Saturday, April 13, 2024

Boak & Paris's 1941 177 East 77th Street


Russell M. Boak and Hyman F. Paris both worked in the office of architect Emery Roth.  They struck out on their own and in 1927 established the office of Boak & Paris.  Like Roth's, the firm quickly became known for designing apartment buildings.

In 1940, developers Sidney and Arthur Diamond hired Boak & Paris to design an 11-story-and-penthouse building on East 77th Street, just west of Third Avenue.  The New York Times noted, "The plot runs through to Seventy-eighth Street, and on that side will be transformed into a large garden for the benefit of the tenants."  The architects introduced two innovations--one structural, the other aesthetic.  On July 6, 1941, the newspaper headlined an article, "Bolting Replaces Riveting on New Building; Each Suite in East Side House Has Terrace."

The foregoing of riveting in favor of bolting the girders and columns together made the process nearly noiseless.  Sidney and Arthur Diamond told the reporter that the exterior brickwork, completed within 30 days, had "set something of a record for this type of work."  The article explained the rapid process.

As the steel construction progressed from floor to floor the concrete workers poured the concrete floor in at a pace that kept them constantly within two floors of the steel workers.  When the concrete workers reached the seventh floor the bricklayers started their task, and when the brick work reach the sixth floor, work on the partitions began.

The reporter noted, "For a while the steel men, concrete men and bricklayers were all working at the same time."  At the time of the article, fully 50 percent of the apartments had been leased.  The renting manager, Charleton Otis, explained, "The private terraces for every apartment, the 11,000 square feet of landscaped, private garden adjoining the building, the spaciousness of the rooms and the architectural design of the building have been strong attractions."

The abundance of balconies was possible because the Goelet family, from whom the Diamonds purchased the plot, had erected a two-story store-and-apartment building on the Third Avenue blockfront in 1936.  The Diamonds took the bold gamble that no tall building would replace it.

Clad in sandy-colored brick, Boak & Paris's streamlined Art Moderne design included an understated entrance with incised Mayan-type designs.  No other ornamentation graced the facade.  The architects used 45-degree chamfered corners on the sides of the recessed section above the entrance--a feature they had used on another Stanley and Arthur Diamond building at 160 East 89th Street in 1937.

from the 1941 real estate brochure "177 East 77th", in the collection of the Columbia University Libraries

An advertisement in September 1941 touted, "52 apartments, each with private terrace.  Already 90% rented.  11,000 sq. ft. of private garden, roof garden, 3-4 rooms each."  The real estate brochure boasted, "seven large closets in four room apartments...five large closets in three room enclosed stall showers."

Among those who signed leases during construction were two physicians, Dr. Mary Dunne Walsh and Dr. Jules Victor Coleman; and Malcolm S. McNaught, a sales manager for the McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.

Mary Dunne Walsh had received her medical degree from Johns Hopkins in 1921.  Seven years before she moved into 177 East 77th Street, her name had appeared in newspapers nationwide for decidedly non-medical reasons.  She sued a socially-prominent female stockbroker and exposed a corrupt scheme.

In 1924, Edna V. O'Brien opened a private stockbrokerage business.  Time magazine described her as "an energetic, middle-aged spinster who had fought the good fight for women's votes, who was a lieutenant in an ambulance unit but did not get to France, who was a good friend and committee-mate of many of Manhattan's ablest socialites."

Boak & Paris managed to wrangle a balcony or terrace to every apartment.  from the 1941 real estate brochure "177 East 77th", in the collection of the Columbia University Libraries

Among O'Brien's clients were Anne Morgan, Elizabeth Marbury and Amelia Earhart Putnam.  Dr. Walsh had entrusted her with $80,000 to invest.  In December 1932, according to Time, "On the complaint of Dr. Mary Dunne Walsh...Miss O'Brien was hauled before the New York State Bureau of Securities.  She refused to answer questions." 

Investigators discovered that Amelia Earhart Putnam had lost $150,000, according to the article.  On February 11, 1933, The New York Times reported that Edna V. O'Brien had been arrested after the grand jury issued "four indictments charging theft of between $50,000 and $80,000 in securities from Dr. Mary Dunne Walsh."  (Dr. Walsh's loss would translate to as much as $1.9 million in 2024.)

