2tt Facade

277 Park Avenue – Hecksher Apartments

277 Park was built directly over the train platforms at the bottom right.  The completed building is the 1925 Grand Central Palace (NY Expo center)

277 Park was built directly over the train platforms at the bottom right. The completed building is the 1925 Grand Central Palace (NY Expo center)

Park Avenue in 1928 looking directly North from 46th Street .  The newly completed 277 Park Avenue is 2nd building on the right. Notice the scaling and general architectural massing of the Terminal City buildings provides a balanced yet never monotonous impression..

Park Avenue in 1928 looking directly North from 46th Street . The newly completed 277 Park Avenue is 2nd building on the right. Notice the scaling and general architectural massing of the Terminal City buildings provides a balanced yet never monotonous impression..

At the beginning of the 20th Century the New York Central Railroad constructed an enormous train station, Grand Central Terminal (GCT).   GCT occupied the site of a smaller station which had become hopelessly outmoded.  GCT to this day has a greater train capacity then any railroad station in the world and it is doubtful that it’s full potential can ever be exploited..  This potential was secured by excavating an enormous (largest such excavation in history)  pit  and building a two level maze of tracks and platforms within it.  Since the tracks were now below street level the pit could be decked over and air rights exploited  It was decided to lease these air rights and develop an assemblage of  elegant buildings to be called called “Terminal City.  Terminal City encompassed the blocks from East 49th Street South to East 42nd Street and between Lexington and Vanderbilt Avenue(s); Many of these buildings, including the land-marked Barclay and Roosevelt hotels and the Helmsley (ex New York Central) building itself sitting astride Park Avenue at 46th Street still survive today. Strict limitations were placed by the site owner respecting maximum height, general appearance and  building materials to be utilized in structures erected within the district. For some reason the Waldorf Astoria Hotel which is located at the North end of the site was exempted.

277 Park Avenue courtyard

277 Park Avenue courtyard

The Courtyard looking West. The two vehicular entrance portals are visible

The Courtyard looking West. The two vehicular entrance portals are visible

The Hecksher Apartments (277 Park Avenue) between 47rth and 48th street was constructed around a one acre inner courtyard which was landscaped, and rimmed with a  tiled driveway which provided limited outdoor parking for the tenants’ autos.;

 

Park Avenue entrance.  AS gate keepers shelter was located between the twin arches.

Park Avenue entrance. AS gate keepers shelter was located between the twin arches.

The principal entrance was on Park Avenue via two monumental arches (for autos) flanked with two smaller apertures which furnished access to a covered arcade. Foot traffic could also enter via a Lexington Avenue gate, identify his business to the doorman and after climbing two flights of rather steep stairs reach courtyard level.level.

 

The marques of some of the 12 "houses"  and at center rear the Lexington Avenue entrance

The marques of some of the 12 “houses” and at center rear the Lexington Avenue entrance

Although the building appeared as a single structure, 277 was actually an assemblage of twelve separate apartment houses surrounding the inner court, all sharing the common facade.. A covered arcade circumscribed the inner court yard giving access to all twelve “houses..”  There were 2 apartments per floor and each house was 12 stories tall.  In general each house had an attended passenger elevator and a separately manned service car.  At the time of construction (briefly) a doorman was also on duty.  The service car could descended to street level where a heavy metal door gave access to the street for deliveries and garbage collection.

The floor plan for one of the larger apartments.

The floor plan for one of the larger apartments.

Note the wood burning fireplace and relative dimensions of the room

Note the wood burning fireplace and relative dimensions of the room

Because there was no basement, (N.Y. Central tracks) the administrative offices and heavy mechanical maintenance shops had to be located at grade and that reduced the total apartment count to around 360. Each apartment had a wood burning fireplace. Larger units included a maid’s room (with toilet and bath) and as mentioned, additional household staff could be cheaply housed in the  small rooms on the roof  A necessity for the frequent entertainments customary for the time even a medium sized apartment featured a butler’s pantry. The kitchen came with a refrigerator containing only an evaporator whose coolant was piped from a large central compressor unit (a novelty) which proved a mechanical nightmare.;

The interior of one of the 12 lobby elevator cabs.  The photo shows the cab after being modernized a around 1939 and was considered an excellent example of Art Deco design.

The interior of one of the 12 tenant lobby elevator cabs. The photo shows the cab after being modernized a around 1939 and was considered an excellent example of Art Deco design.

