Robert A. M. Stern’s latest Manhattan apartment building at 250 West 81st St., on a corner of Broadway, recently topped out. That means the top of the building’s steel structure of girders has been achieved. It is 209 feet tall, or about 18 stories by my count, based on the drawing above. I am entirely pumped about this building (“The New Classic Upper West Side Apartment House“). The renderings, by Williams New York, paint a gorgeosity of beauty, if I may be permitted to thus describe its appearance.
Cityrealty.com’s article from last June 12, “Construction begins on new Upper West Side condo,” confirms the building’s height as 18 stories, includes more details on amenities within the building, and notes that its predecessor was a three-story retail building whose demolition was completed last winter. It was a very attractive building, but the replacement of an attractive building with an arguably more attractive building, or at least a larger building of equal allure, reflects an admirable return to the status quo ante – that is, the situation before, say, 1950, after which it became conventional to worry that any building demolished would likely be replaced by something worse.
So this is progress. The big question is how long will it take before New Yorkers in the vicinity forget that the new building wasn’t erected decades ago? Will 250 West 81st become, in the public eye, just another survivor, admirable as that certainly will be? People will eventually get used to a lovelier neighborhood, just as they have been forced to accustom themselves to uglier neighborhoods, forced to turn that smile upside down.
To better encourage the construction of new traditional buildings like 250 West 81st at a higher rate requires the construction of a major building that nobody will confuse with a building that has always been there. Buildings like this are mother’s milk to a society that yearns for a revival of its civic pride. This building will help, but a bigger boost would arise from rebuilding Pennsylvania Station as it was originally designed (with updates, of course, in technology, transportation, commercial amenities, etc.) in 1910 by McKim Mead & White. You can see plans for that project at Rebuild Penn Station. After that, it’s Katy bar the door for the classical revival.
At first I thought 250 West 81st was done and these were photographs, but no, they are two renderings by Williams New York. Below that is a photo of the building torn down for the new project.