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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
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Speculation in Apartment Houses
Apartment Houses with Numbers
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It wasn't until 1910 that apartment-house construction for the very, very wealthy begins to take off. The first superluxury apartment house on upper Fifth Avenue was begun in 1910 and finished in 1912, and it's 998 Fifth Avenue. It did not have a name. Apartment houses for the very wealthy did not have names until relatively recently. The New York Times noted that 998 didn't need a name because all you had to say was "998" and people understood that this was the grandest apartment house in New York.

For this venture the developers went to McKim, Mead, and White. They hired the most prestigious architectural firm in New York to design this extraordinarily luxurious apartment building. And McKim, Mead, and White provided Douglas Elliman with a building designed in the Italian-Renaissance style, which they specialized in, and a building that has both street façades clad in stone. Most apartment buildings used some stone at the base and brick above because brick was less expensive. But here it's limestone with yellow marble trim and an enormous copper cornice, so very expensive materials were used on this building.

The typical Italian-Renaissance palazzo is divided horizontally, usually into three sometimes four floors. So the piano nobile is of course on the second floor. But here you have the Italian-Renaissance palazzo expanded out into a 12-story building. So the ground floor, the rusticated ground floor of the Italian-Renaissance palazzo, is now four floors on 998 Fifth Avenue, and the piano nobile is actually the fifth floor here. It has the most impressive windows with pediments and balconies.

These apartments are lavish in scale. The public rooms are about 35 feet wide by about 70 feet long, which is larger than most townhouses. And the enormous hall and the parlor and the dining room and the salon flow one into each other so that you can have very gracious entertaining. The public rooms overlook Fifth Avenue, and then in a whole other wing the private rooms, the bedrooms, overlook Eighty-third Street and are also quite spacious, and each one has its own bathroom. And then there's a large area with a kitchen, a pantry, a servants' hall, and about six servants' bedrooms. So these were well appointed for very, very wealthy people.


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