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A House in the Middle of Midtown Manhattan?
January 11, 2011 1:45 PM   Subscribe

I've scoured the internet looking for information on this photograph, but no luck thus far. Any ideas?

I found this photo on a forum of New York City photos (here) and I have been all over Google and Bing and tineye looking for more information on why there is a big house in the middle of midtown Manhattan.

I figured I would give MetaFilter a try as the MetaFilter community has a good research track record in my book.

I saw a story on Gothamist last year that the photo reminded me of, but it was about something that happened on 5th ave over a decade later.

Any ideas?

Image
posted by koolgiy to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Because it hadn't been torn down yet, I'd imagine.

Manhattan wasn't always skyscrapers or even apartment buildings. Most people lived in houses probably until the turn of the 20th century.
posted by thebazilist at 2:10 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


An typical American house for a exposition on Park Avenue. Behind, the Lefcourt Colonial and Lincoln Buildings. April 1934.

There was a big "Century of Progress" exposition in Chicago for the 1933-1934 World's Fair which was well attended and well supported. Other cities quickly set up similar events, New York's being one of the more successful. All these events had as their theme the Modern Century (they were sponsored by GM and Ford, among others). If this picture is dated correctly I'd assume it had something to do with that. The building would have been erected just for the event, almost no permanent construction took place for this kind of event surprisingly. This would also explain why it is so hard to find out anything else about it, the house probably didn't exist for even 12 months.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:12 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Manhattan wasn't always skyscrapers or even apartment buildings. Most people lived in houses probably until the turn of the 20th century.

True, but they weren't wood-framed colonials with white picket fences! That style of architecture would never have made sense in New York City, except perhaps from when midtown was farmland. (And, at that, nobody in their right mind would have held onto a parcel of land that valuable, or continued to maintain such a 'vulnerable' building. I'm amazed that fence lasted long enough for the photographer to get a shot without the fence being stolen!)

I agree -- it was probably part of an exhibition, although I'd love to know how/why!
posted by schmod at 2:22 PM on January 11, 2011


Because it hadn't been torn down yet, I'd imagine.

Manhattan wasn't always skyscrapers or even apartment buildings. Most people lived in houses probably until the turn of the 20th century.


That would have been an improbably sight even at the turn of the century.

This is an image of a circa 1920s parade.
Oh yes, Felix the Cat was all the rage.

Here's an image of midtown Manhattan in 1931. You can see Midtown is mostly mid- or low-rise buildings. The L.E.S. may have had a few single family homes at the time, but everywhere else would have been townhouses or brownstones.

The house style is a modern (1934) suburban house dropped in middle of a Manhattan that isn't all that different from what exists today.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:38 PM on January 11, 2011


Maybe a historical society is the way to go? I'm very intrigued by that photograph as well!
posted by Calzephyr at 3:01 PM on January 11, 2011


The Lefcourt Colonial is at 41st and Madison, and the Lincoln Building takes up most of the block on 42nd between Park and Madison. The other tall building on the right edge of the photo is probably the building currently on Vanderbilt and 42nd, the placement is current and it looks similar in style.

The house in question would have been at most a 2 or 3 blocks from Grand Central terminal and on Park Ave, of course. Here's a really close image from 2 years later (1936) showing the same couple of high-rises plus what appears to be the same brick wall behind the 1934 house. This image is named "Park Avenue and 39th Street, Manhattan" and is dated Oct. 8, 1936.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:08 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a question for Christopher Gray, who writes the New York Times' "Streetscapes" column. The email to send queries to is streetscapes@nytimes.com.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:17 PM on January 11, 2011


You guys are fantastic!

Didn't know I would get such a response to this photo. Should I email him (Christopher Gray) or will someone else?
posted by koolgiy at 3:18 PM on January 11, 2011


Also, the view of the area now. :P
posted by koolgiy at 3:35 PM on January 11, 2011


The house was commissioned as a model suburban home in 1934 by the New York Committee of Better Homes in America. It was on the corner of Park Avenue and 39th.
posted by amyms at 3:38 PM on January 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here is the area in - what it says - is 1930.
posted by koolgiy at 3:38 PM on January 11, 2011


It's the house in 1935!
posted by koolgiy at 3:41 PM on January 11, 2011


From a Time Magazine "Milestones" issued Mar. 11, 1935

Died. Roger Harrington Bullard, 50, architect; of pneumonia; in Plandome, N. Y. He designed country clubs and socialite country houses, won a gold medal in 1933 in a Better Homes in America competition, with a 1½-story cottage which a jury found "admirable, compact, convenient, well lighted and well aired." He planned the model ''America's Little House" which currently stands in Manhattan at the corner of Park Avenue and 39th Street.
posted by koolgiy at 3:48 PM on January 11, 2011


More info: The kitchen was designed by Lillian Gilbreth.
posted by amyms at 3:49 PM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


America's little house: an educational demonstration by the New York committee of Better homes in America, inc., in cooperation with the Columbia broadcasting system.
Published 1934 by Better Homes in America in New York .
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:02 PM on January 11, 2011


More info, from the NYT archives: Mayor Fiorello La Guardia broke the ground, Eleanor Roosevelt laid the hearthstone, and CBS used it to broadcast three radio programs a week. More than 166,000 people paid 10 cents to visit before it was demolished.
posted by amyms at 4:29 PM on January 11, 2011


True, but they weren't wood-framed colonials with white picket fences! That style of architecture would never have made sense in New York City, except perhaps from when midtown was farmland.

Yes, there totally were. Some of them still exist in upper Manhattan and Harlem. There are even engravings of "wood-framed colonials with white picket fences" in lower Manhattan during the 18th and early 19th centuries!

There are still plenty of colonial style farmhouses in Brooklyn - even parts of Brooklyn that urbanized long before Midtown did.

Midtown is surprisingly young, as urban areas go. The Empire State and Chrysler buildings weren't finished until the 1930's. Rockefeller Center was finished in 1939. A great many of the other well-known buildings are from the 50's and 60's.

Consider, also, that when the current City Hall was finished in 1812, the builders decided it wasn't worthwhile to finish the back of the building in marble, because there was just no way the city was ever going to develop further north than that. The Dakota is called the Dakota because, when it was built, it was in the "middle of nowhere", as far from town as the Dakota Territory. Consider that the Dakota isn't even all that far uptown, today.
posted by Sara C. at 7:06 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wikipedia says that he - Edward Clarke - named it "The Dakota" because he had [a] "fondness for the names of the new western states and territories."

The citation is from the aforementioned Christopher Gray, from his book New York Streetscapes

:)
posted by koolgiy at 1:17 PM on January 12, 2011


And I spelt it Clarke but it's really Clark. Do'h.
posted by koolgiy at 1:17 PM on January 12, 2011


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