NEW YORK, NEW YORK by Elizabeth Hawes

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

How the Apartment House Transformed the Life of the City (1869-1929)

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Hawes's fine book, her first, employs architectural criticism, economic chronicle, and urban sociology to create a picture of how Manhattan turned from a series of pastures broken by single-family dwellings into a breathtaking erector set of multiple dwellings: a shift to modernity as a reliable indicator of ``the workings of the urban mind.'' Prior to 1869, anyone who didn't have to live communally in a single building certainly never would. Ensconced in their brownstones around Gramercy Park, the social elite believed in a lack of ostentation, in tempered privacies. But that would change. An architect like Richard Morris Hunt would introduce the ``French flat'' to New York as an alternative to the residential hotel--and for decades thereafter, apartment living became the choice of the bohemian, artistic, nonconforming crowd--safely removed from Society by its eccentricity. (The entire West Side--considered before the turn of the century akin to living in Montana--started off as blithely self-regulating as it essentially has remained.) But then the great mansions of Vanderbilt, Tiffany, and Villard went up in Midtown, and suddenly blue-blood New York had to cope with display and grandeur--and this in time broke down the walls: Polite people perhaps could live in something visually assuming, ornamented, lush, maybe even overlush. The family would not fall apart if domiciled above another, similar family; the subway made the far reaches of uptown livable; and the rebuilding of the city in an image of multiples began. Hawes valuably includes a list of the great apartment houses still standing--but more valuably still creates a context for how a city imagines itself in space (inextricable from the American city's special problem of staying classless while enforcing social hierarchies), employing the novels of Edith Wharton and William Dean Howells, and a wealth of forgotten socioarchitectural journalism so bracing it's a shame the craft has fallen into disuse. A wonderful book. (Sixty-six photographs, drawings, and floor plans)

Pub Date: April 20th, 1993
ISBN: 0-394-55641-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1993




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