1.3. HUNT AND THE FRANCOIS I STYLE

Richard Morris Hunt, William K. and Alva Vanderbilt House, New York, NW corner of Fifth Avenue and 52nd, 1879. (Online)

It is now time to go back and look at what happened in New York prior to January 1891.  I will specifically discuss the resurrection of the “Anciens” in the work of McKim, Mead, & White later in this chapter, but first, I must review what the two leading Eastern architects, Hunt, and his former pupil, Post had been designing at the same time that Root was designing the Rookery and the Monadnock.    Hunt, educated at the École des Beaux-arts (1843-54) during the Neo-Gréc rebellion of Henri Labrouste, had never veered far from his roots. The Francois I or French Renaissance style had been given its initial stamp of approval in 1879 by New York’s trend-setter, Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt (also French-educated) with her (Mrs. William K.) $3 million house designed by Hunt that opened to New York High Society on March 26, 1883.  In the 1885 A.I.A. survey of American architects’ favorite buildings, Hunt’s Vanderbilt house was rated third (following Richardson’s Trinity Church and the U.S. Capitol). Alva Vanderbilt’s mansion had set the mark for stylishness in New York during the 1880s, and that would be Francois I.

Richard Morris Hunt, William Borden mansion, Chicago, 1884. (Stein, Hunt)

Hunt (who had designed Marshall Field’s house on Prairie Avenue ten years earlier) was commissioned a year later by William Borden (the son of John Borden, owner of the Borden Block designed by Adler, that begs the question why did he not hire Adler to design the house?) to design a similarly styled Francois I mansion at the northwest corner of Lake Shore Drive and Bellevue Place (the southern-most lot of Potter Palmer’s new residential neighborhood along Lake Shore Drive: Palmer lived six blocks to the north) that was completed in 1889.  By this date, however, Hunt, working with Frederick Law Olmsted, was already deep into the Francois I design of what was to be an even more extravagant estate than that of Alva and William K. Vanderbilt: the Biltmore in Asheville, N.C, for William’s youngest brother, George Washington Vanderbilt.

Left: Richard Morris Hunt, Biltmore, Asheville, NC, 1889; Right: John Singer Sargent, George Washington Vanderbilt, 1890. (Online)

1.4. THE DAKOTA

Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, The Dakota Apartments, New York, Central Park West and 72nd, 1882. (Stern, New York-1880)

Such was also the case with the Dakota Apartment House built in 1882 by Edward Clark, the president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, as part of his speculative strategy to promote the upper West Side as an upper middle class residential neighborhood.  Clark’s vision for the new project was: “There are but few persons who are princely enough to wish to occupy an entire palace, but there are many who would like to occupy a portion of a great building, which would be more perfect in its arrangement than any palace in Europe.”  Clark was taking a double gamble with the Dakota.  First, there was no guarantee that this location would prove to be desirable in the eyes of his target market, and second, he was introducing New Yorkers to a different type of housing unit.  Instead of the fashionable row or townhouse, Clark thought that New Yorkers would take to the Parisian courtyard apartment house. 

Clark hired architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh to design New York’s first upscale, multistoried apartment house based on this model, for a block on the west side of Central Park West between 72nd and 73rd, that would have an unobstructed view of Central Park.  Hardenbergh, who had apprenticed under Detlef Leinau (v.3, sec. 5.3), had already designed an earlier project for Clark, the Van Corlear that had quickly gained the reputation as being the first New York apartment house that felt and functioned like a true Parisian courtyarded apartment house.  The Van Corlear, however, did not yet “look the part.”  Hardenbergh succeeded in making the Dakota “one of the most perfect apartment houses in the world,” as it was judged upon its completion in September 1884.  No expense was spared in its design and construction; it was as good as the quote above made it out to be. 

Hardenbergh, The Dakota Apartments. Birdseye view of court. (Online)

It is obviously the Dakota’s two-story Francois I châteauesque roof that I am interested in.  On the Central Park West elevation, he topped the corner pavilions with sharply profiled gables that were linked to the central pavilion’s gable by a transverse mansard roof.  He then activated the roof’s silhouette with the requisite pinnacles, dormers, and chimneys, lending an air of true French sophistication to its eight-story visage as it raised its head above the tree line of Central Park.  Its private dining room at the time was known to be “the handsomest dining room in Manhattan.”  If this wasn’t sufficient to pique Root’s interest during his business trips to New York during the consolidation process, the building’s clientele, known to be among Manhattan’s culturally elite, especially in the music world, would have, more than likely, offered Root the opportunity to visit the building on more than one occasion.

Hardenbergh, The Dakota Apartments. View from Central Park. (Stern, New York-1880)

FURTHER READING:

Alpern, Andrew. The Dakota. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2015.

Stern, Robert A.M. New York: 1880. New York: Monacelli Press, 1999.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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