Great Architects of New York: Henry J. Hardenbergh
1340-1350 Lexington Avenue & 121 East 89th Street
Location
East 89th Street and Lexington Avenue, northwest corner
New York, N.Y. 10128
Neighborhood
Upper East Side / Carnegie Hill
Built
May 25, 1888, to March 21, 1889
Style
Northern Renaissance
Use
Townhouses and a store
AIA Guide
N/A
Landmark Status
These seven buildings comprise the Hardenbergh/Rhinelander Historic District (the smallest in the city), designated in 1998.
Web resources
Friends of the Upper East Side

Here are six townhouses and a small apartment building barely visible around the corner at 89th and Lex. These were designed in 1888 for the Rhinelander family, which had Old Money earned in the 18th century sugar trade and in the 19th century built more than 100 buildings on the Upper East Side, including two Hardenbergh-designed townhouses on East 87th Street. These were built in conjunction with 11 similar rowhouses across the avenue at the intersection's northeast corner that were demolished for a modernist apartment building in 1959 (see below). Of those that remain, Christopher Gray of The New York Times wrote, "These houses, 1340-1350 Lexington, are more reserved than those that stood on the northeast corner but are still varied and relatively distinctive for Lexington Avenue, which has otherwise standard brownstones."

Of all the ground floor retail renovations that have mutiliated otherwise beautiful buildings across the city (see the Western Union Telegraph Building, for example), the renovations to the store here at the corner building seem downright respectful. But they caused a controversy in 1991 that lead to criminal charges against the building's new owner, who didn't let denial of a permit stop him or her from altering the building and then ignored three stop-work orders. Seven years later, these buildings were landmarked in the Rhinelander Historic District.

The district was formed too late to halt significant alterations that have left the buildings looking slightly awry. Today's doorways are in what used to be considered the basement. Take a look at the highly decorated windows above the doorways. These were the entrances to the buildings when they had their stoops. But the stoops had to go to make way for more cars, as Lexington Avenue's sidewalks were narrowed as part of the mid-20th century's urban planning ethos: Autotopia.

Newspaper articles

  • "Postings: Rowhouse storefront; Stop and Go." The New York Times, April 7, 1991; Sec. 10, p. 1.
  • Gray, Christopher. "Streetscapes: Lexington Avenue and 89th Street; Family That Sought to Set an Architectural Example." The New York Times. Oct. 10, 1999; Sec. 11, p. 7.

  • Rowhouses at 89th & Lexington, with 1340 Lex, and its once-controversial renovations, at the corner.
    121 East 89th Street is behind the rowhouses, and the tree, at left.
    121 East 89th Street1342 Lexington1344 Lexington

    1346 Lexington1348 Lexington1350 Lexington

    Sadly, the houses that survive are less exciting than the ones that were demolished. Across the street at the northeast corner of Lexington and 89th, Hardenbergh designed a cluster of eleven little picturesque "chateauesque" townhouses with a roofline worthy of the Dakota crammed onto a site that was just 100'8" by 150'. Below is a scanned photocopy of a photograph taken c. 1897 that shows the westernmost five of the houses: At the far left, 1347 Lexington Avenue, with the stepped Dutch roofline, extra-wide 1345 and 1343 Lex, 141 East 89th Street (or possibly 1341 Lex) at the corner, and finally 143 East 89th Street, with the Dutch roofline and the conical turret at the far right. Off to the right of the photo were six additional rowhouses at 145-155 East 89th Street, which continued the fancy roofline. Had these houses survived, they would have made a nice addition to the Hardenbergh/Rhinelander Historic District, which, without them, is the smallest historic district in the city.

    These eleven buildings were cleverly placed in this tight spot, as seen in this modified Sanborn map that shows their locations in relation to one another and to the streets.

    Those wonderful buildings were replaced in 1959-60 with a nine-story brick box known as 141 East 89th Street. Utilitarian, to be sure: No doubt the apartments are more usefully laid out than the ones in those 11 buildings, and it has space for a supermarket. But it is hard to imagine a more uninspired and banal building than this one.