An Upper West Side Architectural Gem Holds Its Value, Generation After Generation
For over 30 years, LANDMARK WEST! (LW!) has worked to protect the architectural character of our Upper West Side neighborhood from insensitive change and development. One of the many gratifying partnerships we enjoy is with Deanna Kory’s team at Corcoran. This past July, together we co-organized the latest in a series of open houses featuring remarkable historic properties on the market. Architectural historian and Columbia University professor Andrew S. Dolkart led a captivating tour of 351 West End Avenue, a beautifully restored 1891 rowhouse designed by Lamb & Rich, for friends of LW! and Corcoran.
This house, part of an eye-catching row on the west side of the avenue between 76th and 77th Streets, exemplifies the incredible resilience of well-constructed 19th-century architecture. Built with care and quality for an upper-middle-class market, 351 West End Avenue was preserved by design and by chance until the 1990s, when a conscientious couple purchased it to make it their family home.
Professor Dolkart began his tour in front of the house, observing that:
“This is a remnant of what West End Avenue was. I think we forget that West End Avenue, from 67th Street to about 106th Street, was 75-80% single-family homes in 1900. They were replaced by apartment houses [in the 1910s and 20s]. It was a shock to the real estate community that houses built just twenty years before were being torn down. Both real estate journals and the popular press comment on how rapidly West End Avenue was changed.“
351 West End Avenue occupies one of only two blocks on the avenue (the other is 90th to 91st Street) that survive with their original low-rise character. Professor Dolkart attributes the seemingly miraculous survival of 351 West End Avenue, and its neighboring rowhouses on both sides of the street, to restrictive covenants that prevented its demolition and replacement during the building boom of the early 20th century. By the time such covenants were outlawed in the early 1930’s, the development rage had subsided and 351 West End Avenue was spared.
Built on speculation, the house was sold in 1892 to the Rawley family, who had made their fortune in the Indian cotton trade and came to New York from England. Professor Dolkart shared some of his research about the Rawley family’s life at 351 West End Avenue, noting that: “In 1900, Anthony and Despina Rawley lived here with their three daughters and one son. They had five servants, an Irish chambermaid and an Irish waitress, a Swedish cook and Swedish kitchen maid, as well as a French nurse.” By 1930, the house was rented out as a rooming house and around 1940 it was divided into apartments.
Here begins the tale of the present owners’ heroic efforts to restore the house to its 19th-century grandeur. As our tour continued inside, one of the owners explained:
“It had been remodeled in the 60’s, and it really did have 60’s everything…avocado-colored appliances and very bizarre tile on the floor everywhere…there were ashtrays overflowing and bicycles and skateboards littering the hallways. It was absolutely disgusting. I ran to the phone box at the time on the corner, called my husband, and said “you won’t believe it, we found the place!”
351 West End Avenue is a protected landmark within the West End-Collegiate Historic District (designated in 1984 and extended in 2011). So, even in more recent market booms, it has been secured against demolition. But most landmarks are not protected on the inside. Features such as parquet floors, carved wood moldings, fireplaces, coffered ceilings, and pocket doors don’t often survive. Miraculously, many of these elements were preserved in 351 West End Avenue, though hidden behind walls and under layers of paint.
The present owners spent the better part of 20 years carefully undoing decades of damage and restoring 351 West End Avenue to an elegant, comfortable single-family home. Intricately-carved woodwork was painstakingly stripped and refinished. Curved pocket doors that had been nailed shut and covered with drywall were freed and restored.
Elaborately-inlaid wood floors, pocked with carpet nails, were delicately refinished. Eclectic architectural details survived through previous owners only because it was cheaper to leave them in place than to rip them out. An awe-inspiring example: the gorgeous wooden Venetian-blind panels (by the company that manufactured blinds for the Empire State Building’s many windows!) that slide into pockets below the grand front windows on the second floor. Professor Dolkart spoke for all of us when he said, “I think this is a fabulous and incredible survivor. I only hope the next owner takes as good care of these as the current.”
Taking care of our architectural heritage is a responsibility we pass down from generation to generation. Laws help, but people are the most important link in the chain that connects the past to the present to the future. The Upper West Side is the Upper West Side – literally one of the most beautiful, livable and valuable places on earth – because of buildings like 351 West End Avenue. And 351 West End Avenue is all the more special because its owners have recognized and appreciated the value of preservation.
Here’s to good stewards who love our landmarks!
Written by Kate Wood
President, LANDMARK WEST!
To learn more visit www.LandmarkWest.org
In anticipation of the Spring 2016 market we analyzed the first half of 2015 across all submarkets. The Spring market is historically the strongest season of the year for residential real estate sales in Manhattan.
Typically the townhouse market is analyzed on a yearly basis as the average number of closings in this market are very low; the past 6 year average has been 224 sales. There were 275 closings city-wide in 2014 and only 127 of them were single-family. Below is a snapshot of sales in different neighborhoods in the first two quarters of 2015.
