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Real estate record and builders' guide: v. 88, no. 2267: August 26, 1911

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Vol. LXXXVIII AUGUST 26, 1911 No. 2267 THE CITY'S FAMOUS WATER FRONT BOULEVARD. Originally Planned as a Seat for Fashionable Dwellings, Riverside Drive Has Become of Late Years One of the Foremost Among Apartment House Avenues. RIVERSIDE DRIVE is New York's most beautiful avenue and few. if any, thoroughfares in America surpass it in natural attractiveness. The charms of its scenery have been enhanced by the landscape gardener, and the roadway, aa it now exists, is a triumph of engineering skill. Vast sums have been expended in its construction and maintenance and its parks provide a playground and recre¬ ation space for thousands of the city's cliff-dwellers. Long before the Revolution, this portion of Manhattan was occupied by the suburban residences of wealthy New Yorkers, and the banks of the Hud¬ son were dotted with country villas and estates. In most cases, these residences were so situated that when the Drive was opened, they either had to be removed to make way for the roadbed, or were set so far back as to be entirely off tlie line. The plan of a magnificent waterfront roadway was conceived by Wiiiiam M. Tweed, at the height of his political power, but the first section of tlie Drive, from 72d to 122d streets, was not officially opened until ISSO. Riverside Drive first gained a national reputation in 1SS.5, when General Grant was buried there. At that in price about $75,000 apiece, when built on a full lot. The high-stoop, brownstone house so common in other sections of the city, and so totally lacJting in architect¬ ural beauty, was not used on the Drive to any extent. For a time the natural at¬ tractiveness of the Drive was sufficient lo induce many well-to-do people to set¬ tle there, and the early builders found a ready market for their wares. A few years sufficed to demonstrate that River¬ side Drive, as a private dwelling section, had several drawbacks. - Chief among these was tlie lack of adeciuate transpor¬ tation. The elevated was far removed and the surface lines were too slow for downtown travel. Another drawback to the erection of high-priced dwellings was the lack of restrictions. Then, too. the river winds were so strong that it was found dilTicult to heat tlie houses in win¬ ter with ordinary furnaces. These un¬ pleasant features were sufficient to check the sale of houses, and as a result "to let" and 'for sale" signs became conspicuous, and several builders were forced into bankruptcy. After this first boom subsided, very lit¬ tle activity w^as apparent until the open- resembling a land boom has ensued. It is true that some individual lots have brought rather fancy prices, but this was due lo the fact that the property was al¬ ready occupied liy substantial dwellings and could not be sold on the basis of vacant lots. In the case of the south corner of 8Sth street, two five-story American basement dwellings, in excellent condition, were acquired as part of the site for a tall apartment house. The ab¬ sence of any sharp increase in values is accounted for in several ways. When the building movement began on Riverside Drive, property values were already high¬ er than in the surrounding territory and builders, therefore, very naturally pre¬ ferred adjacent property, which offered more speculative profit, locating on the Drive, only when they could buy at rea¬ sonable prices. The Drive, having lost its private residence character, was no longer of value from that standpoint and the owners had either to sell at market figures or .hold their property idle and for this reason the builders were able to make their own terms. In addition to tl-iis, no iron-clad restrictions existed to prevent competitive selling, and as the Drive had THE HIGHEST POINT ON THE UniVE LOOKlNt; NOHTH FROM MOUNT TOM time the thoroughfare was in rather a crude state, but improvements were made shortly afterwards and magnificent parks were laid oul between the Drive and the river. In spite of its natural beauty and pure air, Riverside Drive has never approached Fifth avenue as a fashionable residence street. "Wihen improvements began, it was freely predicted that the Drive would rival, if not surpass, the East Side thor- ouglifare, but this prophecy failed of ful¬ filment. While many wealthy people set¬ tled there, none of the ultra-fashionable set did. Had an Astor or a Vanderbilt migrated to the Drive it is very likely that this famous western street would have become a center for society. Shortly after its opening, the firsl dwell¬ ing was erected, but it was nearly ten years later before very many houses ap¬ peared. From then on the development .was rapid, especially in that part south of 100th street. Rows of dwellings were erected by speculative builders and marlc- eted to individuals. It is estimated that 50 per cent, of the dwellings were built in this fashion. The houses were nearly all brick or limestone front dwellings of the American basement type and similar in design. Here and there some indiyidual owner improved some corner wilh a de¬ sign of his own fancy but for the most part, Ihe houses were of a conventional type, even when erected by private parties. These buildings, with the land, averaged ing of the subway. This means of rapid transit made tlie Drive as accessible as other parts of the West Side and opened the possibility of apartment house con¬ struction. In 1S95 .the flrst of these structures appeared, and from that lime on the building of apartment houses has steadily continued, and to-day the Drive has entirely lost its original private house character. Except in a few cases, no handsome residences have been con¬ structed in recent years, and it is ex¬ tremely unlikely that any more will be undertaken in the future. The most notable exceptions are the Schwab house, between 73d and 74th streets, which was understood to have cost about .f 3,000,000, and the picturesque Rice dwelling at the SOth street corner. In spite of the fact that both these dwell¬ ings cost their owners enormous sums, neither of them proved particularly at¬ tractive to the builders. The Schwab house has been but little occupied since its completion, and the other was sold some lime ago to a foreign tobacco mer¬ chant. In spile of the fact that the last six years has witnessed a remarkable activity in apartment house construction on River¬ side Drive, there has been no decided en¬ hancement of values, at least in the sec¬ tion below Grant's Tomb. Nearly all of the vacant land has been absorbed and the structures erected have been of a very substantial character, but nothing no possible business future, land was worlli only what il would produce for liv¬ ing purposes, and therefore had no great speculative value. The apartments thus far constructed on Riverside Dri\'e have been of an excellent grade. The houses are all of the elevator type and range in height from seven to twelve stories. A wide variety of archi- tectur.e is to be noted, but for the most part it is in good taste, the freak facades, so common in many parts of the city, be¬ ing notably absent. Suites in the various houses range from nine to eighteen rooms in size and rents run from $1,200 to .$G,- 000 an apartment. The average price of a nine or ten-room apartment would prob¬ ably be about |2,500, Land values rise and lower with the altitude of the avenue, which varies considerably. The street is 03 feet above high water at its beginning, at 72d street, and rises to 75 feet at 76th street. At 7!)th stret it drops to 40 feet, rising gradually beyond to SO feet at 92d street. From there it slopes to its low¬ est point at ilOth street, which is only 21 feet above the water. Above -this point there is a gradual rise to 122d street, which has an altitude of 12S feet and is the highest point on the Drive. The choicest section is considered to be between 72d and 76th streets. Land here is worth a little less than .^3,000 a front foot and private houses are the only build¬ ings to be found. Near 79th street land is worth only about $2,000 a foot, and at