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Peter Pennoyer Architects

As Delano & Aldrich began working, New York was on the cusp of a period of rapid transformation. The city was experiencing the twilight of the era of the private house as cooperative and rental apartment buildings (descendants of the tenement and apartment hotel) began to eclipse the house in popularity, practicality, and economy. Simultaneously, the smaller commercial buildings of the 1890s were giving way to the skyscraper as steel-frame construction and the elevator ushered in the era of the high-rise. Architects such as Cass Gilbert and Ernest Flagg in the 1900s and Ralph Walker and Raymond Hood in the 1920s and 1930s were rapidly reshaping the city’s commercial and financial districts with their architecturally distinct skyscrapers and setback towers.

By 1903, Fifth Avenue was fully developed. The blocks overlooking Central Park were a tableau of robust mansions and elaborate limestone chateaus. In comparison, the architectural character of Park Avenue was not yet fixed. Until 1904, the trains running beneath the avenue were powered by steam; the fumes billowing out from the railroad tunnels prevented the wide, attractively landscaped boulevard from obtaining status as a desirable settlement for the rich and discerning. When Senator Root, a visible and influential New Yorker, began construction of his house at 71st Street, Park Avenue consisted mainly of tenements and ordinary houses. The electrification of the trains in 1904, however, eliminated the smoke along the thoroughfare and opened the avenue’s grounds for redevelopment. Park Avenue quickly grew in popularity, and in 1909 the Real Estate Record and Guide noted that “on Park Avenue at the present moment may be seen under construction, simultaneously, both cooperative and individual houses of the highest type in their respective classes,” acknowledging the thoroughfare as the “second Fifth Avenue.”

While Delano & Aldrich contributed only two buildings to the Fifth Avenue streetscape, they played an integral role in transforming Park Avenue and the area surrounding it, designing many houses, clubhouses, schools, churches, and apartment buildings. Despite the rise of the apartment building, there was no apparent decline in the popularity of private dwellings in the area above 60th Street between Fifth and Park Avenues.93 Delano & Aldrich designed only two apartment buildings, but they continued to build single residences and renovate brownstones until the early 1930s.

Early houses for lawyer Allen Wardwell (a college classmate of Delano’s) at 127 East 80th Street (1912) and artist Howard Gardiner Cushing at 121 East 70th Street (1910) manifested Delano & Aldrich’s proclivity for severe, planar façades and minimal decoration. Prior to the building of Avalon, Yale classmate Robert S. Brewster commissioned the firm’s first large-scale New York residence at 100 East 70th Street, completed in 1908. With its restrained limestone façades, rusticated base, and palazzo-style composition, the design exhibited strong Italian influences. Yet the bold, central cartouche, French windows, and rounded dormers recalled elements of Parisian architecture. Here, Delano attempted to build “a simple and dignified home” “in no particular historic style or epoch” but did not achieve the fluidity of his more mature work…

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