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June 8, 2007

Up or Down?


Back in April I found a batch of old photographs from the late 1950's/early 1960's via a man selling various crap on Canal Street. I truly regret not buying the entire lot that he had, as they all centered around the theme of photographing the city from one's balcony, something that I myself would do often if, you know, I had a balcony.

Of the pile that I did take, there were two inconsistencies- this image and another of an unmarked street and building which I have narrowed down to (I think) an area in or around Sutton Place. I was looking at the photographs more closely the other day and realized that this building- or set- are these refurbished rowhouses, as many of the old homes in Sutton and Beekman Place tend to be? The balconies on the front threw me for a loop- they look out of place for a typical rowhouse- and the building next to it is not complete. It/they is/are either being built or being knocked down.

Large x's in windows usually mean that it is under construction. I guess there is a chance that the building was having its windows replaced, however...

...looking closer it is evident that the building next door is missing some bricks!

Does anyone know whether these buildings were being built or dismantled? My hunch is the former but I am really curious. My knowledge of the Sutton Place area is a bit lacking (aside from the history surrounding Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt and Anne Morgan, etc.) and I've put it on my library list for the near future. Also note the cobblestone streets.

Posted by callalillie at June 8, 2007 7:35 AM | City Life , Found History , I Love Buildings


Looks to me like they're going up, but I am no expert. However, I don't think they usual tear buildings down brick by brick, it seems to be a much messier process!

Thought I would let you know about a photo blog on NYC I found recently. Many of the pictures/essays are about the architecture and history of the city: http://newyorkdailyphoto.blogspot.com

Posted by: Kelly at June 8, 2007 10:37 AM

True that on brick by brick. I think the front building was some sort of modification, though...it kind of looks like they were individual rowhouses that don't share party walls (the roof of each is a different height). Now I really want to take another Upper East Side walk.

Posted by: corie at June 8, 2007 2:03 PM

Several things could be going on here from my first impression, but without getting too analytical and long-winded, here is my best professional guess. -Woops, too late.

1) The x's are there for 2 reasons. It might have been there for new construction, but people would also do this to keep the windows from cracking and breaking due to vibrations and/ or wind damage, such as from a hurricane or say, a building being next door being demolished or newly constructed. (Which, by the way, the taping of windows is a complete myth. It does nothing to keep the windows from breaking, and in fact, could do more harm than good in the long run.)

2) My take on it is that the building next to it is being razed. The bricks at the top are too irregular to be new construction. I think the windows are missing, because they would have likely been salvaged or removed before the bricks would be torn down. For that matter, the bricks might be being salvaged, as well.

So, both of your theories could be on the money. The x-ed building could be new construction, but the building next to it is definitely being torn down for some reason, maybe for the next piece of the development to be built. There is a fairly tall building on the left, and the shadows show some pretty tall buildings across the street, which might indicate that the older buildings were under-utilized for the area at that time.

But, my first question is, and I might be missing something in the photo, why do you say the balconies are not finished? They look fairly complete to me, but I live in Mississippi. That is not to say that it is not a new building. There is not discoloration (or water stains) on the cornice or bricks, that I can see, that would indicate to me that the building is fairly new.

Posted by: larry ferrari at June 8, 2007 3:29 PM

Oooh! Very helpful!

Actually, you just caught a major typo. I must have accidentally deleted part of my sentence- I've fixed it. What I meant to say was that the balconies seem out of place for a NYC rowhouse. Fire escapes, maybe...

In the 1910's and 1920's, many old rowhouses were "recycled" in NYC, particularly in the Beekman Place area. Mostly, their facades were ripped off and redone, in addition to some reconfigurations of the interior rooms. The reason why I thought the left building was a refurb was because it (or actually, what looks like three joined together) looks like a fairly typical old law tenement 5-story house (though I'm not an expert on this at all), except the facade looks fixed or fancier and the balconies an added touch.

Hmm...if it's not too sweltering this afternoon, many I'll take a walk across town...

Posted by: corie at June 8, 2007 3:48 PM

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