Friday, January 12, 2024

Boak & Paris's 1941 20 Fifth Avenue


image via Boak & Paris & Raad, New York Architects by Annice Alt, 2014

When real estate developer Simons Brothers first eyed the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 9th Street in 1939, the seven-story, brownstone-faced Berekeley hotel had stood there since 1876.  Simon Brothers demolished the venerable structure and hired the architectural firm of Boak & Paris to design a modern apartment building in its place.  The developer was expressing its confidence that the Great Depression was waning.  Stone magazine placed the cost of construction at $700,000--about $14.7 million by 2024 conversion.

Although the entrance was placed around the corner on West 9th Street, the building took the more impressive address of 20 Fifth Avenue.  Completed in 1940, the architects gave their overall Art Moderne design striking neo-Classical decorations drawn mostly from Greek precedents.  Vertical, heavy reeding created a highly unusual, corrugated-looking base.  Stylized fasces and Greek key motifs made up the cast stone bandcourses above the third and fourteenth floors, and antefixes perched atop the entrances of the doctors' offices along Fifth Avenue.  Boak & Paris let loose at the residential entrance where heavy reeding framed the doorway, above which Art Deco vines swirled below a round niche holding an urn.

image via

Boak & Paris relieved the facade by creating centered recesses with chamfered corners and wrap-around windows on both elevations.  They additionally afforded extra light and ventilation to the apartments.

The developers' confidence was rewarded when apartments began being rented while construction was ongoing.  On January 6, 1940, The New York Times reported, "In the seventeen-story house being erected by Simon Brothers at 20 Fifth Avenue, suites have been taken by B. E. Whit, an official of the American Express Company, Mrs. Lillian J. Ford, James C. Martin and Russell J. Eddy."

Residents would enjoy up-to-the-minute amenities like sunken living rooms, glass-enclosed showers, and "spacious dining balconies."  An advertisement catered to snob appeal by noting the building sat "in a section where the traditions of well-bred living have never been lost."

David B. Malament lived here in 1970.  The 23-year-old was a graduate student at Rockefeller University, working on his doctorate in mathematical logic and philosophy.  He had an impressive academic background, having graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia College in 1968.  He spent a year at the Free University in Berlin as a Fulbright Scholar.  His scholarly bent was, perhaps, expected.  His mother, Elizabeth Malament, was a professor at Long Island University, and his sister Barbara was an assistant professor at Yale University.

Problems came for Malament when he received his draft notice during the Vietnam conflict.  His induction date of November 23, 1970 came and went without an appearance by Malament.  He characterized himself as a "selective conscientious objector," a position that resulted in his facing a jury in February 1971.  Malament took the stand, explaining in calm, professional terms why he (nor anyone else) should not be drafted into this conflict.  He said in part,

Congress clearly has no power to authorize conscription for an illegal war.  The Vietnamese war is just that, not only because it is a Presidential war, but because it also violates a number of treaties and international agreements.

Malament succeeded in swaying one member of the panel, resulting in a deadlocked jury.  A new trial was convened a month later.  This time the jury deliberated for just over an hour before handing in a guilty verdict.  At his sentencing on May 26, 1971, Malament was asked if he had anything to say.  He responded by reading a six-page statement "denouncing the war as destructive for Vietnam and demoralizing for America."  

David B. Malament's 20 Fifth Avenue apartment would be unoccupied--as least by him--for a while.  He was sentenced to six months in prison and 18 months of supervised civilian employment (in a veterans' hospital, mental institution or "other job contributing to the national interest") after his release.

Less controversial residents at the time were Richard J. Anderson and his wife, the former Louise Barnes.  Anderson was the editor and publisher of Financial World magazine, and the chairman of the board of Guenther Publishing Corporation, which published the magazine.  He had joined the firm in 1926.  

Also living here in the early 1970s were David Berks and his wife, the former Marley Marguilies.  The highly-educated Berks held four degrees from New York University, was an attorney and certified public accountant, and a director of the New School.  Berks joined the Ohrbach's department stores in 1934 as its general counsel.  He held that position until 1940 when he became executive vice president, finally retiring in 1970.

An impressive resident was retired State Supreme Court Justice Jacob B. Grumet, who lived here with his wife, the former Irene Grossman.  Born on October 31, 1900, his name had been familiar to New Yorkers for decades.  He had served as assistant United States attorney for the Southern District for years, during which, according to The New York Times, he "helped prosecute Waxey Gordon and Louise (Lepke) Buchalter when he worked on Thomas E. Dewey's rackets investigations in the 1930's."

After serving on the Supreme Court, he became a member of the Investigation Commission in 1958.  On January 23, 1976, The New York Times recalled his most explosive cases:

Among the investigations, there were inquiries into the city government under former Mayor Robert F. Wagner, and the retaliatory charges by the Democratic Mayor that the Republican state administration of former Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller needed investigation itself; the charge by Mr. Wagner a few years later that the Democratic state chairman had tried to bribe legislators into making anti‐Wagner votes in the complicated 1965 leadership fight.

In the first days of 1976, State Attorney General Louis J. Lefkowitz struggled to find a special prosecutor for a sticky case with what The New York Times called "a potential for political explosiveness."  Prosecutor Maurice H. Nadiari had made a name for himself as a zealous fighter of corruption.  After being suddenly fired by Governor Hugh Carey, Nadiari charged that he was dismissed "because, as special prosecutor, he had been getting close to high-level Democrats."

Now nearing his retirement, the 75-year-old jurist decided to take on the case.  Grumet volunteered for the special prosecutor position because Lefkowitz "seemed to be having trouble finding someone to handle the troublesome job," he told The New York Times, "and, frankly, I thought I was qualified."

Judge Jacob B. Grumet died on June 8, 1987 at the age of 86.

Boak & Paris's striking and unusual apartment building survives remarkably intact, including the casement windows, so integral in its 1940 design.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Lowell Cochran for suggesting this post has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog


  1. I love the late Boak and Paris work. Would you be interested in doing 170 and 177 E 77th? They’re kind of a pair in a way. 177 has terrace/balconies which must have been innovative in design at the time.