Edward Durell Stone Townhouse
130 East 64th St. was built as a speculative rowhouse by Richard Hennessy in 1878.
130 East 64th St. is a hybrid. It has the bones of a nineteenth century row house with a mid-twentieth century skin. This townhouse, located on a mid-block lot, only shows its front façade to the street. It sits on a lot measuring 15’0” x 100’0”. The building is four stories tall and is built to the width of the lot. It is 65’0” deep. As it is set forward from its neighbors, the brick party walls of 130 East 64th St. jut out and are painted white. The façade of the building is dominated by a masonry screen which exhibits a pattern of circles and squares. The modern façade contrasts many of the other more traditionally styled buildings on the block.
As a modified townhouse of the late-nineteenth century, 130 East 64th St. is constructed of brick party walls with wooden cross members at each floor. With Stone’s alteration, the original brownstone façade was removed and the building, which was originally set back from the front of the lot, was extended forward and refaced with plate glass. This glass, however, is not totally visible as a concrete block grille sits 12” in front of it.
130 East 64th St. is located between Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue in the Upper East Side of Manhattan in the City of New York in the State of New York in the United States of America. The Upper East Side of Manhattan is approximately bounded by 59th Street to the South, 100th Street to the North, 5th Avenue to the West and the East River to the East. The area is definable by its large stock of late nineteenth and early twentieth century row houses built in the name of speculation and apartment houses of the early and mid twentieth century. As the majority of the area was built as speculative developments, various styles are present according to their respective times of construction. The styles include, but are not limited to, the Italianate, neo-Grec, and Queen Anne. In the early twentieth century, many of these townhouses were subject to alterations, transforming them from their original style to the newly established neo-Renaissance and Beaux-Arts styles, like the neo-French Renaissance, neo-French Classic, and neo-Italian Renaissance styles popularized by the World Columbia Exposition in Chicago of 1893. Until the early twentieth century, the Upper East Side was characterized by the townhouse of various styles. With the advent of the taller luxury apartment building, the character began to change. These taller apartment buildings are often designed in similar style to the townhouses of the area. In the second half of the twentieth century, the construction of apartment buildings continued. However, these were built in a very different style and are visibly modern. This mixture of style and scale in addition to the Upper East Side’s history of alteration contribute to its fabric today. This mixture is present on East 64th Street between Lexington Avenue and Park Avenue, the block on which 130 East 64th St. is located.
Stone’s alteration to 130 East 64th St. relied on the extensive use of glass and the concrete block grille, two materials which were growing in popularity as part of the Modern Movement. In the late nineteenth century, steel frame construction enabled the increased use of glass as the load of a building was transferred to its structural members. As modernism developed in the twentieth century, daring architects began to incorporate glass extensively into their designs. For instance, the façade of Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion (1928) is almost completely glass. As a material, glass is desirable as a transparent barrier between the outdoors and the indoors. In this way, one gets the benefit, in part, of a solid wall while also experiencing the effect of no wall at all. Edward Durell Stone’s use of glass on the façade of 130 East 64th St. acknowledges these desirable qualities. At the same time, the use of the concrete screen provides a balance to the extreme visibility which glass creates. Concrete is a building material which was used as early as the Ancient Romans. For the Romans, concrete was desirable as a plastic material able to span considerable distances, thus able to create large public areas. As time progressed, concrete took on a partially aesthetic role. Load-bearing concrete masonry units were sometimes faced with different patterns to mimic stone. Edward Durell Stone’s use of the concrete grille, an element of the façade which is only self supporting, goes even further and uses concrete in an aesthetic fashion which does not mimic stone. Rather, it is formed into custom shapes and creates an elegant pattern of interlaced squares and circles. The concrete grille provides a sense of both solidity and void. Stone’s concrete grille in conjunction with his glass façade acts as a membrane between the private townhouse and the public street.
Today, 130 East 64th St. is definable by its concrete block grille façade, a combination of squares which intersect with circles. Stone saw this as a solution to the greater problem of city life. Cities, as densely populated areas, are associated with an inherent level of voyeurism and/or lack of privacy. While some take this as a fact of life, Stone sought to find a remedy. As an attendee of the Exposition des Arts Decoratif Industriels et Modernes in Paris, France in 1925, Stone developed the belief that architectural detail must be necessitated by a specific function. With this in mind, in designing the United States Embassy at New Delhi, India, Stone created a similar concrete screen to the one he would impose on his townhouse on the Upper East Side two years later. In the case of the Embassy, the concrete screen intended to shield the area behind from the strong Indian sun while allowing sufficient circulation of air, a design necessitated by the climate of New Delhi. In the case of his townhouse, the concrete block grille offered privacy to its inhabitants, his family, while also allowing them to see out. Interestingly, the same screen concept was able to rectify the problems of climate and city life, two problems which are inherently tied to the locations of the particular sites. The use of the masonry screen façade of 130 East 64th St. on Manhattan’s Upper East Side conveys Stone’s role as a functionalist modernist.
