Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Boak & Paris's 1937 5 Riverside Drive

image via corcoran.com

Beginning in 1934, a massive Government-sponsored New Deal project was undertaken that not only improved Riverside Park and the Drive, but provided needed jobs for Depression Era construction workers.  It leveled the park so the tracks of the New York Central Railroad now ran under it.

On October 5, 1936, The New York Sun reported that the architectural firm of Boak & Paris had filed plans "for a new nineteen-story and penthouse apartment building to be erected on the south corner of Riverside Drive and Seventy-third Street."  The article mentioned it would face "the newly landscaped Riverside Park" as well as "the lawn of Mr. Schwab's home."

The new building, "to be known as 5 Riverside Drive," was being erected by the Orphington Estates, Inc, a syndicate headed by developer Aaron Simon.  (Simon was a partner in the development firm Simon Brothers, founded by his brother Jacob, and the project quickly came under its oversight.)

The New York Sun reported, "The completed structure will accommodate 106 tenants and apartments will range from two to five rooms.  Dropped living rooms and fire places are among the features of the interior while the exterior of modern classic design will have a series of corner bay windows."

Boak & Paris embellished its late Art Deco design with elements drawn from Greek and Roman precedents, like stylized fasces and Greek key designs.  The stone base was heavily reeded, and the entrance was framed in reeding and surmounted by a classical urn--motifs that would make a return in the firm's 1941 20 Fifth Avenue, also designed for Simon Brothers.

image via landmarkwest.org

The cost of construction was $800,000, or just under $17 million in 2024.  Before the building opened in the fall of 1937, Simon Brothers made a staggering profit, selling it in March to the Protestant Episcopalian Public School organization, which bought it as an investment, for $2.5 million.  The New York Times said the transaction was "reported to be one of the largest New York realty exchanges in several years."

Among the early residents was David Rosen, whose job as manager of the Cosmopolitan Bridge Club in the Ansonia Hotel seemed perfectly respectable.  That is, until undercover detectives began visiting the club and quietly collecting evidence.  On November 17, 1939, Rosen, his assistant manager Joseph Reich, and their bookkeeper Emily Buxton were arrested at the club for running an illegal gambling operation.  On February 7, 1941, The New York Sun reported on "the conviction of Rosen and Reich as common gamblers and as maintaining a gambling establishment, and the finding of Miss Buxton guilty as a common gambler."

A horrific incident occurred here on the morning of May 28, 1943.  Gladys Deutsch, who lived on the 14th floor, was described by the Brooklyn Eagle as "a 50-year-old woman sociologist" and by New York Evening Post as a "wealthy and philanthropic spinster."  The Evening Post said, "Twenty years ago she inherited a considerable fortune from her father, and she had occupied herself with philanthropies and sociology."

That morning she wrote two notes, one (which unfortunately was discovered too late) was pinned to the outside of her door:  "Gas escaping.  Don't come in."  The other, addressed to "Civil Authorities," read,

Gas is escaping at 5 Riverside Drive, apartment 14-E.  Send cadaver, if any, to nearest institution requiring such supplies for medical research.  Gladys Deutsch

That afternoon, the Brooklyn Eagle reported, "An explosion in a fashionable Manhattan 16-story apartment house this morning blew out several walls and injured three tenants."  

Gladys Deutsch's apartment is at left, while her next door-neighbor, Joseph Fiddleman is seen in the photo a right, with a gaping hole blown into the wall between his and Gladys's apartments.  photos by Weegee, PM Daily Picture Magazine, May 28, 1943.

At least one resident of 5 Riverside Drive left home to serve in World War II.  Marine Corps Lieutenant Alan Shilip was a member of the Second Battalion that captured the Naha airfield on Okinawa in June 1945.  Upon taking the field, he remarked to a reporter, "If we have ever taken a more important Japanese airfield, I don't know what it is."

Resident Herbert H. McNeill, who was unmarried, garnered his fortune through a variety of positions.  He was not only the president, treasurer, and director of the H. H. McNeill Lumber Company, Inc., but the president and director of the McNeill Stewart Hoernie Company, Inc., a partner in the Stewart Stamping Company, and a director of the Clip Craft Corporation.

McNeill wrote out his will on February 20, 1948, but changed it less than three months later.  The amended document, explained The Herald Statesman, "left a major portion of his estate to a nephew, Patterson O. Stewart and his wife, Katherine A. Stewart, personal property."  Stewart was also named an executor of the estate.  Under the new will, McNeill's three brothers and a sister received "9/20ths of the residuary."

The significant changes were discovered after the 68-year-old McNeill died on January 29, 1949.  On May 16, 1949, The Herald Statesman titled an article "Two Chicago Relatives Dispute Validity of H. H. McNeill's Will."  The article said that a brother and nephew of McNeill "charge that the will was 'procured by the undue influence and fraud' of Mr. and Mrs. Stewart and a friend, Marion Rodriguez of New York, who is left $20,000 under the will."

The upper-story decorations were executed in cast stone.  image via landmarkwest.org

Determined to prove their point, the relatives obtained permission from State Supreme Court Justice J. Gordon Flannery on July 6 to exhume McNeill's body so an autopsy could be performed.  McNeill's siblings told the court they had been able to obtain only "the most sketchy, casual, indefinite, unofficial, and foggy" information regarding the cause of their brother's death.

Five months later, on December 31, 1949, The Daily Item reported that "despite the challenges of two brothers and a nephew," Herbert H. McNeill's amended will was upheld as valid.

In 1966, 5 Riverside Drive was converted to a cooperative.  And along with cooperatives come co-op boards that screen the acceptability of prospective owners.  The process ended badly for actor Werner Klemperer.

The actor best known for his role as the comical character Colonel Klink in the "Hogan's Heroes" television series, Klemperer was rejected by the board in June 1982.  The New York Times reported, "But what troubled him most, he insisted, is that no law requires that he be told why."  

Klemperer said, "I'm not being given a clue.  I don't involve myself in the rock scene, the dope scene.  It makes me almost think back on the 50's, when people could insinuate something about other people without saying anything."

In an effort to discover answers, The New York Times reporters Clyde Haberman and Laurie Johnston called Dr. Edwin I. Levy, who headed the review committee.  He "told a caller that he had no comment and hung up."

image via landmarkwest.org

Although most of the windows have been replaced, affecting Boak & Paris's original design, 5 Riverside Drive remains a handsome presence on the drive after nearly a century.

many thanks to reader Lowell Cochran for suggesting this post
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  1. Werner wound up being accepted at Lincoln Plaza Tower.

  2. Beginning of second paragraph, "On October 5, 1956.." should read, "On October 5, 1936..."