Walking Riverside Drive part 5: The Last Twenty-Four Blocks

This is the final installment in the Walk Riverside Project. to read part’s 1 2 3 & 4 via link.

Well folks, here is the final installment in Walk Riverside Drive. The final 2-1/4 mile walk from the 96th Street viaduct to 1 Riverside Drive at 72nd Street signals the end of the journey I started three months ago. Along the way, I’ve see some of the most beautiful and at the same time overlooked sections of Manhattan. From the massive George Washington Bridge to the faded beauty of Audubon Terrace, I found a new appreciation for Riverside Drive, it’s role in the West Side of Manhattan’s development, and the hidden nooks and crannies along the way.

So come along, won’t you?

Starting back at 96th Street, I looked at the Cliff-Dwelling apartment building. It’s one of the Upper West Side’s most arresting building. Appearing to look more at home in a western U.S. city like Denver or Huston, the name derives from Native American tribes in present day Arizona, who resided on or near cliffs. The term was also used to describe people who lived in apartments. Herman Lee Meader, an architect, built the building as an homage of sorts to Mayan and Aztec architecture. Which is ironic since neither civilization resided near cliffs.

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The Cliff-Dwelling Apartments

The building is striking in two aspects; one is the decorative terra-cotta which adorns the buildings upper and lower floors. Also be sure to look at the geometric brick patterns along the edifice. Two is the rather narrow north side of the building which is only nine feet wide!

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The North Wall.

The rather narrow property was created as a by-product Riverside Drive’s meandering nature. This lead Meader and the developer of the property, Leslie R. Palmer, to devise the apartment units to face the Drive and 96th Street. The building’s core holds the buildings stairwell and elevator.

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South Wall

One of the blogs I looked at is Scouting NY which talks about what a film location scout learns about the city. He noted that this  building, has one claim to fame. Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard resided in the building and accused a steward from another hotel of being a Nazi spy. When the FBI tried to follow up on the investigation, Hubbard had already left New York. So we will never truly know if the accused was a spy.

The New York Times, in a feature on the building, also remarked that the building was highly praised by it’s rival publication “The New York Herald.” Saying it “opened up a new horizon for developers who had ”exhausted the supply of names and styles from every famous palace, chateau and castle in Europe.”

 

Continuing down the street, the road divides again creating more lush traffic medians I’ve come to love. On top of one of them is perhaps the city’s oldest statue ever dedicated to a woman, Joan of Arc.

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Joan of Arc statue by Anna Huntington nee Hyatt.

 

Despite her short but remarkable life, Joan of Arc has become martyr for French nationalism and is regarded as one of the most important female historical figures. In 1920, she was canonized a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.

Joan of Arc’s Death at the Stake. Oil on canvas by Herman Anton Stilke

The current statue was designed by Anna H. Huntington. The woman also behind the El Cid statue back at Audubon Terrace. Huntington was chosen in due to these series events. In 1910, Huntington, then Anna M. Hyatt, showed it to the Salon in Paris. Like many people at the time, Hyatt was inspired by the upcoming 500th anniversary of Joan of Arc’s birth and figured the Salon would choose her statue for the anniversary in some shape or form.

Unfortunately, Hyatt would only get honorable mention for her proposal by the Salon, who were convinced that she couldn’t do the whole thing herself.

Luckily, a committee who wanted to build Joan of Arc statue in New York, headed by J. Sanford Saltus took to Hyatt’s idea for Joan of Arc into account and advocated for her design. Hyatt won and became the first woman in New York to create a statue of a historical figure.

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Joan ahead of the moon

The statue was unveiled in 1915 three years after the anniversary had passed. Thomas Edison’s wife, the former Mina Miller, and the then French ambassador Jean J. Jusserand, unveiled the statue to a crowd of 1,000 people.  The statue has been restored twice since it’s unveiling and is considered one of Hyatt’s best work’s

At 173 Riverside Drive, is the former home of baseball royalty, George Herman “Babe” Ruth. It is one of two apartment buildings on the Drive that “the Babe” lived in. The second, 110 Riverside, pictured below, he would move to until his death in 1948.

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110-118 Riverside Drive

Three blocks further down there is perhaps one of Manhattan’s forgotten monuments. The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, which commemorated the Union Army soldiers who served during the Civil War, took decades to come to fruition. It took an act in the New York state Legislature in 1893 to create a committee and then it took another nine years just to finally dedicate the structure.