The building tapped its electricity from the 600 volt DC (reduced to 120 volts) N.Y Central power feed.  Steam for heat and hot water was provided by a nearby Con Edison steam generating plant. As mentioned above, the enormous train operation was directly below the structure and therefore it was relatively easy to tap into the railroads power grid.  In the long term the immediate economies the builders of 277 Park realized by installing such an electric service caused endless difficulties particularly when AC became the world standard.  For example window air conditioners  and TV sets were almost always AC only!  Tenants’ phone calls were received by and forwarded from a 24/7 manned central switchboard. Over and above normal and customary maintenance services the building offered (on site)  an upholster, a cabinet maker, maid and porter service, dry cleaning/laundry and two full time painters.

13th Floor (housing for domestics)

This structure (referred to as “the Roof” contained about 100 small rooms without toilet or cooking facilities for the tenants domestics!

Like a luxury hotel such an undertaking required an enormous general household staff of almost 175 souls (working a 6 day week!)  Of course, as time went by, economies were instituted with their inevitable inconvenience.  Unlike a front car the service elevator could rise to a 13th floor (actually a tunnel like corridor encircling the roof.)  This appendage, over time,  served many functions but early-on  provided accommodations for the larger household staffs of the most affluent.  Much like a motel the corridor was lined with on both sides with small rooms.  Typical of the time each of the rooms had a sink but no cooking, toilet or bathing facilities.  Because of the Great Depression  the number of  private retainers requiring accommodation decreased and some of the buildings general housekeeping and maintenance operations were relocated to the vacated rooms.

Principal entrance to Crillion  at 48th Street and Lexington Avenue.

Principal entrance to Crillion at 48th Street and Lexington Avenue.

These match box covers are collectables today.

These match box covers are collectables today.

A series of retail store fronts faced the public streets.; Long term merchants included a florist (Irene Hayes), a barber shop, drugstore with lunch counter, art supply’s,  a Restaurant,  Gristides groceries, a book store, optometrist and strangely, a supplier of women’s wigs.; The famous Crillon Restaurant relocated to a two story Art Deco space at the corner of 48th Street and Lexington Avenue corner of the building.; If hungry, you could leave your apartment and via the arcade enter the Crillon’s 2nd floor, or if you were so inclined, dinner would be brought to your apartment on a cart.

The playground in the early years.  The monumental colonnade surmounts the adjoining Grand Central Palace expo center..

The playground in the early years. The monumental colonnade surmounts the adjoining Grand Central Palace expo center..

Because there were very few children in the building it was uncommon for 3 boys of about the same age to be found together.  The beautiful canvas awnings were rapidly shredded  by winter winds and not replaced.  The play equipment and the beach sand carpet were replaced/repaired without fail.l

Because there were very few children in the building it was uncommon for 3 boys of about the same age to be found together. The beautiful canvas awnings were rapidly shredded by winter winds and not replaced. The play equipment and the beach sand carpet were replaced/repaired without fail.l

Although there were relatively few children in the building, a playground on the roof was provided.; In addition to the usual swing and slide, the entire play area was covered with beach sand .Since the winter winds blew the sand away it was necessary to replace it annually a brutal job.  For it’s first two decades, for the entertainment of younger children during inclement weather, the building provided a large, decorated play area in a large room on the roof. This facility was never popular and was converted to a laundry for the convenience of the tenants household help (generally a laundress came in one day a week).   For those adults who wanted to take the sun, a similar roof area with outdoor furniture was provided (separate from the children of course).

Central courtyard with seasonal tent.

The Central courtyard. Photo  taken in the early years.  The pedestrian arcade and the marquee of Number Four Hose may be seen here.

The Central Court in later years with the seasonal tent and furniture.

The Central Court in later years with the seasonal tent and furniture.

Christmas Party probably around 1930

Christmas Party probably around 1930. The party was popular and in later years a clown, magician and an accordion player performed on a temporary raised platform. Each child (tennant or guest) received an individual selected gift worth at least $5.00. Not an inconsiderable amount at the time.

The landscape designer had provided a tiled patio in the center of the park like court, a open sided tent was installed within it boundary which was furnished with handsome wrought iron furniture. There, one could pass the time on a hot summer day.; Remember,this was before the availability of central air conditioning. In the fall the tent was disassembled and for the Christmas season a large lighted tree was erected.; A Christmas party, with professional entertainment and Santa Claus (riding in a Cadillac convertible) distributed gifts to the tenants’ children and their guests.

Looking South down Park Avenue.  277 is on the left.

Looking South down Park Avenue. 277 is on the left.

An aerial photo taken before Hi-Rise building replaced 277 and its like.

An aerial photo taken before Hi-Rise building replaced 277 and its like.

Unfortunately, this mammoth and extravagant residence was completed at the height of the Great Depression. Almost always in bankruptcy, it passed through the hands of various investment groups who could not make it pay and eventually the property was seized; by the railroad who demolished it in the late 1960’s.; The office tower that replaced it still stands.

The Gallery page of this site has a section devoted to many more images of 277 Park Avenue.