Dr. Victor Coleman had earned his B.A. degree at Cornell University in 1928, and his medical degree in Vienna, Austria in 1934.  America's entry into World War II drastically changed his life.  He was sent with the U.S. Army Medical Corps overseas as a psychiatrist attached to the 38th Infantry Division.  The United States Army's Neuropsychiatry in World War II later explained that while working "with combat casualties in the forward area during the Luzon Campaign, [he] was able to return 70 percent of his patients directly to duty from the clearing station."

Dr. Jules Victor Coleman, Journal of the Kansas Medical Society, 1950

Coleman was listed at 177 East 77th Street as late as 1943, when he was promoted from First Lieutenant to Captain.  But it does not appear he returned here following the war.  In 1950, he was living in Denver, Colorado where he was president of the American Association of Psychiatric Clinics for Children.

In 1946, Sidney and Arthur Diamond bought the two-story building on Third Avenue from the Goelet family, preserving the eastern exposure of 177 East 77th Street at least for the foreseeable decades.

A celebrated resident was violist Max Rosen, who lived here with his sculptor wife, the former Gertrude Buchbinder.  Born in Romania in 1900, Rosen's family emigrated to New York when he was eight months old.  They lived in the impoverished Lower East Side where Max's father ran a barber shop at Rivington and Forsyth Streets.  According to The New York Times, "It was in the rear of this barber shop that Max Rosen learned the rudiments of the violin from his father," and he was "able to play difficult compositions at the age of 7."  Friends of his father, astonished at the boy's playing, arranged to send him to the Music School Settlement.

There he continued to amaze professional musicians.  When the banker and founder of the Flonzale Quartet, Eduard de Koppe, heard the 12-year-old play, he sent him to Dresden, Germany to study with famed violinist and instructor Leopold Auer.  Max Rosen returned to New York in 1917 and debuted as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra on January 12, 1918 at the age of 18.

Max Rosen at the age of 18.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

Rosen appeared throughout the world with major symphonic ensembles before his retirement, after which he used his 77th Street apartment to teach.  He died from a cerebral hemorrhage on December 16, 1956 at the age of 56.

Not only did television and motion picture producer William A. Berns live here, but so did his brother and partner Samuel D. Berns.  

In the 1940s William Berns joined the National Broadcasting Company, producing the show While Berns Roams and acting as emcee for the radio game show Say It With Acting.  In the 1950s, he worked with several radio and television stations.

Then, in 1960, he joined the staff of Robert Moses's New York World's Fair 1964-65 Corporation as vice president in charge of communications.  That year he traveled internationally to promote the fair to other nations.  During the second year of the fair he served as its director of television, radio and motion picture publicity.

At the fair's end, Berns again turned to producing.  He produced the 1970 film The Gamblers, and was executive producer of Mel Brook's The Twelve Chairs, released the same year.  In 1970, he also partnered with Samuel Bern in film importing and packaging.

The Bern brothers were born in Philadelphia.  Samuel D. Bern lived here with his wife, the former Ruth Horne.  Before going into business with William, he had been on the staffs of Film Daily and Variety, and was at one point the West Coast editor for Quigley Publications.

The 1941 real estate brochure for 177 East 77th Street had touted, "steel casement windows specially equipped with fresh air ventilators."  Unfortunately, those windows--so important in Boak & Paris's design--have been replaced.  Otherwise, the building is little changed and--at least for now--the low-rise buildings on Third Avenue survive, affording light and views to the eastern-facing balconies.

many thanks to reader Lowell Cochrane for requesting this post
photographs by the author
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to


  1. It's sister building diagonally across the street appears to still have its casement windows. I wish this one did too!

    1. Yes those are not original but part of the condo conversion.

  2. Lovely post! The third avenue cottages need a post too! What a saga!

  3. My understanding is that there was an easement secured from the Diamonds when the property was purchased, ensuring that no building would block the eastern windows on 177 East 77th Street. So when the Third Avenue cottages were demolished, the southern half of the site (spanning the west side of East 77th to East 78th Street) was rebuilt exactly as tall as its predecessor!