New York Architecture Images-New York Architects

Emery Roth & Sons

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035-Erste_Warshawer_Synagogue.jpg (69209 bytes) 003-b22.jpg (33098 bytes) beresford_central_park_s.jpg (29027 bytes) 038-eldorado_05.jpg (76568 bytes) UWS066A.jpg (40992 bytes)
035-Former First Warsaw Congregation 003-Ritz Tower 211 CPW- The Beresford (037) 300 CPW- The Eldorado (038) 066-St Moritz Hotel (Ritz-Carlton)
[127 John St. (36k)] CITICORP2.jpg (18390 bytes)  
030 Met Life Building 058 General Motors Building 008 127 John St. 001-Citicorp Center 103-St. Peter’s Church
[2 Broadway] 028A.jpg (32904 bytes) 034B.jpg (81574 bytes) The New York Palace Hotel with Villard Houses and courtyard
017 2 BROADWAY 028 77 WATER STREET 034 55 WATER STREET 006 Saatchi and Saatchi 010 Villard Houses
004 17 State St. 064-The Oliver Cromwell      

New York City has long been famous for its architecture. While the skyscrapers constitute the quintessential symbol of the city, no other place in the United States has so many buildings in such a variety of historic styles. The Empire State Building, Metropolitan Museum of Art, St. Patrick's Cathedral and Rockefeller Center, to name but a few, evoke instant recognition throughout the world.

New York is also renowned for its numerous grand and luxurious apartment houses and hotels. Many of the most noteworthy of these were designed by Hungarian-born Emery Roth, the city's premier residential architect during a career that spanned more than 40 years. As a matter of fact, no other architect in the city's history is responsible for more distinguished residences than Roth. His wonderful creations abound on New York's most fashionable thoroughfares: Central Park West, Riverside Drive, Broadway, and Fifth and Park Avenues. Roth was, said his biographer Steven Ruttenbaum, "a master who could combine eclectic architectural elements into romantic compositions of dignity and grace."

Roth was born in the small town of Gálszécs, Zemplén County, in 1871, one of eight children. He was a very bright boy and was particularly fond of drawing. Since his parents owned the town's inn, which also served as the center of the town's social life, the family was relatively prosperous. However, they were reduced to poverty when his father died in 1884. Given the dire circumstances, the family decided that it would be best for 13-year old Emery to seek his fortune in America, the land of opportunity. Therefore, he left home in the company of a certain Aladár Kiss, who was returning to Chicago where he had settled some years previously.

Upon arriving in New York City, Kiss gave money to young Emery for a railroad ticket and told him to follow him. During the trip Roth lost Kiss's address and found himself completely alone in the Windy City. Despite his bleak prospects, Roth was not discouraged. Extremely resourceful and ambitious, he managed to earn a living by doing a variety of odd jobs. While apprenticing in an architect's office, he found his vocation and pursued it relentlessly.

His dream began to take shape when he was hired by Burnham & Root as a draftsman on the architectural staff of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Daniel H. Burnham and John W. Root were two of Chicago's most distinguished architects with a long line of impressive commissions behind them. Working for them on the massive project gave Roth an opportunity to hone and showcase his artistic skills and meet Richard M. Hunt of New York City, the dean of American architects. Hunt was deeply impressed by the largely self-taught youth's abilities. When Roth mentioned that he intended to move to New York at the conclusion of the fair, Hunt assured him that there would be a place for him in his office.

Relocating to New York, Roth worked for Hunt, but upon his untimely death in 1895 he joined Ogden Codman Jr., a noted society interior decorator with a large clientele among the rich. The association with these two prominent figures gave Roth an invaluable insight into the housing aspirations of the wealthy who were beginning to move, albeit reluctantly, into apartments.

In 1898 Roth decided to strike out on his own. Shortly afterwards he married Ella Grossman. Four children were born of their union: Julian, Richard, Elizabeth, and Kathrin.

As with most new enterprises, the beginning was difficult. Many of his early commissions, rather modest ones at that, came from the city's Hungarian community. Indeed, his first job involved the remodeling of the Cafe Boulevard, a popular Hungarian restaurant on lower First Avenue. Throughout his life Roth maintained close ties with his fellow countrymen, and they, in turn, looked upon him not only as a successful and talented architect but the very personification of the American Dream.

As his reputation grew so did his business and he began to concentrate on designing apartment houses, hotels, and apartment hotels.

One of Roth's earliest major undertakings was the Hotel Belleclaire at Broadway and 76th Street. Called an "unusual jewell" by Christopher Gray in his New York Streetscapes (2003), it was designed in rather daring Art Nouveau style. Supported by a skeleton frame rising 10-stories and executed in red brick with limestone, terra-cotta and metal detailing, the building was regarded a skyscraper. When the Belleclaire opened on January 12, 1903, it was among the city's most luxuriously appointed hotels. Its roof garden offered guests a spectacular view four or five miles up the Hudson River. The ground floor contained sumptuous dining rooms, a Flemish café, and sundry other amenities.

