life he has found the time to father 26 offspring and has had quite a number of girlfriends, beginning with “First Love” to his current mate “Lola”. Pale Male is the first known red-tailed  hawk to have nested on a building rather than in a tree, and he sure picked a good address at that.

Other lesser-known celebrities, who have made  927 Fifth Avenue their home, include real estate developer Richard Cohen and his now ex-wife CNN anchor Paula Zahn (8th Floor), as well as Mary Tyler Moore who moved out in 2005. Investment banker Bruce Wasserstein once lived here. His 11th Floor apartment was bought by the developer Will Zeckendorf,  only to be put on the market a few months later. It has yet to sell and is listed for $31.5 million. Pale Male’s eviction notice came in December 2004 but he was soon back three weeks later and has stayed ever since.

927 Fifth Ave. is located on the southeast corner of 74th St. right across from Central Park’s model-boat pond. Designed by architects Warren and Wetmore and completed in 1917, this limestone clad pre-war was built in the Renaissance Revival style and has 12 Floors and only 12 apartments.

Written by agnesbstanton

August 18, 2010 at 11:23 am

Posted in Co-ops, Upper East Side

969 Fifth Ave.

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This co-op building, built in 1924, has 16 floors and only 13 apartments due in part to the couple of duplexes that it contains. Some of the apartments have views of the Metropolitan Museum of Art as the museum is only four blocks away. Joseph L. Raimist designed this co-op in a fairly typical style and without much fuss, which is why architectural books typically skip it due to its lack of any special character.

Not being particularly distinctive, this building nonetheless has had its share of a little glamour, especially when Lee Radziwill, Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ little sister, once owned a duplex apartment here during the time she was married to Stanislaw “Stas” Radziwill, a Polish prince.  This is the same Lee Radziwill who would go skinny dipping in St. Bart’s as my husband played with her Golden Retrievers with his mouth wide open. She was known to be much less demure than Jackie and enjoyed getting away with it.

I on the other hand have found a little character and charm in a not-so-simple and relatively dangerous process of window cleaning that this particular co-op employs. As I was taking a little stroll I couldn’t help but take out my camera and snap this. The residents of 969 Fifth Ave. really get to enjoy sparkly windows.

Written by agnesbstanton

July 17, 2010 at 11:36 am

Posted in Co-ops, Upper East Side