House tour: Upper east side apartment
Take a peek inside this beautiful prewar apartment on New York City's upper east side.
Perched on a bluff high above the East River between East Fifty-Second and Fifty-Third Streets, River House is massive. An imposing modernized Georgian masterpiece set behind a tall wrought-iron gate and circular driveway, it is architecturally unlike anything else in the city. A one-off design blending an unusual mix of bay windows and a ziggurat-shaped spire, the building is perfectly composed; it takes several minutes of gazing to absorb the full scope of such a monument. Because high-society prewars are so closely linked to Fifth and Park Avenues, this regal building is an unexpected find at the end of East Fifty-Second Street.
Architecture firm Bottomley, Wagner & White was better known for its movie-ready mansions in Virginia; this apartment house was its only such commission. The site was a rare piece of riverfront property, large enough to accommodate a stand-alone building complete with a private driveway and a dock on the river for residents’ yachts.
Within its 461,000 square feet are eighty extremely spacious homes. Many of the apartments have seven, eight, or nine rooms; the building also includes a number of duplexes and a still-intact triplex maisonette so large that it has been an albatross for sellers. The triplex boasts 14-foot ceilings in the entertaining rooms, which face the river through towering floor-to-ceiling windows; its drawing room alone measures 44 by 16 feet.
The 5,300-square-foot, thirteen-room A-line homes take up the southeast corner of the building. Their public rooms are absolutely majestic in both scale and design. A 30-foot-long entry gallery opens into a spacious living room with three large windows facing the river. The library, through a doorway to the south, has two south-facing windows and a large bay window, also facing the river.
The enormous 18½-by-33-foot formal dining room is on the north side, with its own bay window. Four large bedrooms face south, although there are fewer staff rooms than in earlier apartment houses such as 998 Fifth Avenue.
For residents coming home in a chauffeur-driven car, arriving between its tall black gates and pulling up in the circular driveway with a cool breeze off the river, River House has the undeniable presence of an imperial palace. A true masterpiece, the building’s remarkable architecture, magnificent homes, and privacy make it inimitably desirable.
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Excertped from Manhattan Classic: New York's Finest Prewar Apartments by Geoffrey Lynch. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, 2014. Excerpted by permission of Princeton Architectural Press, New York.