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Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in twilight

Unlike its down the road counterpart dedicated to another Union Army member, this memorial is a simpler affair. Charles and Arthur Stoughton designed the memorial as if to mimic a torch keeping an eternal flame. There are also two plinths which label the major Union Army victories and twelve Corinthian columns that wrap around the perimeter of the memorial. They are also a two cannons that face west.

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Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument during sunset

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One of the two cannons at the monument.

Despite its lofty goals of memorializing the Union Army, the monument was already beginning to fall apart the moment it opened. The city, which owns the site, has repaired it twice during the 20th century, yet the deterioration has become part of the attraction. It reminds me a bit like Inspiration Point, from all the way back at the beginning of the trip in its beautiful decay. Over the years, many efforts to restored and re-open the interior, long since closed off, have been delayed or fallen through, but there is hope that one day it will be restored, properly, this time.

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The monument under heavy snow during Winter Storm Jonas

 

My first time visiting the Monument was about seven years ago during the AIDS Walk. As we walked the final mile back to Central Park, the crowd was treated to a drag performance. It would be during my research that apparently the site was also a place for gay sex hookups during the 1960’s. I suppose it’s fitting.

Across the street is a beautiful mansion, once owned by Harry Codman Potter. Best known as the rector at Grace Church, Potter was a social reformer and laid the cornerstone at Cathedral St. John the Divine in 1892. I’m sure who lives there now or what it is now but the house seems impervious to the changes over the years just looking graceful all by itself.

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Codman Potter Mansion

At 160 Riverside Drive, a simple building that was the longtime home of New York Times columnist Brooks Atkinson. He might be well known today as a theatre critic, but he actual spent the Second World War as a war correspondent during World War II and the early Cold War.

Two blocks down is the Normandy apartments. It might seem like a simple Art-Deco structure, but it also blends classical architectural elements such as Italian Renaissance into its two towers. Emery Roth, the building’s architect, favored this building over his more famous multi-towered structures to the east, The Beresford, The El Dorado, and The San Remo apartments. Roth, who favored classical elements in his buildings over more modern styles, was able to almost seamlessly blend two styles into one.

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The Normandy Apartments

Roth retired from the business and spent his final years in the building. His son’s Julian and Richard took over the practice in 1938 and became known as Emery Roth & Sons. While their father was known for his sumptuous apartment buildings, the sons became known for their modernist office buildings. One of which was the original World Trade Center.

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Close-up on the North Tower

Here the grand apartment buildings begin to share space with old mansions. They might not be as grand as the ones we discussed in part four but, there is one worth noting. 103 Riverside Drive, for example, had two actors live there. Joseph Jefferson, who is widely thought to have said the phrase, “there are no small parts only small actors,” and Abigail Bingham who lead a campaign to prevent the New York Central Railroad from rebuilding the tracks directly under Riverside Drive.

Abigail Bingham (image courtesy of the NYPL Collection)

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103 Riverside Drive, home to two actors Abigail Bingham and Joseph Jefferson.

Bingham pointed out that it was bad enough to hear the steam shovels for the next ten years but it would be generations for the trees to bring Riverside Drive back to glory. I myself find the idea to build the tracks there a bit of a stretch since the Drive is not linear. If the plan had gone through, then the Drive would have been very different from the Drive I just walked.

However shortly after her death, the West Side Improvement Project, spearheaded by Robert Moses, did take shape. Which altered Riverside Park more than the drive.

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Riverside Drive near the upper 80’s. The two pathways hold the tracks from the West Side Improvement project which lead to Penn Station.

Two blocks down is another mansion, 86 Riverside Drive, is one of six mansions that hugged the corner of 81st and Riverside Drive. The buildings, built in the Elizabethan Revival Style, by Clarence True, create a rare set of row houses left on the Drive. 86 Riverside Drive is also known as the Carroll mansion. A term derived from its first owner William Carroll, who made his fortune in the business of making fur and wool clothing.

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86 Riverside Drive which in my opinion looks better from afar

The building and its neighbors has since been converted into apartments but also was home to the Consulate of Iraq and the East Asian Research Institute. Despite the row’s decaying appearance, True’s buildings, held firm by the Carroll Mansion still makes first timers to this part of the drive like myself, pause. The buildings are also part of the West End-Collegiate Historical District.

