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709 -11 Park Avenue

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posted by alias Chauncy.Primm on Friday 10th of April 2009 05:43:52 AM

ALTHOUGH the low-lying sections of what is now Park Avenue were troubled by smoke and cinders from steam locomotives in the late 19th century, the red-brick and brownstone row houses at the crown of Lenox Hill, between 69th and 70th Street, were high enough to attract well-to-do buyers. Now the block's two surviving 1885 Queen Anne buildings, at 709 and 711 Park, long hidden by thick coats of brown paint, are being restored. The contrast today between No. 709, stripped of its covering, and No. 711, still shrouded by paint, provides a telling example of the difference between original design and the changes a building may undergo over the decades. In the 1870's, protests persuaded Cornelius Vanderbilt to sink his railroad tracks running up Fourth Avenue below grade (the avenue north of Grand Central was not renamed Park Avenue until 1888). When the project was completed in 1875 there were still large sunken openings in most of the blocks north of 56th Street. But at what are now called Lenox Hill and Carnegie Hill (at 93rd Street), the areas over the deep tunnel were landscaped into parklike spaces, similar to those on the then much finer section of the avenue below Grand Central, in Murray Hill. By the 1880's, as mansion building reached Lenox Hill along Fifth and Madison Avenues, development edged over to Fourth Avenue. In 1882, the architect Bassett Jones designed a $300,000 set of 12 Queen Anne row houses on the east side of Fourth Avenue between 69th and 70th for the developers Charles T. Barney and William H. Browning. Barney was a well-known banker, and Browning had been the champion wrestler of Devonshire, England, coming to the United States in 1870 and starting out as a mason. The location, just north of Normal (now Hunter) College, and at a high elevation above the steam locomotives still going through the tunnel, made it a promising project. Most other buildings on Fourth Avenue were modest row houses and apartment buildings. In 1883, Browning fled to England to escape $60,000 in debts, and in 1885 Barney supplied the $25,000 that was necessary to finish the row. Jones used the Queen Anne style, fresh and popular in 1882 but already fading by the delayed finish in 1885. Most of the houses had projecting oriel windows, picturesque dormers with elaborate floral ornament, and deep red brick in contrasting combination with Manhattan's ubiquitous brownstone. The Rev. Cornelius Smith, rector of St. James' Church at 71st and Madison, bought the row house at the corner of 69th Street, which was numbered 101 East 69th. His daughter, Nathalie Smith Dana, wrote in ''Young in New York'' (Doubleday, 1963), a memoir of life in the house and on the Upper East Side in the late 19th century, that the family had moved from a dark house on a nearby side street, and ''the sun streamed in our new house and gave it a gilded look.'' ''From the corner rooms we saw tall shrubs on Park Avenue, out of whose depths puffs of smoke mysteriously rose from the trains which swiftly and silently passed our door,'' she continued. ''Stained glass was used in the upper part of the windows and the houses were crowned by a simulated mansard roof in cast iron. After so much brownstone, we liked the originality of brick walls and the up to date character of the roof, although we had reservations about the stained glass.'' An early photograph of one of the buildings in the row shows elaborate stained glass transoms over movable sash in an intricate grid pattern interrupted by circular forms. IN the 1880's, Park Avenue was not yet considered socially correct, and Mrs. Dana recalled that a friend, Daisy Spackman, ''lived on Madison Avenue, which was correct, while we lived on unfashionable Park Avenue.'' ''I was ashamed of the position of our house, which I otherwise loved so much,'' Mrs. Dana wrote. In 1885 Barney sold 709 Park Avenue to Laura and Cornelia Manley, unmarried sisters in their 40's, and he soon rented 711 Park Avenue to the Rev. Abbott E. Kittredge. In 1886 Kittredge was hired by the Madison Avenue Reformed Church, at 57th and Madison, at a salary of $10,000 a year, and he was apparently worth it. In 1888 The New York Tribune noted, in an article entitled ''Preachers Worth Hearing,'' that even though Kittredge had quadrupled the pew rental fees, the church had more than doubled its membership, to 600. Census returns at the turn of the century indicate that millionaires in huge Fifth Avenue mansions, including Henry Frick and Andrew Carnegie, had a revolving door of servants, with a nearly complete turnover every few years. The records for Kittredge's home suggest that the situation was the same in more modest households. In 1900 the Kittredges had four Irish-born servants, aged 23 to 46; but the 1905 census shows a completely new staff, three Irish-born servants, aged 25 to 29, and one Swedish born, Ellen Pierson, 20. In 1912 the Barney family sold 711 Park to the family of Lincoln Cromwell, a textile executive. In a 1982 interview his son, the late Jarvis Cromwell, recalled that even in the 1910's Park Avenue was still on the edge of the society district. ''I skated down every day to Allen-Stevenson School on 55th Street,'' he said, ''and I remember very well that things just ended at Park Avenue.'' Gradually, new construction whittled the original block of row houses to just Nos. 709 and 711, which by the 1940's had lost their stoops. By the time of their landmark designation in 1981, they had been coated in thick chocolate-colored paint. In 1963 the Cromwell family sold the house at 711 Park to Robert Tobin, a Texas art collector, opera patron and philanthropist. Mr. Tobin also bought 709, which by that time had been converted to an apartment house. He kept 711 for his own use, while renting or lending the apartments at 709 Park to friends until he died in 2000. Now 709 Park has been bought by the developer Alfred Naman, who is also renovating the former mansion at the northeast corner of 65th and Lexington. No. 711 is listed as having been bought by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and his wife, Robertina Calatrava. According to Sherida Paulsen, chairwoman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Calatravas have filed plans for an interior renovation of 711, which has started, and an exterior restoration, which has not. The renovation was designed by the architect David Hotson, with Mr. Calatrava's input. Mr. Naman, who has taken one of the apartments at 709 Park, is nearly finished with removing the paint from the masonry, revealing the original contrast of red and brown. ''I walked by this building for 11 years, when it looked forlorn under coats and coats of paint,'' he said. ''I thought it was kind of an eyesore to Park Avenue.'' Photos: The east side of Park Avenue, left, from 69th Street north, in 1907. The facades of 709 and 711 Park, above, are being restored. (Vincent Laforet/The New York Times) This is an old article they are restored as you can see

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