In 1906 the Russian writer Maxim Gorky, on a lecture tour of the United States, took rooms at the Belleclaire with his companion, who was registered as his wife. When it was found out that she was not his lawful wife but Madame Andreieva, an actress, Milton Roblee, the hotel's manager, indignantly ejected them, declaring: "My hotel is a family hotel." Gorky was refused admission at two other hotels for the same reason before he found lodgings at a private home. Needless to say, such prudishness is no longer the policy of New York's hotels.

By the post-World War I years Roth was established as a leading architect. The prosperity of the 1920s allowed his business to flourish and his practice was one of the largest in the city. Roth's genius was his ability to adapt the details of classicism to modern building form. He was also a pragmatic businessman, quick to grasp the principles of building costs and operating expenses. Clients engaged Roth because of his reputation as a proficient architect who could maximize the return on their investment.

It was the Ritz Tower that cemented Roth's reputation as one of New York's foremost architects for it not only established a precedent in high-rise construction but also changed the direction of residential architecture. Completed in 1925 at 57th Street and Park Avenue, the 42-story building was the city's first residential skyscraper and the tallest such structure in the world. Some suites were inordinately large, with up to 18 rooms. The Ritz Tower became a symbol of a new way to live for wealthy New Yorkers and inspired a new generation of hotels and apartment hotels.

Two years later Roth bequeathed the city another gem, the Oliver Cromwell, 12 West 72nd Street. One contemporary writer described it as "sumptuously furnished and ideally located in one of New York's most desirable home sections . . . this magnificent hotel has a strong appeal to those who appreciate the most their money can secure in the matter of living quarters." Roth himself was especially proud of the Oliver Cromwell and considered it to be the finest building designed by his office.

When the authoritative American Apartment Houses of Today was published in 1926, it listed two of Roth's works, 47 West 96th Street and 310 West End Ave. However, his best and most memorable creations - the San Remo, the Beresford, the Ardsley and the Normandy - were yet to come.

Considered to be one of Roth's masterpieces, the Beresford, 211 Central Park West, remains to this very day one of the prominent elements of Central Park West's distinctive skyline. Created at the pinnacle of his career in 1929, the massive apartment house was executed in brick, with limestone and terra-cotta trim, and ornamented with sculpture derived from late Renaissance precedents. Entrance was provided through several separate lobbies handsomely detailed in marble and bronze. On September 15, 1987, the Beresford was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Among the apartment houses he designed along the western edge of Central Park, Roth's favorite was the San Remo, the city's first twin-towered building, which he fondly called "The Aristocrat of Central Park West." Completed in 1930, the building typifies his adaptation of Italian Renaissance forms to high-rise residential design.

An ad for the San Remo in the New York Times called it "as modern as a flying boat, as luxurious as the Ile de France and designed for people who are at home on both. Birds in the sky are your only neighbors."

Prominent residents have included a galaxy of motion picture and TV stars: Dustin Hoffman, Diane Keaton, Mary Tyler Moore, Faye Dunaway, Eddie Cantor, Zero Mostel, and Tony Randall. Two fictional tenants of the building were Oscar Madison and Felix Unger of the popular Odd Couple TV series. Felix Unger was played by Tony Randall, himself an actual resident. It was at the San Remo that the beautiful Rita Hayworth died from Alzheimer's disease.

In conferring landmark status upon the building on March 31, 1987, the Landmarks Preservation Commission called it "an urbane amalgam of luxury and convenience, decorum and drama."

Paul Goldberger, long-time architecture critic for the New York Times, wrote in his book The City Observed: New York (1979): "Beresford and San Remo are among the city's very finest classically inspired apartment houses."
Close to the Beresford and San Remo is another one of Roth's superb creations, the Ardsley. Completed in 1931, it has been described by one writer as "a Mayan-influenced pile that is, in terms of facade decoration, Central Park West's most elaborate Art Deco work."

Overlooking the Hudson River at 140 Riverside Drive, the twin-towered Normandy was the last of Roth's grand pre-World War II apartment houses. Deemed by many architects and critics as among his very best, it combines Italian Renaissance forms with new Moderne features. Like the Beresford and the San Remo, the building has been designated a New York City landmark.

Reflecting on the Normandy and apartment houses in general in the August 1940 issue of Architectural Record, Roth said: "To be a good investment, a new apartment building must be economically laid out, and that means that the proportion of rentable area to the gross area of the building should be approximately 340 sq. ft. per room. On this basis it should produce living rooms approximately 14 by 24 ft., master bedrooms 12 by 18 ft., secondary bedrooms 11 ft. 6 in. by 17 ft., large foyers, and ample closet space."

