New York, New York: How the Apartment House Transformed the Life of the City, 1869-1929

New York, New York: How the Apartment House Transformed the Life of the City, 1869-1929

by Elizabeth B. Hawes

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The so-called Great Era of Luxury Apartment Building, 1869 to 1929, marked New York City's evolution from town to city, from the tradition-bound to modernity. In her first book, Hawes, a former New Yorker staff writer, tells the story in an understated, detail-rich style. She ranges from Richard Morris Hunt, the architect whose Paris sojourn shaped his views of urbanization, to the growth of the utopian-influenced cooperative apartment complexes in the 1880s. She offers histories of famous buildings like the Dakota, named in 1881 for its remoteness on the still rural Upper West Side, and the Waldorf-Astoria, ``a microcosm of the urban good life.'' She explains how the subway stimulated apartment building, how architects adapted classic vocabulary for their projects and how real estate agents hyped these new properties. By the 1920s, an apartment ``had become a symbol of the stylish life,'' Hawes writes; in an appendix, she lists the 86 buildings of the era still standing in Manhattan. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Apr.)
Library Journal - Library Journal
Originally a piece for The New Yorker , this is the story of the luxury apartment house in New York and how a city of single-family row houses became a metropolis of skyscraper mansions. The story begins with the first appearance of French flats just after the Civil War and takes us through the development of ``communal palaces'' like the Osborne and Dakota apartments that rivaled the opulence of the robber barons' mansions. A classical urbanism emerged, exemplified by the Apthorp and Belnord apartments, that was inspired by the City Beautiful movement of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. This exuberant era ended with the Crash of '29, and the subsequent production of Art Deco apartment towers. Hawes's account focuses exclusively on the development of luxury buildings and neglects the innovations taking place in other classes of housing. Nonetheless, this is a lively, nonacademic history; recommended to general and informed readers.-- Thomas P.R. Nugent, New York
Donna Seaman
Hawes has written a sparkling and insightful history of New York City's apartmentalization during the clamorous era between the Civil War and the Great Depression. Long a standard form of housing in Europe, apartment buildings were considered somehow suspect and immoral by then provincial upper-class New Yorkers, but prescient architects soon recognized the many advantages of multidwelling constructions. The earliest buildings had a bohemian appeal for young couples, people living alone, and artists, but once the Gilded Age took hold, architects began to build luxury apartment buildings for the very rich. Hawes, a graciously knowledgeable and admirably fleet writer, discusses the myriad ways these innovative buildings embodied social values. She captures the flavor of the times by quoting real estate promotions as well as the shrewd observations of city watchers such as Edith Wharton, Henry James, and Lewis Mumford, and relates her vivid descriptions of outstanding apartment buildings to corresponding changes in city culture. After comparing the "towering" of New York to a "great geological event," Hawes reflects on how the shift from ornate opulence to sleek simplicity tied in with economic and social forces to drive the city's skyline to ever-higher heights and city life to ever-greater degrees of complexity.
Kirkus Reviews
Hawes's fine book, her first, employs architectural criticism, economic chronicle, and urban sociology to create a picture of how Manhattan turned from a series of pastures broken by single-family dwellings into a breathtaking erector set of multiple dwellings: a shift to modernity as a reliable indicator of "the workings of the urban mind." Prior to 1869, anyone who didn't have to live communally in a single building certainly never would. Ensconced in their brownstones around Gramercy Park, the social elite believed in a lack of ostentation, in tempered privacies. But that would change. An architect like Richard Morris Hunt would introduce the "French flat" to New York as an alternative to the residential hotel—and for decades thereafter, apartment living became the choice of the bohemian, artistic, nonconforming crowd—safely removed from Society by its eccentricity. (The entire West Side—considered before the turn of the century akin to living in Montana—started off as blithely self-regulating as it essentially has remained.) But then the great mansions of Vanderbilt, Tiffany, and Villard went up in Midtown, and suddenly blue-blood New York had to cope with display and grandeur—and this in time broke down the walls: Polite people perhaps could live in something visually assuming, ornamented, lush, maybe even overlush. The family would not fall apart if domiciled above another, similar family; the subway made the far reaches of uptown livable; and the rebuilding of the city in an image of multiples began. Hawes valuably includes a list of the great apartment houses still standing—but more valuably still creates a context for how a city imaginesitself in space (inextricable from the American city's special problem of staying classless while enforcing social hierarchies), employing the novels of Edith Wharton and William Dean Howells, and a wealth of forgotten socioarchitectural journalism so bracing it's a shame the craft has fallen into disuse. A wonderful book. (Sixty-six photographs, drawings, and floor plans)

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Borzoi Reader Ser.
Product dimensions:
6.73(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.18(d)

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