Monday, 27 January 2014


 "Refined country houses, gracious urban dwellings, posh Broadway cafés, exotic nightclubs, and a high-rise apartment building that, 80 years after its construction, is still considered the epitome of tony living in Manhattan these are among the many achievements of William Lawrence Bottomley, one of the best American architects of the first half of the 20th century. During his 40-year career, Bottomley designed and executed over 180 commissions for his clients. An uncompromising perfectionist with refined taste, he oversaw virtually every facet of his projects, from interior ornamentation and decoration to the surrounding landscape design.

THE ARCHITECTURE OF WILLIAM LAWRENCE BOTTOMLEY is the first comprehensive study of this master architect and designer. Richly illustrated with archival photographs and floor plans, the book examines 34 of the architect s structures nationwide and includes a catalogue of 185 commissions and a comprehensive bibliography. With new discoveries revealed about Bottomley and his work in the illuminating essays of author Susan Hume Frazer, this volume represents a noteworthy addition to Acanthus Press distinguished series of publications documenting America s rich architectural legacy."

William Lawrence Bottomley, born February 24, 1883 in New York, New York, was a noted architect in twentieth-century New York, New York, Middleburg, Virginia and Richmond, Virginia. He is admired as one of the preeminent Colonial Revival designers of residential buildings in the United States and many of his commissions are situated in highly aspirational locations, including Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia.

Educated at the prestigious Horace Mann School in New York, Bottomley graduated from Columbia University in 1906 with a bachelor of science degree in architecture. In 1907 he studied at the American Academy in Rome, where he had received the McKim Fellowship in Architecture. In 1908 he entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, in the atelier of Victor Laloux, where he studied until he returned to the US to practice formally as an architect in 1909.

William Lawrence married Harriet Townsend, a sculptor and writer, on August 26, 1909 at Beech Hill in Westport, New York. Harriet's love for gardening no doubt influenced William's strong alliance with landscape architect Charles Gillette. William and Harriet had three daughters: Harriet, Susan and Virginia.

In his 40-year career, William designed 186 commissions, the majority of which (40%) were in Virginia. "Bottomley's clients...while well-to-do, didn't have names with the lofty status of Rockefeller, Whitney, or Widener." Eleven of Bottomley's commissions are currently listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places. Eight of these are in Virginia.

River House is an apartment building located at 435 East 52nd Street in Manhattan, New York.
The River House was constructed in 1931 on the site of a former cigar factory. Originally, the building featured a pier where residents could dock their yachts, but that amenity was lost with the construction of FDR Drive. The building has a gated cobblestone courtyard featuring a fountain. The building's 26 story tower is decorated in an Art Deco style.
Historically, the co-op board was notoriously strict, turning away applicants who failed to meet strict liquidity requirements or whose "comings and goings would attract unwelcome publicity to the River House." Famously, Gloria Vanderbilt was rejected by the board in 1980. She accused the board of racism (she was in a relationship with black singer Bobby Short), while the board claimed that she had been rejected on her merits.[5] Other celebrities alleged to have been rejected by the board include Richard Nixon, Diane Keaton and Joan Crawford.

Parts of the lower levels of the building are leased to the River Club, a private club which counts slightly more than half of the building's shareholders among its 900 or so members. As of 2013 the members, who include David H. Koch and Aerin Lauder, pay approximately $10,000 in annual membership fees. The club includes a restaurant, an indoor pool and tennis courts.

After several years of negotiations where the club attempted to negotiate the purchase of its space, the co-op board listed the club's space for sale as a private residence. Featuring approximately 62,000 square feet (5,800 m2), five floors and a private entrance, the board set an asking price of $130 million. If the asking price is met, it would be Manhattan's most expensive residence.

 November 6, 2013
Roiling the Waters at River House

On a recent afternoon, the River Club was far from bustling. The main dining room was closed, so a handful of elderly couples headed to the pool area, where a bar menu was being served. A man using a walker spoke with his lunch companions of a recent trip to an antiques show. An Elsie de Wolfe aesthetic prevailed in several nearby sitting rooms, where the tufted red leather furniture was unoccupied.

Members do not deny that in recent years, the place has appeared to be more shabby than shabby chic. The elevator breaks almost monthly, and the newest book a person can find in the library is likely a 20-year-old Grisham novel. For years, the club has been operating at a loss.

So few were shocked when River House, the storied co-op from which the River Club leases its space, put the property on the block in September. The board listed it at $130 million, offering it as a 62,000-square-foot residence, which would make it the most expensive home in New York City real estate history.

Perhaps more surprising was the reaction of the building’s well-heeled residents. In what looks like a case of the rich fighting over how to get richer, the ensuing feud has become, as John Allison, the co-op’s chairman, described it, “a thing of novel proportions.”

One resident, the fashion maven and socialite Deeda Blair, distributed a note warning about the impending demise of the club and what it would do to the character of the building. Meetings have been held almost weekly.

