There’s nothing entry-level about the entrances of New York City’s most exclusive apartment buildings. Now, a local architectural historian is giving these grand doors their due.
“Most people know the doorway that they go through to get into an apartment [building] and maybe the immediate surrounding of the doorway, but they don’t see the entire entrance,” Andrew Alpern, the author of the new coffee-table tome “Posh Portals: Elegant Entrances and Ingratiating Ingresses to Apartments for the Affluent in New York City” (Abbeville Press), told The Post. “And for many buildings, the entrance is much more important than just the doorway. The doorway is how you get in, but the entrance glorifies the act of going in.”
The 82-year-old architect and attorney highlights more than 120 entryways around town — many of them dating between the late 1800s and World War II. He opens the book with NYC’s first luxury apartment building, the Dakota at 1 W. 72nd St., which boasts a lavish two-story arched entryway that opens to an interior courtyard.
“First impressions really do count — and people would really want to come home to an attractive entrance and … impress the guests who would come and visit them,” he said.
Here’s a look at five of the most impressive portals and passageways NYC has to offer.
Previously the site of a run-down tavern, William Waldorf Astor built the full-block Apthorp in 1908, tapping architects Clinton & Russell for the design.
“The whole block was a mess,” said Alpern of the Upper West Side location, but the arrival of the Apthorp not only brought big-name residents — modern names have included Conan O’Brien and Robert De Niro — but also curb appeal.
Its boasts two gated entries under three-story-high vaulted passages — those shapes were inspired by Rome’s triumphal arches — that lead to an internal drive-around courtyard.
“It’s a knockout, the thing is huge!” said Alpern of the Broadway entrance. (The other is on West End Avenue.) “I think the fact that the entrance is so tall catches the eye. It’s embellished on the outside with some very elegant classical detailing, and if you look carefully all the way up to the fourth floor, it’s got carved limestone statues up there.”
In 1901, the architects used a similar design for Astor — a gated arched entry with a drive-around courtyard — at the Graham Court development in Harlem, which has brick and limestone touches. The correspondence between Astor and the architects isn’t available, but it appears the motive to replicate the design on a more luxurious scale for the Apthorp was based on the earlier building’s marketing success.
“It may be that they completed Graham Court, and it must have rented very well and very quickly so Astor was very happy with that Clinton & Russell had produced for him,” said Alpern.
William Sofield, who designed the ground-up condominium at 135 E. 79th St., completed in 2014, began envisioning the entryway first, then planned the rest of the building around it.
“I think a lot of more historical [entryway] ornamentation was about intimidation, or had the goal of intimidation, as opposed to welcome,” said Sofield, 58, the principal at Studio Sofield, later adding: “I wanted to make sure that the entryway was exceptional.”
Today, passersby see a playful two-story arched entry — with a swooping shape that is inspired by that of a covered wagon — over a single door, all surrounded by espaliered pear trees hand-carved in limestone by Sofield himself. The zigzagged branch pattern also includes figures of, aptly, a partridge — as well as an owl, sparrows, a butterfly and a snail.
“I’m a humanist at heart, and I really wanted to bring joy and that was my primary goal,” he said. “It was really more about giving scale and fun to the streetscape, and giving back. I think it’s important that buildings give back.”
For Alpern, giving back in this sense means eliciting emotions from those who see the entrance — including those who wait for public transportation right in front of the building.
“It’s an absolute delight while you’re standing there, waiting for the crosstown bus,” he said. “You can look at that and smile.”
Limestone spheres atop columns, ornate wrought-iron gates and carvings of cherubs are just some of the features that adorn the courtyard entry to the Dorilton co-op — a Beaux-Arts behemoth at 171 W. 71st St.
“This was over-the-top, accentuating the entrance, but this goes along with the architecture,” said Alpern, which is also “totally over-the-top grandiose.”
Dating to 1902, the Dorilton’s flamboyant design includes a mansard roof, carvings of maidens, other carvings of near-naked men holding up iron-railed balconies on the sixth floor and, elsewhere, two rows of balustraded balconies.
“This is the easiest building to look at because there’s so much to see,” said Alpern.
And the entry gives a preview of it all, with “one thing on top of another, on top of another,” he said. “And then when you look at the facade … you got exactly the same sort of thing.”
But the elaborate look wasn’t always understood — or appreciated — by all. In the book, Alpern quotes the late critic Montgomery Schuyler, who had his own opinions for the entryway specifically.
“Remark, please, the cherubs, carved with some blunt instrument, that sprawl above the central gate,” he wrote. And “those stone balls on the gate posts, left there for Titans to roll as ten pins.”
The 1910-built Paterno, at 440 Riverside Drive in Morningside Heights, is respected for its curved facade and a marbled lobby with a stained-glass ceiling. But its entry — a porte-cochère — seems modest in comparison.
Set back from the street, the passageway shows carved ornamentation on its walls and vaulted ceilings, but also three arches at the very front. It may seem like a mere stylistic choice, but this entry itself gives a peek at the time in which the property was built — when not only carriages, but also automobiles, transported people around the city. And there was an additional goal of functionality.
Three arches add more elegance, said Alpern, as well as more room to move.
“By their nature, a double-arched [entry] is a much shorter turnaround,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to drive in and take the right-hand turn to be parallel to the building so you can let your passenger off — and then you’ve got to be able to curve around and drive out. In order to do that, you need to have a triple arch to accommodate the length.”
The double doors at the 19-story tower 730 Park Avenue is just a tiny taste of the building’s overall portal prowess. Surrounding it: a grand expanse of carved limestone that reaches up to the fifth floor — which, unlike its address suggests, doesn’t face Park Avenue, but 71st Street instead.
Designed by architects Lafayette A. Goldstone and Francis Burrall Hoffman Jr., this grandiose entry boasts two columns extending upward, as well as carved flowers and leaves.
“It was very skillfully done to accentuate the building very nicely,” said Alpern, who added that this kind of entry isn’t common in the city.
“It’s certainly very, very unusual to have design embellishment go that high,” he said. “One or two stories high is normal. Three stories high even is pretty good … but that’s pretty damn rare.”
Alpern recalled discussing this entryway with a friend, a real-estate broker who had done a number of deals in the building, who had never noticed the entry’s grandiosity.
“He had never stood back and actually looked at the extent of that entrance,” said Alpern. “If I can get him to look and … every other New Yorker, then I think I’ve accomplished my goal.”