Near the end of the drive are two monuments. The first is the Hamilton Fountain, is dedicated to a descendant of founding father Alexander Hamilton.  Robert Ray Hamilton (1851-1890), was the great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton. An alum of Columbia Law School. Hamilton was elected to the New York State Assembly multiple times during the 1880’s. Hamilton, like his ancestor Alexander, was embroiled in a scandal involving, Eva Mann. Mann and Hamilton secretly got married only for Mann to raid his fortune. A fortune which included an allowance of the then princely sum of $40,000 a year.

Hamilton, who died in a hunting accident, had this fountain dedicated to him by the executors of his estate and the city. The architectural firm of Warren and Wentmore, known for building Grand Central Terminal used Tennessee Marble for the fountain. The same type of marble also used in Grand Central.

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Robert Hamilton Fountain with Squirrel

The fountain, which was unveiled in 1906, was one of multiple fountains located in New York to serve the city’s workhorses. As that gradually faded away, many of the fountains were actually dismantled, but the Hamilton Fountain survived. Unfortunately, the fountain remained in poor shape until 2009 when donations finally restored the fountain.

As I was there a squirrel came scampering around. So naturally the little piece of fur became perhaps my first model.

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Since there was no water, the squirrel gave the fountain some life.

Now we have reached the final few blocks of Riverside Drive. Since this is the Upper West Side, much of the area still has its pre-war stock, a few modern style buildings break from routine. One modernist building to note is the Schwab House. The apartment block was the site of steel magnate, Charles M. Schwab 75-room mansion. The French chateau, was built from 1902-1906 at a cost of $ 6,000,000.  Andrew Carnegie, who once employed Schwab, remarked that Schwab’s house made his on Fifth Avenue, look like a shack.

Schwab Mansion also known as Riverside. 3 Riverside Drive is also seen on the lower right. (Image from the New York Social Diary)

The mansion’s amenities also had a massive, custom made Aeolian pipe organ, a five-foot square shower stall, and according to Daytonian in Manhattan’s write up on the mansion, a pair of bronze doors for each entrance. The mansion itself took up the whole city block.

Sadly, like the Billings mansion, the building had a sad fate. Schwab was always a bit of a risk taker and lost his fortune from the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Penniless, Schwab attempted to sell the mansion but there were no takers. When he died in 1939, he offered the mansion to the city, but Fiorello LaGuardia, the reform minded mayor, refused the gift. Since the building was truly ostentatious, it was demolished in 1947 after a public auction. The organ was mercifully spared destruction and is now somewhere in Maine. Another part of the mansion now sits in a church in Brooklyn.

The mansion’s name was “Riverside.”

Today the Schwab house, which some would say is a better economic use of the block, also closes the chapter on Riverside Drive being an address of the very wealthy. While the Upper West Side itself has always appeared more laid back than its more patrician neighbor to the east, the Schwab mansion represented the dreams of developers along Riverside Drive. Even if those ideas were becoming dated as they built the thoroughfare. People like the Huntington’s, the Schwab’s, and the Grinnell’s all were trying to make Riverside drive in their own image, to varying success.

The second monument is dedicated to Eleanor Roosevelt, America’s most famous first lady. Born Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1884, Roosevelt was always on the forefront of social causes from women’s rights, civil rights, and international politics. She even shamed city planners from trying to save money on not supplying toilet seats! Her death in 1962, marked the passing of the 20th Century’s most enduring icons.

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Anna Eleanor Roosevelt

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Quote from a speech given at the United Nations in 1958.

Designed by Bruce Kelly/David Varnell Landscape Architects, and funded by over 2,000 private donors. The project was the brainchild of Roosevelt admirer Herbert Zorn. Zorn envisioned a new plaza with the statue as an anchor to welcome visitors to the park. The statue was unveiled in 1996 with former first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Franklin Roosevelt III present.

Near the statue is a quote Roosevelt said at a speech at the United Nations in 1958, “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity.”

The funny thing is that Eleanor never lived on the West Side. Yet, while Roosevelt might have lived on the Upper East Side at 47-49 East 69th Street, I think she was a West Sider at heart.

Finally, the last addresses to tell about are 3 and 1 Riverside Drive. Despite being separated by that god-awful apartment building these mansions have a shared history.

John S. Supthen, who owned the Riverside Drive side of the block, sold one parcel to Phillip Kleeberg, who made much of his fortune from Oil and other industrial projects. The deed stated that, “his heirs and assigns, shall, within two years from the date hereof, cause to be erected and fully completed upon said lot, a first-class building, adapted for and which shall be used only as a private residence for one family, and which shall conform to the plans made of being made by C. P. H. Gilbert, architect.”  According to an account by the Northeastern Reporter.