Even though Roth's name will be forever linked to luxury apartment houses, he also designed residential buildings for the less wealthy of New York. His Goldhill Apartments, completed in 1909 on Union Avenue in the Bronx, were intended for middle-income earners. Roth was one of the architects to submit plans when in 1930 Julius Miller, president of the borough of Manhattan, invited proposals for housing the "average wage earners."

Given that Roth's reputation rests on his large number of apartments and hotels, it is often forgotten that he also designed a number of fine houses of worship.

Erected in 1903 for Congregation Adath Jeshurun of Jassy, the Erste Warshawer, 60 Rivington Street, was one of the great synagogues of the Lower East Side. Mixing Vienna Secessionist motifs with Hungarian vernacular style, the First Hungarian Reformed Church, 344 East 69th Street, dates from 1915. The diminutive edifice is on the US Department of the Interior's National Register of Historic Places. Now housing the Gospel Mission of Baptist Church, Temple B'nai Israel, 610 West 149th Street, boasting a sanctuary covered by a massive dome and capable of accomodating 1,300 worshippers, was constructed from 1921 to 1923. The Baptist Tabernacle, built in 1928-30 at 168 Second Ave., was home to a variety of ethnic - Italian, Polish and Russian - congregations. The Labor Temple, 214 East 14th Street, the city's most radical church, was completed in 1924, and the Chelsea Presbyterian Church, 214 West 23rd Street, two years later.

In 1948 the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects awarded Roth its Apartment House Medal for his design of 300 East 57th Street. Already in poor health, he didn't live long to enjoy this latest honor; he died on August 20, 1948. His wife passed away five years earlier.

After his death his sons Julian and Richard and grandson Richard Roth II carried on his practice as Emery Roth & Sons. Today, the firm known as Emery Roth & Partners LLC maintains its offices at 1841 Broadway. While Emery Roth's practice was concentrated on residential buildings, his descendants have acquired an enviable reputation for designing office towers. Their creations in Manhattan include the Look Building, General Motors Building, Colgate-Palmolive Building, Pan Am Building, Sperry Rand Building, the ill-fated World Trade Center, and the Merchandise Mart along with the Bronx High School of Science and an array of luxury hotels and apartment complexes. Equally impressive is their work in other parts of the country and abroad.


Sources - The literature on the life and career of Emery Roth is extensive. Unquestionably the most comprehensive source is Steven Ruttenbaum's Mansions in the Cloud: The Skyscraper Palazzi of Emery Roth (1986), a well-researched and lavishly illustrated book devoted entirely to Roth. Brief biographical sketches of Roth appear in several standard reference works, among them the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects and The Dictionary of Art. His own Autobiographical Notes, 1940-1947, an unpublished manuscript, reposes at Columbia University's Avery Library. A multitude of books on New York City's housing, architectural heritage and places of interest contain substantial sections on Roth's buildings. Articles on Roth's creations in professional journals can be readily retrieved via the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals. This index is also an excellent source on the vast number of projects executed by his descendants as is Robert A. M. Stern's New York 1960.

b Galszecs, Hungary [now in Slovakia], 1871; d New York, 20 Aug 1948). American architect of Hungarian birth. He emigrated to Chicago when he was 13 and soon entered the office of Burnham & Root. There he did work for the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893), which brought him to the attention of Richard Morris Hunt, whose office in New York he joined in 1895. He developed his planning and interior design skills working for Ogden Codman jr, before establishing his own office in 1898. His first real opportunity came in 1903 when he was employed by Leo and Alexander Bing, then New York’s leading property developers. The major influence on him was not the Chicago style of Burnham & Root, but rather the classicism of the Columbian Exposition, as well as the Aesthetic Movement and architecture associated with Arts and Crafts. A certain stylization in some of his buildings suggests the Art Nouveau idiom helped to produce Art Deco.
1585 Broadway (1989)
17 State Street (1988)
7 World Trade Center (1987)
Symphony House Apartments (1986)
Citigroup Center (1977)
World Trade Center (1972-1973)
Paramount Plaza (1970)
MetLife Building (1963)