130 East 64th St. stands out, literally. When Edward Durell Stone altered the nineteenth century structure, he extended the party walls and the façade forward several feet. It, too, stands out in terms of design. While we know the building is four stories tall, the only story which is clearly demarcated is the ground floor. The entry way is recessed, where a stoop once stood but which was removed before Stone came along. With the upper three floors disguised under a uniform screen and in conjunction with the narrow fifteen foot width of the building, 130 East 64th St. feels noticeably more vertical than its neighboring townhouses. The upper three floors of the townhouse are not discernible from one another. This is a result of the imposition of the concrete block grille. The concrete block grille comprises individual square masonry units which have four quarter-circles set about its four respective corners. The result of this, when used repetitively in a horizontal and vertical fashion, is a design of intersecting squares and circles with an organic feel. But Stone did not create the idea of the masonry screen, acknowledging himself that it was an ancient principle. Stone had traveled extensively through South America and was familiar with the Incan culture. His masonry screen is reminiscent of Incan tapestry. Frank Lloyd Wright, a colleague of Stone’s, was also familiar with ancient Meso-America and incorporated similar motifs in some of his work. Wright used a similar screen when designing La Miniatura in Pasadena, California in 1923. In fact, Stone kept many Incan artifacts he acquired throughout his travels in his townhouse. Stone’s masonry screen, in addition to his choice to set the façade forward, gives 130 East 64th St. an increased sense of geometry. By destroying the nineteenth century detail which was originally there, Stone has increased the planar nature of the generic townhouse form while also providing an interesting modern design. Stone’s design clearly contrasts much of the other buildings along East 64th Street and throughout the Upper East Side. In doing so, Stone’s alteration has contributed to the streetscape by diverging from the norm of revival style but adhering to the scale of the Upper East Side townhouse.
In 1878, 130 East 64th St. was built as one of a row of speculative houses designed by James Edward Ware for Richard Hennessy. This townhouse was of the neo-Greco style. Twenty-four years later, Edward Durell Stone was born. At the age of 23, Stone attended the Exposition des Arts Decoratif Industriels et Modernes in Paris, establishing his role as a modern functionalist. In the years following, Stone worked at various firms in New York City. He was licensed as an architect in 1933. In the years following, Edward Durell Stone would design the Museum of Modern Art with Philip Goodwin in New York City. In 1954, Stone designed the United States Embassy at New Delhi, India. Two years later, Stone bought an “old brownstone house in New York, undistinguishable and drab” (Stone, 141), as he described it, which he would later alter according to his functionalist beliefs. In 1956, this drastic alteration was completed, transforming what was a revival style townhouse into a seemingly modern building. Nine years later, in 1965, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, New York City’s official governmental body regulating the historic resources of the built environment, was created under Mayor Wagner. In 1978, Edward Durell Stone died at the age of 76. Three years later, in 1981, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated a portion of the Upper East Side as a historic district. This historic district included the 130 East 64th St. This is noteworthy; while lawfully the Landmarks Preservation Commission was able to include this structure as a contributor to its historic district on the basis that the structure itself was more than 30 years old, the Upper East Side Historic District designation protected a building which was visibly modern. In other words, had Stone completely demolished the 130 East 64th St. instead of merely altering its façade, it is likely that the building would have been considered a non-contributing member to the historic district, if it was included at all and would thus be unprotected. Six years later, in 1987, much of the façade’s grille work was removed due to its deteriorating condition. This was done with the permission of the Landmarks Preservation Commission on the basis that it would be replaced as soon as possible. After a lengthy delay, the restoration was finally completed in November 1998 by Stone Architecture LLC, an architectural firm founded by Stone's youngest son, Hicks Stone. Initially, Hicks Stone sought to remove the concrete block screen completely in order to allow the greater penetration of light to the interior. The Landmarks Preservation Commission rejected this proposal on the basis that this would be too drastic of a change. This rejection is noteworthy as it demonstrates the acknowledgment of Edward Durell Stone as a modernist architect whose work is worthy of protection and preservation. In 2006, the owner, Andrew B. Cogan donated a façade easement to the National Architectural Trust Inc., thus further protecting the façade from alterations.
Christopher Gray, “Edward Durell Stone and the Gallery of Modern Art, at 2 Columbus Circle; An Architect Who Looked Both Forward and Back “,The New York Times¸ October 27th, 2002.
Christopher Gray, “130 East 64th St.; The Mystery of Stone's Grille“, The New York Times: June 25th, 1989.
Elizabeth Hughes, “Second Generation”, House and Garden, February 2006.
Edward Durell Stone, The Evolution of an Architect, New York, Horizon Press, 1962.
New York City Department of Finance, Record for 130 East 64th St., Office of the City Registrar via ACRIS
New York City Department of Buildings , JOB # 101950284, via Building Information System (BIS)
Landmarks Preservation Commission, Upper East Side Historic District Designation Report, New York City, 1981.