Philip Kleeberg and his wife, Maria, as Daytonian, who also profiled the building, wasted little time in setting the gears in motion.  Within four months, on October 3, 1896, The American Architect and Building News announced Kleeberg’s plans to build a “four-story brick dwelling to cost $55,000, on Riverside Drive, near 73d St.” Including the price of the land, $145,000 according to The New York Times, the outlay would be more in the neighborhood of $5 million today.  The standards were put in place so that the Riverside Drive could rival either Fifth or Madison Avenue. But as we know that didn’t happen since the old money crowd was happily ensconced on the East Side.

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Close up on C.P.H. Gilbert’s 3 Riverside Drive.

It took two years to build 3 Riverside, and the Kleeberg’s, Phillip, his wife Maria and their sons moved in. The building appears to be built with Dutch Renaissance style or French Renaissance Revival depending on what you find online. Gilbert designed a three story bay window frontage, which allowed for a terrace to be accessed on the fourth.

If you met the Kleeberg’s for the first time you think they were like any upper class family. Yet if you asked around the local gossip, you would have found out that Phillip had a second house in the neighborhood. This implied that like many rich men, Phillip kept a love nest away from the prying eyes of his wife.

Yet, Maria kept appearances for a while until 1903 when she committed suicide during a dinner party. Maria drank from a bottle of carbolic acid and despite efforts by the guests to find a doctor Maria Kleeburg was dead. A crowd of 300 swarmed the mansion when it was mistakenly reported that someone had been murdered at the house.

The house was sold multiple times in the next two decades. In fact, William Guggenheim, son of industrialist Meyer Guggenheim, would take ownership twice. Once in 1908 and again in 1915. It was in 1915 when Guggenheim rented the house to a Dr. William H. Wellington Knipe, who was a pioneer in studying sleeping patterns. When Knipe proposed to convert the house to a sanitarium for the study of sleep the residents were outraged and sued Knipe. The lawsuit contended that the rules put forth when the house was constructed forbade commercial use of any kind.

Knipe however, did have one ace in the hole. His next door neighbor Lydia Prentiss, actually supported the plan which made her a social pariah on the block. Knipe won his case but Guggenheim eventually moved back in and remained there until his death in 1941. Kleeburg’s son Gordon retained ownership and converted the building into apartments but much of the interior has been restored when it was bought by Reginia Kislin in 1995. Kislin put the house up for sale in 2014 at $30 million dollars.

1 Riverside Drive, which is appears to be two mansions in one, was also built by C.P.H. Gilbert. The buildings were the home for both the Prentiss’s, Lydia and her husband Fredrick Charles and John S. Supthen Sr., next door. The same Prentiss family that got caught up in the lawsuit over turning 3 Riverside drive to a sanitarium.

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1 Riverside Drive and 309 702nd Street.

The buildings decidedly French Renaissance, share both the garden and a back wall. The Prentiss had two daughters and the family remained in the house until 1955 when Lydia’s daughter, also called Lydia died. The building became part of the New York Mosque Foundation which today still uses the mansion as part of the Islamic Cultural Center. The building, which could use an exterior restoration, and has looked the same since its creation.

Now we’ve come to the end of the journey. Seven miles, over 130 blocks, and countless buildings and vistas photographed over the course in three months, Riverside Drive is unlike any street in Manhattan I’ve ever walked. I hope to any reader, past, present, or future picks a section to walk and find it as every bit as awesome as I did. While not everything that I saw made it to the final cut, I will make into another post in the near future.

If you truly enjoyed this and the previous posts, I have a few planed in the pipeline come spring and I’m always looking for new ideas so don’t hesitate to send some my way!

For my out of town and international readers if you have any questions about New York, add them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them as quickly as possible.

During my research I came across a quote that the actress Abigail Bingham said about Riverside Drive. It might reference the park across the street but it sums up why people like her defied convention and settled for a Riverside Drive address.

“For all these years I have loved to sit in my front window and get drunk with the beauty of Riverside Park. I have lived on the Thames, on the Seine, on the Rhine, and always come home to get drunk again on the glory of Riverside Park.”

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Journey’s End

Fin.

-AJS

P.S. once again big shout out to Trisha Sullivan for editing this post.