Upper West Side
There were 18 townhouse sales (both multi and single-family homes) in the first half of this year (January 1 through June 30) on the Upper West Side above 57th Street. To put this in perspective, there were only 27 townhouse sales in 2014 all year from 34th to 110th Street on the West Side. The average number of West Side single-family sales in the past 3 years is 18, and the average number of multi-family sales over same time frame is 10.
Below is a list of all the single-family homes that closed during the first two quarters this year.
After less than 5 months on the market, one of the last remaining houses on the avenue, 247 Central Park West, closed in January for $25M; the record high for a single-family home on the West Side.
326 West 89th Street sold at $12.5M; a 20’ wide house with 5 stories and 7,000 square feet on a Riverside Park block. ($1,785/SF)
26 West 71st Street sold at $11.9M; a 17’ wide house with 4 stories and 5,500 square feet on a Central Park block. ($2,163/SF)
296 West 92nd Street sold at $5.771M; an 18’ wide house with 4 stories and 3,240 square feet. ($1,781/SF)
125 West 87th Street sold for $5.4M; a 17’ wide house with 4 stories and 3,400 square feet that needed TLC. ($1,588/SF)
Upper East Side
There were quite a few sales in the first half of this year on the Upper East Side, including 21 single-family homes above 59th Street. There were 63 sales—both single and multi-family in all of 2014 and 45 of them were single-family (34th to 96th Streets). The average number of East Side single-family sales in the past 3 years is 54 and the average number of multi-family sales over same time frame is 15.
Notable Single-family Sales
In stark contrast to the West Side, the East Side’s highest price sale in the first half of 2015 was 125 East 70th Street, which closed for $37M in January. This 40’ wide, 12,000 square foot mansion was built in 1965 by Paul and Bunny Mellon. ($3,083/SF)
12 East 77th Street sold at $32M; a 25’ wide house off Fifth Avenue with 5 stories and 11,450 square feet. A historic property with a famous roster of past owners including Gloria Vanderbilt. ($2,794/SF)
26 East 80th Street sold for $19.85M; a 23’ wide house off Fifth Avenue with 5 stories and 7,450 square feet. ($2,664/SF)
In downtown neighborhoods (Chelsea, Flatiron, Gramercy, West and Greenwich Village, Soho, and Tribeca) the first half of this year, there were 24 single-family closings. Almost all of them were in either the West Village or Greenwich Village with only 2 in Chelsea and 1 in Soho/Nolita.
Note: Single-family sales over $10M in 2014 increased 13% over the previous year, putting upward pressure on average and median price last year; $9,443,000 and $7,250,000 respectively. The average number of downtown single-family sales in the past 3 years is 35 and the average number of multi-family sales over same time frame is 28.
Notable Single-family Sales
278 West 11th Street sold for $25M in March. Triple mint, this designer-renovated 25’ wide home boasts 4,920 square feet, making this a record price per square foot sale at $5,081/SF.
20 East 10th Street sold for $18.25M in June. Also triple mint, this 25’ wide house features 7 working fireplaces and state-of-the-art high-end systems.
231 West 22nd Street sold for $9.5M in May. Featuring an immaculate renovation with 6,000 square feet and 1,450 exterior square feet, comprised of a front and back yard and roof deck with a swim spa and resistance pool.
32 Dominick Street sold for $4.1M. Built in 1826, this 3.5 landmarked Federal style house was in need of renovation.
Although many buyers in the past have shied away from townhouse living in favor of full-service condos and co-ops, a variety of factors have converged that many believe is creating a major shift in buyer interest. In fact, it has already occurred in the very active multi-family category. Investors see these properties as attractive investments but they also appeal to buyers who are looking to use rental income to offset mortgage and tax bills. The on-going low level of inventory has created a third category of buyer interested in multi-family homes that can be converted to single-family status.
Another group of buyers who would normally gravitate to condominiums are turning away from them to protect their privacy. More condos are requiring a level of financial disclosure that many buyers find objectionable. Many condos also have rules restricting short-term rentals, live/work arrangements, and sometimes use by friends and family members. Townhouses on the other hand offer total privacy and are without restrictions on personal use.
For all types of buyers, value is a major factor that now favors single and multi-family townhouses. With new development condos reaching an average of $2,178 per square foot, and for re-sale condos $1,382 per square foot, townhouses look to be bargains with a market-wide average price per square foot of $1,162. Condos’ monthly common charges can also be a consideration—some part-time residents would prefer not to pay hefty monthly common charges that include the expense of high-end amenities that they seldom, if ever, use.
One of the main drawbacks of townhouse ownership has been the regular upkeep associated with these buildings, especially for those owners who don’t reside in the city full-time, or at all, in the case of investors. This aspect of ownership is becoming easier thanks to management companies that are springing up to keep an eye on single- and multi-family townhouses and condominiums for absentee owners. The Internet and other high-tech solutions are also available to those interested in monitoring their property via Twitter and in-house sensors and cameras. Owners can also use websites like TaskRabbit to connect with local people willing to run errands and do odd jobs as needed.Read More »