The Midtown Book: Central Park South: The New York Athletic Club: 180 Central Park South (2023)

The Midtown Book: Central Park South: The New York Athletic Club: 180 Central Park South (1)

The Midtown Book: Central Park South: The New York Athletic Club: 180 Central Park South (2)

TheNew York Athletic Club
180Central Park South
Southwestcorner at Seventh Avenue
The Midtown Book: Central Park South: The New York Athletic Club: 180 Central Park South (3)
NewYork Athletic Club from the northwest

ByCarter B. Horsley

ThisItalian-Renaissance-palazzo-styleclub was designed by York & Sawyer, the architects of theimpressive Federal Reserve Bank of New York building in LowerManhattan, and is the largest club facility in Manhattan.

The21-story structure has300 bedrooms and superb facilities including a 30-by-75-foot swimmingpool on the fourth floor, a large and wonderful billiards roomoverlooking Central Park, two handball courts, a gymnasium, andmany meeting rooms.

Intheir excellent book,"New York 1930, Architecture and Urbanism Between the TwoWorld Wars," Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1987,Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins providethe following commentary:

"Theathletic facilitieswere gathered together in the building's lower floors, so that theninth floor was the principal social floor with a lounge and library.The private dining rooms were on the tenth floor, and thegrand...diningrooms seating 500 persons in all were on the eleventh floor, wherea large loggia was provided for summertime dining. The locationof the open-air loggia on the west side of the building facingSeventh Avenue was unexpected, given the opportunity to face CentralPark across Fifty-ninth Street, but the greater extent of SeventhAvenue frontage permitted a larger outdoor space. while the detailingof the limestone-clad Renaissance facades was not particularlyelaborate, the building was well massed, culminating in a stubbytower in which two open and two closed handball courts were locatedaround a 42-by-62-foot solarium lit through quartz glass windowsthat opened to all compass points."

Theclub moved into thisstructure in 1930. It had formerly been in a building designedby W. A. Cable at 50 Central Park West, which was demolished forthe St. Moritz Hotel, which was remodeled into the Ritz CarltonHotel (see The City Review article).

Thissite was formerly occupiedby the so-called "Spanish Flats," designed by Hubert,Pirsson & Company.

Inher excellent book, "NewYork, New York, How The Apartment House Transformed The Life ofThe City (1869-1930)," An Owl Book, Henry Holt and Company,New York 1993," Elizabeth Hawes provides the following commentaryabout the "Spanish Flats":

"The same year the Chelseaopened [1883],the half-completed Central Park Apartments was already being proclaimedthe most elegant apartment house in New York, the largest apartmenthouse in the world, and the most important building project everundertaken, in terms of its novelty, magnitude and cost. Designedby Hubert and Pirsson but also called the Navarro, or SpanishFlats, in reference to its building, José F. de Navarro,it occupied a half-block between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, from58th to 59th Street. It stood eight stories tall, towers, gables,and turrets notwithstanding, and rising above the trees of thepark, it looked like a fortress, or a whole Moorish kingdom. TheNavarro was a single mass divided into eight separate apartmenthouses, which were arranged around a central courtyard and connectedinternally only on the first floor. Each house had a separatename and address - Navarro named them the Barcelona, the Salamanca,the Cordova, the Tolosa, the Grenada, the Valencia, the Madrid,and the Lisbon, after his favorite places - and each wasdistinguishableby an entrance of triple arches. Inside, each held twelve apartmentsof extraordinary dimensions. The largest provided a drawing room(23 by 29 feet), a reception room (14 by 29), dining room (20by 23), kitchen (18 by 20) with several roomy pantries, six bedroomsranging from 22 by 24 to 14 by 18, three baths with tubs, andthree rooms for servants. It was munificent space, distinctlymore generous than an entire three-story house. There were notten houses in New York with such facilities for entertainmentsor occasions or ceremony, where public rooms opened onto one another,like the French nobleman's enfilade, and included a covered balconythat could be converted into a formal conservatory when necessary.The general design of the Navarro was even more impressive. Itssuites were not only lavishly decorated but also ingeniously arrangedinto simplexes, duplexes, and triplexes (the first in the city),which were stacked up, in an interlocking scheme similar to Hubert'smezzanine plan, to occupy two stories in the front of the buildingand three in the rear. The taller and grander rooms on the mainfloor were set before the park vista, and the kitchen and bedroomsoverlooked the interior courtyard, where there was quiet and anabundance of light and air. The courtyard of the Navarro was vast,40 by 300 feet, a luxuriant space filled with trees, flowers andfountains. To ensure the flow of fresh air there, and to harnessthe breezes that swept off the river and down across the park,Hubert had also incorporated open archways into his building,perforatingits mass every second story between each of the eight sectionswith passageway that was loggia-like, and decorative, as well asutilitarian. Beneath the courtyard another subterranean courtyard,accessible by means of a vehicular tunnel leading directly fromthe street, allowed carts and wagons to deliver their suppliesand provisions and to remove garbage and ashes in a manner thatwas inaudible and invisible to tenants. It was the most originalfeature of Hubert's technical design, which also included an apparatusto create steam heat, a generator for electricity (electricitywas as yet an independent and expensive proposition in the cityand therefore a luxury item in housing), and an artesia well tosupply private water to the building. Ironically the Navarro wasill fated as a cooperative. As critics were extolling Hubert asan extraordinary architect of apartments, famous for 'strikinga mean between profusion and parsimony,' the bank was foreclosingon his mortgage. It took over and completed the project as a complexof rental buildings, for only half of it was finished and functioningas a cooperative by 1885. Hubert's 'parsimony' was misplaced inthis venture; his downfall was a scheme by which he had plannedto lease the land, temporarily to the building owners in orderto limit their cash investments, an idea that was untenable inthe face of construction costs that ranked as high as those forSt. Patrick's Cathedral and the Plaza Hotel."

The Midtown Book: Central Park South: The New York Athletic Club: 180 Central Park South (4)
Building'sentrance, looking west

Hubert was only a century or sotoo early asfar as real estate markets go.

The NYAC, on the other hand,supports its palatialstructure with a far larger population: its membership numbersin the thousands.

The Midtown Book: Central Park South: The New York Athletic Club: 180 Central Park South (5)
Viewfrom the southwest

Clearly the "Spanish Flats"shouldhave been preserved, but the city, of course, did not get aroundto creating a Landmarks Preservation Commission until 1965, somefour decades too late for the "Spanish Flats." Unlikesome other landmark replacements, the New York Athletic Club hasbecome an important bulwark of Central Park South and "headstone"for Seventh Avenue. It is quite handsome, albeit a little stodgyand its only major drawback is that it is private so the publiccannot enjoy its quite sumptuous interiors and views.

In addition to its enormous and impressive lobby,the club features a sensational roof deck on the "24th" floor that isadjoined on its south side by an equally spacious dining room beneath avery high and very large skylight. The south of this room isanother roof deck that faces 58th Street. The views from thenorth roof deck are stupendous and are perhaps the most sensational inthe city as it overlooks all of Central Park, upper Fifth Avenue andCentral Park West and is about the same height as the greattwin-towered peak o Central Park West. The angled skylight ofthe adjoining dining room harkens back to the fabulous waiting room ofthe demolished Penn Station. While the dining room itself isrelatively modest, especially in comparison with the rooftop diningfacilities at the nearby but much lower Metropolitan Club, the diningroom has windows on three sides. On Thursday nights in warmweather, the club has a barbecue on this level and the roof deck anddining room accommodate several hundred contented imbibers and nibblersand enjoyers of the glories of the city.

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