Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Schwartz & Gross's 1929 336 Central Park West


In 1928 the syndicate 339 Central Park West, Inc. purchased and demolished three rowhouses on the southwest corner of Central Park West and 94th Street.  It then hired the architectural firm of Schwartz & Gross to design a replacement apartment building.  At the time, the thoroughfare was seeing vintage residential hotels and homes replaced by sleek Art Deco apartment buildings.  But 336 Central Park West, completed in 1929, would stand apart.

Crowning the 16-story structure was an astounding cavetto cornice inspired by ancient Egypt.  The full height piers were capped by stylized lotus capitals within the cornice.  As they would do at 55 Central Park West in 1930, Schwartz & Gross gently changed the color of the tapestry brick from dark to light going upwards, giving the impression that the sun is always shining on the façade.

Apartments ranged from three to eight rooms, the latter with  up to three baths.  Servants' rooms, the pantry and kitchen were accessed by a service elevator. Advertisements made note of the oak herringbone floors, concealed brass radiators and "stainless Ever-bright chromium plated plumbing fittings."

A six-room and an eight-room apartment share one floor in this plan.  from the collection of Columbia University Libraries

Rent for the largest, corner apartments, was $5,900 in 1930--the equivalent of $7,600 per month today.  An advertisement touted, "main entrance corridor designed and executed by a prominent interior decorator."  Why it did not specify Herman Rosse is puzzling, but indeed the Dutch-born architect and designer was prominent.  He design a Jazz Age entrance hall of sleek vertical stripes and a mirrored ceiling.

The New York Sun, April 25, 1930 

Among the initial residents were concert pianist and instructor Clarence Adler, his wife Elsa Adrienne, and their eight-year-old son, Richard.  Born in Cincinnati in 1886, Adler entered the College of Music of Cincinnati at the age of 12, then traveled to Europe when he was 18 years old to further his studies.  There he was praised as a prodigy.  Adler moved to New York City in 1913 and taught at the Institute of Musical Art, giving more than 60 private lessons per week.

The Adler apartment was the scene of a musicale on December 14, 1930--one which his uninvited neighbors did not appreciate.  The Daily Star reported, "S. L. Rothafel, 'Roxy,' was one of the participants in a music drama involving a group of prominent musicians, the composer Brahms, a set of irate neighbors and the police, in which Brahms and the cause of music emerged victorious."

From among the guests, a chamber ensemble was "recruited," which played a Mozart string quartet.  The Daily Star said it was so well received that the musicians decided "to proceed to the more ambitious Brahms 'F Minor quintet.'"  The newspaper noted that those familiar with the composition "know its tremendous volume and the heavy tonal qualities of the score."  The "tremendous volume" was not well received on a Sunday night by the Adlers' neighbors.

Eventually a knock on the door was answered by Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel, the famous impresario.  There stood a policeman who said, "The neighbors say you have a band in here and I've been ordered to stop the noise."

"Why, this Brahams sextette is the highest type of music.  Why don't you listen for yourself and see if you don't like it?" said Roxy.

According to The Daily Star, the cop stepped inside, listened for a few minutes, then declared, "Well, it sounds all right to me--it might need a little tuning up, but outside of that I guess it's okay."  The article concluded, "He then left."

Over the years Clarence Adler's students included prominent figures in the musical industry, including Aaron Copland, Walter Hendl and Richard Rodgers.   Richard Adler would go on to a musical career, as well, as a lyricist, composer and producer of Broadway shows, including The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees.

Living on the 11th floor at the time of the Adler musicale were Emmanuel Osterman and his wife, the former Hortense Bernheim.  Osterman was the president of Charles Jacquin et Cie, Inc., a Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of cordials and liqueurs.  A native of France, Hortense became increasingly depressed as her health declined.  In 1932 she spent four months in a sanitarium "after several attempts to die," according to Dr. Henry Weinberger.

On the afternoon of October 18, 1933, while the Ostermans' maid, Edna Davis, prepared to go on a walk with her, Hortense entered the bathroom and locked the door.  The Knickerbocker Press reported, "After futile knocking, the maid went to a bedroom window and saw Mrs. Osterman climbing from the bathroom six feet away.  She pleaded with her mistress to come in, and her cries, ignored by Mrs. Osterman, attracted other neighbors."

Hortense sat on the window sill, high above the rear courtyard.  The newspapers said the cries of neighbors  "seeking frantically to dissuade the woman, were heard two blocks away."  They were also heard by the students of Columbia Grammar School, on West 93rd Street, the rear of which faced the courtyard.  The article said that children crowded to the windows.  The 59-year-old sat on the window ledge for five minutes before plunging to her death in the concrete paved courtyard, witnessed by "horrified and helpless scores of school children, neighbors and passersby."

On the whole, the residents attracted little publicity, other than weddings, dinner parties and receptions.  Such was not the case on October 9, 1969, however, when 27-year-old Susan E. Stern was arrested by Federal agents.  Susan, caught up in the turbulent social change movement, had joined the Weather Underground.  The group embraced violence and crime as a means to protest the Vietnam War and other perceived societal ills of the 1960's.

She was one of a dozen women arrested after "two days of violence," as described by the Chicago Tribune.  Another was Kathy Boudin, who would later be convicted of felony murder for her role in the infamous 1981 Brink's robbery.  The total number of arrests was more than 85.  

Susan was charged with aggravated battery, mob action, and resisting arrest.  Her hearing in Chicago did not take place until February 1971, when she pleaded guilty and placed on three years' probation.

More typical of the residents at the time were Michael N. Yardney and his wife, Susanne.  Yardney was an inventor and the founder of the Yardney Electric Corporation.  During World War II he had developed a remote control device "for catapulting jet planes used by French defense forces," according to The New York Times on October 18, 1975.  His firm developed a compact battery used to power military torpedoes and in the Apollo space program.

Poet and novelist Edward Newman Horn and his wife, the former Mary Henderson, lived at 336 Central Park West in the early 1970's.  A graduate of Columbia University, his best-known novel Faster, Faster, was published in 1946.  It followed a soldier newly returned from World War II.  His two volumes of poetry, Poems and Places and Poems for Small Apartments were published in the 1960s.

Photographer Edmund Vincent Gillon captured the lower facade around 1980.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

A celebrated resident in the last years of the 20th century was  dancer and choreographer Twlya Tharp.  Born in Indiana in 1941, she studied dance with Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and Richard Thomas.  She joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1963, and formed the Twyla Tharp Dance company in 1965.  The group merged with the American Ballet Theatre in 1988.

Schwartz & Gross's unique Egyptian-inspired building still stands apart along Central Park West's long row of Art Deco showpieces.

photographs by the author
LaptrinhX.com has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

No comments:

Post a Comment