In mid-October, another letter went out to the co-op board with signatures from nearly 40 of the building’s owners, many of whom regard the club — with its indoor pool, tennis courts and restaurant — as an essential piece of the building’s DNA and a “value adder” to their apartments, which already lag behind Park Avenue and parts of the West Village. Among the residents who lent their names were the former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, the former ambassador Donald Blinken and the former magazine editor (and Bernard Madoff victim) Alexandra Penney.

“People who are fanatical about the River Club would say the River Club is the essence of River House,” Mr. Allison said. “Then there are other people who don’t feel that at all. It’s a mixed bag. And it’s complex.”

River House and the River Club were built on the site of a cigar factory in 1930, after the Great Depression had begun but before despair had set in. It was on a cul-de-sac at the edge of East 52nd Street overlooking the East River, and part of the lure for tycoons was that they could moor their yachts just outside the building.

The first president of the board was Kermit Roosevelt, better known as the second son of Theodore Roosevelt. Later, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive made boat storage impossible, but residents with pedigreed last names like Hearst and Rockefeller kept rolling in.

They loved the gated cobblestone courtyard where boxwoods predominated and a fountain with Poseidon sprouted water 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Inside, the apartments were both cozy and expansive, with fireplaces and views of the river and the 59th Street Bridge. On the occasions modernity knocked at the door, it was promptly turned away.

In 1980, Gloria Vanderbilt was being squired around town by the singer Bobby Short, who was black. When she tried to buy into the building, the board rejected her. A pitched battle ensued, with Ms. Vanderbilt accusing the building of racism. Carl Mueller, the board president at the time, told People Magazine, “I believe that the ceaseless flow of gossip column items about [Ms. Vanderbilt’s] comings and goings would attract unwelcome publicity to the River House.”

Diane Keaton and Joan Crawford were two other boldface names who received cold receptions. The building’s Old World aura has troubled some of its inhabitants. Holly Peterson, the author of a novel about New York society, “The Manny,” lived there with her father, Pete Peterson, when he moved in some 30 years ago.

“Even though there are many families that live in that building, there’s nothing collegial or warm or communal about the grounds or the way the building is structured or how it feels when you walk down the entranceways,” she said. “The feeling is more the Overlook Hotel in ‘The Shining’ than warm-bohemian-Upper-West-Side apartment building where everyone is sharing a common room and having potluck holiday parties with their neighbors.”

In recent years, property values in the building stagnated as new condominium buildings like 15 Central Park West broke records with the $88 million sale of Sanford Weill’s apartment in 2011. Young people were rejected at the River Club for wearing A.P.C. jeans with their Prada blazers, and walked out, never to return.

The place does have loyalists among the society set. Aerin Lauder is a member. So are David Koch and his wife, Julia. Of the 700 full-fledged members, most continue to pay dues of over $10,000 a year. Many bring their children, who receive tennis instruction and love the outdoor space.

“It’s where my girls learned to play foosball,” said Marina Rust Connor, a contributor to Vogue. “We love the club and can’t stand the idea of it not being there.” But with numerous residents of River House opting not to use the club (a little more than half of the building’s shareholders are members), board members began to argue that the apartment complex was effectively subsidizing the club’s existence at a lower than market rate. Capital improvements were becoming increasingly difficult to put off and the club’s lease of $2,000,000 a year was not enough to pay for them.

About four years ago, the board of River House determined that there was a need for a shift in approach, both at the club downstairs and at the apartment building itself. Residents were voicing concern that the building’s reputation for being exclusive was now scaring away buyers.

Soon enough, brokers began to receive messages that River House would no longer be dismissive of new-money types and movie stars. (Most notably, Uma Thurman purchased an apartment there earlier this year.) Meanwhile, with the lease for the River Club expiring at the end of 2013, the board began to renegotiate its terms. Talks dragged on for two years.

Then the River Club shifted its strategy, determining that it would be better off buying the space. The thinking on its part was that if a multimillion-dollar face-lift was necessary, it should own the space it was investing in.

The co-op board seemed to encourage this, and set a floor price of $32.5 million. But none of the club’s bids approached the asking price. The real estate market was soaring, and the board decided to put the space on the market to see what it could get.

In April of this year, Mr. Allison sent a 13,000-word document on the saga to shareholders in the building, complete with a four-page table of contents. This did not please people at the club, who were already annoyed at a two-year-long negotiations process with a seller who couldn’t seem to set a fixed price.

Still, amid all those words, some residents complained that he did not provide a lot of details about the actual offering plan, which included amenities like a separate parking garage with access through River House’s courtyard and all of the building’s lawn space. Nor did he subsequently give residents a heads-up about an interview he had given to The Wall Street Journal about the listing.

In a building where most residents ascribe to the belief that one’s name ought to appear in a newspaper only at birth, when you marry or die, the publicity went over badly.

“This article took the tenants of the River House by total surprise,” said a shareholder who did not want to be named because the building has discouraged owners from speaking to the news media. (Residents like Ms. Blair and Ms. Penney declined to comment; Mr. Kissinger was out of the country and unreachable, a person in his office said.)

