Cardozo Goes Residential
Housing students in the dense environment surrounding an urban school is a perennial problem for universities. Columbia has been attempting for years to construct a dormitory at 113th Street and Broadway despite protests from local residents and preservationists. New York University has suffered through similar battles, as have other schools whose pedagogical advantage of being in the middle of New York City is tempered by the significant problem of providing student housing within walking distance of the classrooms and library.
Cardozo long dreamed of being able to offer its students convenient and affordable housing, but was stymied by a host of problems, primary of which was the high cost of real estate in reasonable proximity to 55 Fifth Avenue.
By a fortuitous confluence of circumstances, contractual creativity, and patient negotiations, a novel solution has been developed. Cardozo is now poised to become a residential institution with a student dormitory to be created from a much-recycled pair of buildings only a block from the Law School, at 15 East 11th Street.
During most of the nineteenth century, East 11th Street between Fifth Avenue and University Place was built solidly with middle-class one-family row houses, the grander mansions of the rich having been constructed on Fifth Avenue. One anomaly was a carriage house and stable at East 11th Street. Set far back on the lot to conform to a deed restriction and to provide a forecourt for off-street hitching of horses, the two-story brick structure had been built by George Wood in 1852. That same year Wood built a grand three-story residence for himself and his family at 45 Fifth Avenue, accessible to his carriage house on 11th Street via a narrow strip of land behind the similar 1850 carriage house of James Donaldson, who lived in his own three-story mansion at 43 Fifth Avenue. Donaldson's house and carriage house were bought in 1903 by William E. Finn, who demolished them and in 1905 erected the grand apartment house that still exists at the corner of 11th and Fifth.
The houses to the east of George Wood's carriage house remained solidly in single-family occupancy until the early 1880s, when the four modest brick buildings at 13-19 East 11th Street were remodeled in the more fashionable brownstone and converted for use as a hotel--The Bristol. William Finn later bought the five-story hotel as part of an attempted land assemblage, but sold it when he found he could not acquire the adjoining old George Wood carriage house property (Wood had sold it to Henry Tailor, whose brownstone on East 12th Street still faces Cardozo, and Tailor's heirs continued to use the building for its original purpose). The carriage house was ultimately converted for use as a small synagogue, in which guise it still exists.
Finn sold off The Bristol in two pieces. In 1901 the east half went to William Rau, who demolished that portion of the building and retained architect Louis Korn to design a small seven-story apartment house on the site at 17-19 East 11th Street, calling it The Regina. Among the first tenants was one Leopold Wertheim. Rau sold the newly completed building later that year to Wertheim, who in 1902 also bought the remaining truncated piece of The Bristol from Finn. For the westerly site, 13-15 East 11th, Wertheim also hired Louis Korn for the design of a nine-story hotel, which was completed in 1902 and called The Alabama.
Louis Korn was born in New York City and graduated from Columbia University's School of Architecture in 1891. He worked briefly for the prolific John B. Snook & Sons before open 1000 ing his own design office in 1892. An early commission was the extant loft building at 91 Fifth Avenue (1894), whose six busty caryatids high on the façade enliven an otherwise conventional commercial structure. Later, Korn designed a building for Leopold Trew at 141-145 Wooster Street in SoHo (1896) and another loft building at 40 West 22nd Street (1910). Korn's best-known commission came out of a design competition in 1901. The building that resulted was completed in 1904 at Central Park West and 88th Street for the Progress Club, a Jewish social club whose members were predominantly upper-middle-class German immigrants who were excluded from the existing social organizations of the entrenched Christian majority. It is likely that William Rau and Leopold Wertheim were members of the Progress Club. Walden School bought the building in 1932 after the club went out of existence, and it has since been demolished for the luxury apartment house on the site, which was completed in 1989.
The Regina and The Alabama were later renamed the Hotel Van Rensselaer and run jointly as a single operation. In keeping with the custom of many New York hotels before the First World War, it offered rooms and suites for transient, long-stay, and permanent guests. A dining room was maintained on the ground floor to compensate for the lack of cooking facilities in the upper-floor units. The daily rates around 1910 for a single room with private bath ranged upward from $1.50 without meals and $3 with full meal service. The weekly rate for a parlor, bedroom, and bath was $16 without meals or $23 with meals. Suites of up to six rooms could be had at rates that were apparently negotiable. In 1913, one of the suites in the Van Rensselaer was taken by Mr. and Mrs. Lyndsay Van Rensselaer, formerly of Staten Island. The Van Rensselaer family in New York dates back to the days when it was New Amsterdam and has contributed much to the development of our city. If America can be said to have a true aristocracy, the old Dutch families such as the Van Rensselaers, the Schuylers, the Schermerhorns, and the tenEycks and tenBrocks qualify in spades.
Notwithstanding its ancient name, the Hotel Van Rensselaer declined, both physically and economically. Built by German Jews at the beginning of the century, in 1973 it was given a rebirth by the Iranian Jewish Elghanayan family, who have since made a specialty of recycling old buildings to new residential use. Through the family's Rockrose Development Corporation, the hotel rooms were rebuilt as rental studio and one-bedroom apartments, with small kitchens and new bathrooms installed, along with new electrical and heating systems and a rebuilt ground floor. In 1982, the building was converted to cooperative ownership, at prices ranging from $42,000 to $134,000, with monthly maintenance charges of $221 to $758. By 1996, the building had again declined, and two-thirds of the apartments were rented out to tenants by absentee shareholders of the cooperative corporation.
A member of the Yeshiva University Board of Trustees who is in the real estate business learned of the availability of the building and referred the information to the appropriate University officials. After analyzing the situation, the University and its attorneys developed an innovative and possibly unique proposal. They offered to purchase individual apartments directly from the owners of the units. The transactions were negotiated and structured over about half a year, and eventually the University purchased 93 of 114 apartments at a total cost of $11.6 million.
Repairs have begun, and 30 units are expected to be ready for incoming students this fall. By the fall of 1999, all of the apartments will be available for Ca 66 rdozo students and, at long last, the school will truly have gone residential.0