Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The 1896 Beaux Arts Pierrepont Building - 103 Fifth Avenue

photo by Alice Lum
 Around 1855 Edwards Pierrepont and Marshall O. Roberts built adjoining four-story brownstone houses, each 29 feet wide,on Fifth Avenue between 17th and 18th Streets. The wide, elegant homes, each costing about $15,000, reflected the status of both owners.

Pierrepont was an esteemed lawyer and judge of the Superior Court of New York City.

He was appointed by Abraham Lincoln in 1862 to try prisoners of the State and went on to become the United States Minister to Russia in 1873, Attorney General of the United States in 1875, and United States Minister to Great Britain in 1876. It was Pierrepont who urged Queen Victoria to give the visiting General Grant the proprieties given former heads of state.

The corner of 5th Avenue and 17th Street in 1893, a year after Pierrepont's death, was still a highly-fashionable neighborhood -- etching by E. H. Del'Orme, NYPL Collection
After four decades in the house at No. 103 Fifth Avenue, Edwards Pierrepont died there on March 7, 1892. Two years later, in December, Mrs. Pierrepont sold the house, removing some of the exquisite marble mantels for use in her new home.

By now the once-fashionable section of Fifth Avenue was seeing the demolition of mansions and the rise of loft and office buildings. The New York Times reported that “The purchasers will build on the site an eight-story fire-proof business building with a front of iron and glass. The store will be 16 feet high, the first loft 18 feet, and the other stories each at least 12 feet.”

Josiah S. Lindsay was the buyer and he commissioned Louis Korn to design his new building. The architect drew upon the popularity of the Beaux Arts style overtaking the country after Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition. Completed in 1896, the building soared upward, its focal point being the grand arch encompassing the third through fifth floors. Terra cotta pilasters and swagged panels embellished the façade throughout, the swags being repeated below the cornice.

photo by Alice Lum
Lindsay paid homage to the venerated attorney whose home had stood here by naming the structure The Pierrepont Building. Centered above the first floor, a terra cotta frieze prominently announced PIERREPONT.

photo by Alice Lum
The earliest tenants were publishing and school supply companies. In 1897 publisher Frederick Warne & Co. was here followed soon by Art Interchange, also in the publishing business. At the turn of the century Central School Supply House was here, selling “maps, globes, scientific apparatus, writing tablets, etc.” as was Globe School Book Co.

The terra cotta swags below are mimicked in the pressed cornice -- photo by Alice Lum
By 1908 the apparel district was inching onto this part of Fifth Avenue and Fred W. Quanz moved into No. 103 in 1908, selling “kid gloves, collars, cuffs and shirts. Other such firms, like A. H. Rice Co., who sold braids, and Joseph Balesh & Brothers followed suit.

The Pierrepont Building managed to survive throughout the 20th Century with extremely little alteration to the façade. The end piers of the first floor are intact and with the exception of replacement windows, very little has changed.

photo by Alice Lum
Today Louis Korn’s attractive Beaux Arts building contains both office and residential space. The loft apartments each occupy an entire floor and the penthouse encompasses three full floors.

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