Iconic photos of a changing city, and commentary on our Collections & Exhibitions from the crew at MCNY.org
8,336,697 people lived in New York City as of July 2012 according to the United States Census Bureau, and a lucky few of them live in fascinating places. Here we take a look at some the more interesting residences, images of which are featured in the Museum’s collection. All photographs were taken by Edmund V. Gillon and donated to the Museum by Blair Davis.
In 1965 the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, bounded roughly to the north and the west by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, to the south by Atlantic Avenue, and to the east by Court Street, Cadman Plaza West and Old Fulton Street. This act ensured the preservation of the neighborhood’s signature brick and brownstone buildings, most of which were built in the 19th century, and the protection of the neighborhood’s tree-lined character, which has remained relatively unaltered since the Civil War. It is no surprise, then, that Brooklyn Heights has some of the most exceptional housing the city has to offer, including the four examples below.Carriage houses are holdovers from times when horse-drawn vehicles were the primary method of transportation; the buildings stored carriages and horse tack. Although rendered obsolete by modern transportation, some carriage houses still exist in the city. The carriage houses in Brooklyn Heights were built around the mid-19th century and are often located on alleys or quiet side streets. Despite their humble origins, but perhaps because of their limited supply, carriage houses are now considered fashionable, highly desirable residences, and come with a corresponding hefty price tag. Renting a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom carriage house can set you back $10,000 a month. The carriage house pictured to the left was put on the market in 2008 for $7.2 million, but eventually sold in 2012 for $4.1 million.
The Riverside apartments were built in 1890 by William Field & Son and financed by philanthropist Alfred Tredway White, whose motto was “philanthropy plus five percent. ” White accepted a limited return on his investment in exchange for building affordable housing for Brooklyn’s poor and working class families. The Riverside buildings occupied only 49 percent of the lot, which allowed space for an internal courtyard. White’s progressive ideas about housing were years ahead of the law, and more generous as well: in 1895 the New York Tenement House Law was changed to require that a new tenement occupy no more than 65 percent of its lot. The Riverside received praise from Jacob Riis, who wrote in his 1890 book, How the Other Half Lives: “Its chief merit is that it gathers three hundred real homes, not simply three hundred families, under one roof.” Although four of the nine buildings in the Riverside complex were demolished to build the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the LPC nonetheless included the Riverside apartments in the 1965 Brooklyn Heights Historic District designation. At a time when housing for working and middle class New Yorkers is in dwindling supply, and developers declare “There are only two markets, ultraluxury and subsidized housing,” White’s business model is sorely missed.The Greek Revival house at 70 Willow Street was built around 1839 by Adrian Van Sinderen and is commonly referred to as the Capote house. From 1955 to 1965 Truman Capote rented a room in the house, where he wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s. While he was living there he also noticed a news article about the 1959 murder of a Kansas family that would lead him to write In Cold Blood. This three-story, 11-bedroom, 9,000-square foot mansion with the impressive pedigree recently sold for $12.5 million.
Octagon Tower was part of the New York City Lunatic Asylum (later Metropolitan Hospital) on Roosevelt Island. It was built in 1835-1839 by Alexander Jackson Davis. In 1955 the hospital vacated the facility when it left Roosevelt Island for Manhattan. The buildings fell into a state of disrepair, as you can see in the picture to the right. But in 2006 the ruins were converted to luxury housing, with the newly restored Octagon Tower serving as the lobby entrance.
NolitaYou would never guess that the building pictured to the left at 190 Bowery is now a single-family residence. The former Germania Bank building was built in 1898-1899 by Robert Maynicke for its namesake, which served the middle class German residents who populated the area along and to the east of the Bowery, north of Division Street. The building functioned as a bank until the mid-1960s, when photographer Jay Maisel purchased it for $102,000. Maisel moved into the six-story, 72-room, 35,000-square foot building and continues to live there today with his wife and daughter, leading Wendy Goodman of New York magazine to declare 190 Bowery “maybe the greatest real-estate coup of all time.”
Greenwich VillageReverend Paul Abels served as the church’s pastor. Abels was the first openly gay minister in a major Christian denomination in the United States. Ahead of his time, Abels performed “covenant ceremonies” for gay couples unable to wed legally. In 2004 the shrinking congregation sold the building to a real estate developer, who retained the facade and converted the interior to luxury apartments. Another church converted to residences is Portico Place. It was originally the 13th Street Presbyterian Church, built in 1847 in the Greek Revival style and attributed to Samuel Thomson. Over the years the congregation merged with other nearby Presbyterian churches and eventually came to be known as the Village Presbyterian Church. The congregation disbanded in 1975 and the building was placed on the market in 1977. In 1982, the former church became a 15-unit residential building.