If you want to tour some of Manhattan’s most impressive apartment house architechture, a trip to the Upper West side is a no-brainer. There, you can view such buildings as The Osborne, the Beresford and the Van Corlear, all known for their mammoth scale and often imposing reputations.
Perhaps no building in this collection of high-end real estate is more remarkable than Alwyn Court, located at 58th Street and Seventh Avenue. Its façade is considered the most ornate in the entire city and its history is one Carter B. Horsely, editor of The City Review describes as “from rags to riches and back again.”
Around the turn of the last century, co-ops were starting to become a popular option for the city’s wealthy. Several buildings had cropped up on West 67th Street, and within a few years such buildings were attracting those with sizable incomes by pointing out that apartment living could be just as opulent as home living, but needed half as many servants in order to run smoothly. Still, some were reluctant to make the move from their palatial homes into apartments, due to the class stigma of multiple-family dwellings at the time. Those behind the scenes of the Alwyn Court building thought they could change people’s minds and embarked on a project they billed as “City Homes for Those With Country Houses.”
The architechtural firm of Harde & Short, hired in 1907 by artist William Russell and Alwyn Ball, Jr., were the ones charged with the task of creating such homes. Their plan was to create what was essentially a collection of houses inside one large building, hoping to take away some of the future tenants’ anxiety about this new mode of living. The floor plan details show that the Alwyn Court structure would be 12 feet tall with two apartments per floor, each with 14 rooms and 5 bathrooms. Each unit had its own living room, library and music rooms and wine cellar and the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that with all these amenities, the new building would be a “studio palace” for its tenants. Aside from the actual living quarters, the Alwyn Court boasted gilded lobbies, parquet floors, fireplaces carved in marble, carriage turnabouts, plaster friezes and ornate lighting fixtures throughout.
The interior of Alwyn Court was impressive, but its architects were only getting started.