General Motors Building (1968)
55 Water Street (1972)
Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Building (1963)
345 Park Avenue (1969)
888 7th Avenue (1971)
One Dag Hammarskjold Plaza (1972)
Burlington House (1969)
J.P. Stevens Company Tower (1971)
Merchandise Mart Building (1973)
Westvaco Building (1967)
AXA Financial Center (1963)
600 3rd Avenue (1971)
Helmsley Palace Hotel (1981)
Interchem Building (1970)
Burroughs Building (1963)
Bankers Trust Annex Building (1965)
Blue Cross Building (1973)
Ritz Hotel Tower (1926)
1700 Broadway (1969)
Random House Building (1969)
North American Plywood Building (1972)
Sterling Drug Company Building (1964)
ITT-American Building (1967)
1155 Avenue of the Americas (1984)
60 Broad Street (1962)
80 Pine Street (1960)
Financial Times Building (1965)
One Battery Park Plaza (1971)
575 Fifth Avenue (1983)
Mutual of America Building (1960)
Harper & Row Building (1972)
Capitol-EMI Building (1971)
900 3rd Avenue (1983)
747 3rd Avenue (1972)
Park Lane Hotel (1971)
Sovereign Apartments (1973)
Fifth Avenue Tower (1986)
Manhattan Tower (1985)
750 3rd Avenue (1958)
909 Third Avenue (1967)
2 Broadway (1959)
MGM Building (1965)
Bankers Trust Building (1962)
641 Lexington Avenue (1964)
Pfizer Building (1961)
Franklin National Bank Building (1972)
Hanover Bank Building (1962)
250 Broadway (1963)
485 Lexington Avenue (1956)
Xerox Building (1965)
123 William Street (1957)
100 Wall Street (1969)
MacMillan Building (1966)
Warwick Hotel (1927)
Emigrant Savings Bank Building (1969)
215 East 68th Apartments (1962)
Winstar Building and Addition (1974)
546 Fifth Avenue (1990)
Lorillard Building (1959)
Crystal Pavilion (1982)
Hotel Benjamin (1927)
Colgate-Palmolive Building (1955)
Harcourt, Brace & World Building (1964)
77 Water Street (1970)
National Distillers Building (1954)
St. George Hotel (1930)
Diamond National Building (1961)
380 Madison Avenue (1953)
600 Madison Avenue (1965)
Look Building (1950)
Tower East Apartments (1962)
415 Madison Avenue (1956)
575 Madison Avenue (1950)
Davies Building (1955)
1430 Broadway (1956)
850 Third Avenue (1961)
General Reinsurance Building (1958)
355 Lexington Avenue (1959)
Bank of Montreal Building (1955)
10 Hanover Square (1969)
Schroder Building (1969)
45 East End Avenue Apartments (1950)
Paris Theater & Office Building (1948)
10 East 70th Street Apartments (1960)
40 Park Avenue (1950)
715 Park Avenue (1949)
30 Park Avenue (1954)
Ellington Apartments (1987)
1212 6th Avenue (1963)
589 5th Avenue (1954)
Oxford Condominiums (1990)
156 William Street (1956)
Harriman National Bank Building (1959)
845 Third Avenue (1963)
630 Third Avenue (1958)
1180 Sixth Avenue (1962)
22 Cortland Street (1971)
555 Fifth Avenue (1954)
945 Fifth Avenue Apartments (1949)
300 East 57th Street (1947)
2 Fifth Avenue (1952)
200 Water Street (1971)

Roth's ornate, eclectic apartment buildings in New York City harked back to Renaissance palaces at a time when architectural fashion was embracing Wright and Le Corbusier. Despising the "baldness" of so much modern architecture, he wedded limestone, brick and terra-cotta in functional yet richly detailed commercial buildings with Old World charm. Arriving in New York in 1884 as a penniless Hungarian immigrant, he rose to become a well-connected architect, weathering changes of taste and economics as he switched from '20s Art Deco to '30s Moderne to a hybrid of the classical and the new. Hotel St. Moritz, the Ritz Tower, the Normandy Apartments on Riverside Drive and some 250 other Manhattan buildings attest to his staying power. When the era of grand-scale living shrank, Roth made the typical 12 17 living/sleeping room both efficient and elegant. This, the first book on a neglected architect, is long overdue.

Ruttenbaum's book on Emery Roth (1871-1948) is a biography as well as a survey of the buildings he designed. The author successfully explains Roth's role in creating high-rise hotels and apartment buildings that combined attractive exteriors with more efficient, more livable interiors than had been the case before Roth. Architects like Wright, Pei, and LeCorbusier may be better known, but their buildings were designed as works of art, not buildings to be lived in. In contrast, Roth's buildings combined functionality and attractiveness. As Ruttenbaum walks us through Roth's career, we see how he gradually fine-tuned his ability to craft functional floor plans. Roth's works include such New York landmarks as the Beresford, Warwick, San Remo, St. Moritz, Ritz Tower, and hundreds of others.

Two small quibbles regarding this book: Why did Ruttenbaum omit the Hotel Dixie (now Hotel Carter), which was noteworthy for having a long-distance bus station in its basement, complete with turntable? And why did the author use the last chapter to fawn uncritically over the works of Emery Roth's sons, who, lacking their father's aesthetic sense, have produced buildings comprising the worst of 60s-era architecture? Ruttenbaum's book includes a multitude of photos, averaging roughly one per page, as well as 25 floor plans