New York Architecture Images-Upper West Side

Yeshiva Ketana


Herts & Tallant


346 West 89th St. at Riverside Drive.













Rice Mansion: Endangered, Protected, Entitled
[Adapted from material in Christopher Gray's New York Times August 24, 1997 article.]

It was one of the bitterest preservation battles ever, pitting a struggling Orthodox Jewish school in a magnificent 1903 mansion against a well organized group of West Siders who fought for landmark designation and successfully blocked the building's demolition. Now, 17 years later, the operators of a successor school in the Isaac L. Rice mansion at 89th Street and Riverside Drive are reaching out to their neighbors for help in restoration rather than destruction
The Rice mansion was designed in 1900 by the architectural firm of Herts & Tallant, which produced a large freestanding house with a reflecting pool and colonnaded garden along the south side of the lot. The individualistic design mixed Beaux-Arts, Georgian and Renaissance elements. The house was completed in 1903. Isaac Rice called it Villa Julia, after his wife.
In 1907, the Rices moved to the Ansonia apartment building at 73 and Broadway and sold their house to Solomon Schinasi, a tobacco merchant. Schinasi's brother, Morris, began his own mansion at 107 and RSD in the same year (profiled in our spring 1997 newsletter). The Schinasi family remained in the house through the 1920s and later leased it to different institutions.

In 1954 the Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim bought the building for its school. In 1979, as West Side property values increased dramatically, the school began negotiating to sell. The Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the building in February 1980, over bitter protests by the Yeshiva. In 1988, Yeshiva Ketana took over the Rice mansion. School officials say they are fighting a difficult battle to maintain the building and are struggling just to make long-overdue roof repairs, with a grant of $100,000 from a private foundation, the Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Life Monument Funds, that covers part of the $250,000 cost.
Most rooms are generally intact but architecturally disheveled, with much plaster deterioration that has not been improved by repeated painting. Esthetic concerns are a long way off. Perhaps $1 million - the equivalent of $5,000 per family -would bring the house up to the range of typical private school standards, money even a long-established school would have trouble raising. That amount might even allow the school to landscape its huge front yard, now not much more than raw land. Because of falling masonry and roof repair scaffolding, the students are not allowed in the yard, according to Leah Teller, the Yeshiva's director.

Mrs. Teller decided to contact the preservationists and wrote Joan Rome, an organizer of the original landmark effort who became a founding director of Landmark West! This fall the school, LW!, the Landmarks Conservancy and other groups will try to develop a strategy for saving the building a second time. "This is an excellent opportunity for us to join hands," Mrs. Rome said.
A Landmarked Mansion, Past Its Prime, Casts a Shadow on the Neighbors

Published: February 13, 2005

The Isaac L. Rice Mansion, a turn-of-the-century, four-story red brick dwelling at West 89th Street across from the Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial, is one of only two free-standing houses of about 30 that used to dot Riverside Drive.

But although the mansion is a designated landmark, its glory years are long gone. Most of the decorative copper has fallen off; the steps and the wall around the property are badly cracked; and residents of the co-op next door say the front yard has become such a dustbowl that on windy days, dirt filters into their apartments through screens and coats their furniture.

Built for the early-20th-century businessman whose name it bears, the mansion is currently home to Yeshiva Ketana of Manhattan. And neighbors say the school fails to maintain the building properly. 

The yeshiva denies that there are problems, and Robert Tierney, chairman of the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission, described the school as a good steward of the building. The yeshiva has followed procedure in making exterior changes at least five times.

The schoolyard is a key issue. Scott Miller, executive director of the 145-student yeshiva, said that it made no sense to aim for a grass yard of the sort Isaac Rice might have had, and that the lawn's condition was not part of the landmark decree. But a lawyer for the neighbors, Antonia Bryson, has argued that lawn maintenance is so required. 

In 1999, the yeshiva drew up plans to transform the yard into a play area with a safety surface that would cover the dust and be surrounded by greenery. But the neighbors rejected the idea, said Joan Rome, their leader.

Over the last year, residents increased the pressure, first unsuccessfully asking the landmarks commission to pursue the yeshiva for failing to maintain the building, and then complaining to the Buildings Department. Last June the school was fined nearly $7,000 for violations, mostly for lacking a current certificate of occupancy. The school is seeking such a certificate, Mr. Miller said. In October, the department fined the yeshiva $2,000 for hazardous conditions on the steps and the concrete around the yard on Riverside Drive.

The yeshiva is proceeding with a new plan to redesign the yard. "At some point," Mr. Miller said, "you have to say, this is something that's not getting anywhere." But any such change will have to go to the landmarks commission, so neighbors will still have their say.

Ms. Rome said she hates not just the noise but the dust that drifts into her apartment when the windows are open, and the dirt runoff that can clog drains in her building's courtyard and cause flooding.

"We know it's a school, and children have to play," Ms. Rome said. "But we think there needs to be some recognition on their part that people live and work all around."

Copyright New York Times.