“Learning about all this in The Wall Street Journal is not what one would call being transparent,” the shareholder said. “We feel strongly that some of the features of the sales offering would be quite detrimental to the River House’s shareholders’ quality of life, our homes and the character of the building. We feel strongly that we should have been informed by the board of the sales offerings of these terms.”

Mr. Allison said residents are operating from a number of misconceptions and he seemed to think they would be be more amenable to a sale to someone other than the River Club if a significant amount of money is offered for the space.

“I don’t want to count chickens before they hatch,” he said, “but if there were any funds left over, the building would have in effect an endowment.”

Plus, he added, there remains lots of space on the existing property to add all sorts of amenities.

“We have options to put in a pool, we have options to put in a world-class fitness center,” he said. “We have options to put in a place for fine dining.”

At the same time, both he and Charles G. Berry, the president of the River Club, say they continue to negotiate and are optimistic something may be worked out to keep the club, presuming it can come up with a competitive bid. And on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Allison said the listing would no longer include the extra lawn space or a garage with access through the building, though he thought there may be space in the River Club for a garage, should an owner want to put one in.

Some people watching the drama unfold seem impressed that the building is at least making efforts to modernize.

“It’s admirable,” said Michael Gross, a real estate columnist for Avenue Magazine who wrote an article on the complex earlier this year. “They really are trying to kick the building into the present, and maybe what you’re hearing about resistance is just the old guard going, ‘No we like things the way they are.’ It’s like: ‘Daddy, don’t take my Kodachrome away. I don’t want to go digital.’ ”

But most agree that should it happen, the closing of the River Club would be the end of a certain kind of era.

“It’s not the final nail in the coffin of the WASP establishment, but it’s a big one,” Ms. Peterson said. “A big, fat, jumbo, mac daddy one.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 14, 2013

An article last Thursday about the River House co-op in Manhattan misstated the circumstances surrounding the placement of a large neon Pepsi billboard on the other side of the East River from the co-op. It was put up several years before the co-op board rejected Joan Crawford; it was not put there as an act of revenge by Ms. Crawford, who married Pepsi’s president in 1955 and was on its board starting in 1959.

June 09, 1980 Vol. 13 No. 23
Gloria Vanderbilt Charges Bigotry, but a Co-Op Says She Was Snubbed on Her
By Cherie Burns / Merits,,20076676,00.html

Maybe the late Babe Paley was wrong. You can be too slim and too newly rich, or that anyway was the least ugly explanation of why the board of Manhattan's exclusive River House coop rejected Gloria Vanderbilt's $1.1 million bid to buy a two-story co-op.

In affidavits filed with both the New York State Supreme Court and New York City's Commission on Human Rights, Vanderbilt, a sleek 56, charged that the River House directors had acted on the supposition that black entertainer Bobby Short, her frequent escort, was the man she would be bringing home to dinner and domicile. Added Vanderbilt's lawyer, Thomas Andrews: "The seller's attorney asked whether Gloria intended to marry Mr. Short. It is none of their damned business."

Then the directors, stung by the publicity and the taunts of some of their East Side neighbors, denied that race had played any part in the Vanderbilt decision. Their real objection to Gloria, suggested board president Carl Mueller, was that she is a Seventh Avenue designer now better known for her jeans than for her genes (she is the great-great-granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt). Though River House has several celebrity owners in residence, including Henry Kissinger and Josh Logan, Vanderbilt's renown was apparently regarded as tacky. "Fame which attends public service and professional achievement," Mueller declared loftily, "is to be distinguished from publicity which is the result of constant cultivation to promote commercial self-interest...I believe that the ceaseless flow of gossip column items about [Vanderbilt's] comings and goings would attract unwelcome publicity to the River House."

The directors also questioned whether, given the "up-and-down nature of the fashion business," Gloria's listed net worth of more than $7 million would be sufficient to back up her offer. "We are convinced that the longer she can drag this out, the more jeans she can sell," declared River House attorney Marion Epley, though he confided privately: "My daughters are furious with me for being against the 'Blue Jean Lady.' "

The financial question, at least, was swiftly laid to rest when Vanderbilt agreed to put $1 million in escrow on the co-op pending the resolution of what could be a lengthy court battle. Meanwhile, she may consider herself a comrade in rejection of Richard Nixon and Diane Keaton, both of whom were reportedly denied entry to River House. There is no danger, however, that the four-times-married heiress and her two at-home children, Carter, 15, and Anderson, 13, will find themselves out on the street. She has three other New York co-ops to her name.

As for Gloria's relationship with club singer Short, things couldn't be better, thank you, or any less likely to end at the altar. Recently the couple co-hosted a party at Maxwell's Plum for the performer's colleagues in the musical Black Broadway. Eubie Blake played piano, and Gloria and Bobby danced the evening away cheek-to-cheek. But a wedding? "I stand behind Gloria," says confirmed bachelor Short, "and I enjoy being with her, but I don't think there's any chance of our getting married. The people at River House have based their objection on a false assumption. That's not the way the world turns."

1 comment:

therelishedroost said...

I need to get that book!!