034-stone.jpg (30094 bytes) New York Architecture Images-Upper East Side

Edward Durrell Stone House


Edward Durell Stone


130 East 64thth Street, Bet. Park And Lexington Ave.




International Style II  


Concrete breeze-block grill








town houses
town houses
casting Stone
An unfashionable facade on a historic town house stirs a like-it-or-landmark-it debate.
(courtesy: Benjamin Hicks Stone)




by Kristin Miller

In a staid district of late-nineteenth-century town houses on New York City's Upper East Side, the romantically lacy, stark-white concrete grille in front of the Edward Durrell Stone house has raised a ruckus since it was constructed in 1956. When the grille first appeared at 130 E. 64th Street, more than 20 years before the Upper East Side Historic District was created, Stone had only his neighbors and architectural critics to contend with (neither group was pleased). Nowadays, in a landmark district, such an alteration to a facade would be absolutely prohibited. Yet the controversial little town house has become an unofficial landmark of its own--and largely for the addition that many still consider an eyesore. This turnabout has led some of the city's big guns to take the surprising stance of defending the screen on its architectural merits.

According to longtime New York City Landmarks Commissioner Thomas Pike, standards for landmark status have changed significantly over the years. During the nineteenth century, preservation decisions were mostly dictated by politics. (There's even a church in Queens that missed the first wave of landmarking because it was popular with the wrong side during the Revolutionary War.) In the early twentieth century, the focus shifted to preserving works of "import." According to Pike, "Now we're preserving not just beautiful buildings, not just those connected to history, but the fabric of history itself."

So how did the Stone house almost become an official landmark? Stone is a hard architect to love, particularly in aesthetic terms. His brand of romantic Modernism has yet to come back into fashion, and, according to one New York architect, "Many people who love Modernist architecture don't like Stone." This is probably why, when the facade fell into disrepair in the late 1980s, Stone's widow removed the screen--and promptly got slapped with a Landmarks violation penalty, which halted all reconstruction efforts and made selling the property difficult. These days, such a violation can incur fines of as much as $250 per day.

In 1992, Maria Stone applied to the commission for release from the violation through a "certificate of no effect." But some powerful voices spoke up for the white grille. Unbeknownst to the Stone family, Robert A.M. Stern, a strong advocate for the preservation of Modernist architecture, asked the commission to "rise above the inevitably changing winds of fashion... and preserve an important architect's ingenious, if controversial, solution to the problem of town house design." Stern's voice won out and the violation remained in effect. Stone's son, Benjamin Hicks Stone, an architect himself, proposed several of his own designs as alternatives, but the commission wouldn't accept anything other than the reconstruction of the original design, as unpopular as it was.

According to Pike, "Preservation means telling the whole story of the American experience accurately and completely," which might be the single best argument for saving the unfashionable Stone style. The red velvet and white marble interior certainly contained a glamorous version of the American experience, with hostess Stone serving cocktails to the likes of Sophia Loren, Jack and Jackie Kennedy, and Frank Lloyd Wright. It's a roster of figures whose popularity has waxed and waned, perhaps as much as that of the man behind the wild, white concrete grille.

Thanks to 


Set in one of Manhattan’s most desirable
neighborhoods where elegant brownstones
on tree-lined streets epitomize old
world New York. This four-story townhouse
was the home of Modernist architect
Edward Durell Stone and his family. In
1956 Stone covered the Victorian-era
brownstone with a façade made of
decorative concrete blocks. Stone had
previously used the decorative blocks
in his design for the New Delhi Embassy
and, while it gave the family some privacy
by shielding the façade’s glass curtain
wall, it also prevented natural light from
entering the north-facing rooms. Over
time, the reinforcing steel that held the
masonry blocks together had rusted,
substantially cracking the façade, while
the otherwise lacy effect of the grille’s
open-work pattern was marred by pollution
that collected in its deep interstices.
As the deteriorating concrete became a
safety hazard, the grille was eventually
removed, exposing the house’s glazed
façade underneath and allowing light to
flood the relatively dark interior spaces.
Despite these advantages, the New York
City Landmarks Commission objected to
the removal of the grille in an ironic effort
to maintain the “integrity” of the Upper
East Side historic district. The architect’s
son, Hicks Stone, proposed an alternate
solution. Rather than replace the decorative
grille, Stone, who had grown up in the
house proposed a design that captures
the spirit of urban townhouse living and
pays homage to his father’s Modernist
legacy. Glass is the catalytic element in
this precise composition that offers a 20thcentury
take on traditional townhouse
bay windows without resorting to overt
historical references.
Stone opened up the front elevation
with three-stories of projecting windows
set within alternating bands of rough and
smooth limestone, a nod to the city’s
luxurious residential facades. The horizontal
banding of the floor-to-ceiling
windows relieves the structure’s strict
vertical orientation. The glazing is set in
painted steel frames whose finish
matches the thin, Corten steel spandrel
beams that will weather to a gray patina
over time and enrich the play of rough
and smooth, transparent and opaque
materials. Capping the design is a roof
canopy that recalls E.D. Stone’s façade
for the Museum of Modern Art yet gives
the home a domestic form.
  Architect Edward Durell Stone's 1956 "neo-Baroque" 130 East 64th Street house was also a tough sale. The concrete façade was taken down by his widow, then rebuilt by order of the Landmarks Preservation Commission before it could be sold last year for $2.3 million. "Atypical" houses, says Sharon E. Baum of Corcoran, who sold it, "take longer to sell, but people like buying something that's a name property."