The Coolest Townhouse in Town Becoming a Landmark

The Observer has already sung the praises of the Brutalist architect Paul Rudolph, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission is poised to follow suit, turning perhaps his greatest project into an official city landmark tomorrow.

Until Rudolph moved in in 1961, 23 Beekman Place on the Upper East Side was simply another stately townhouse. Built a century before Rudolph’s arrival, the building could easily have qualified as a landmark simply for being a fine example of limestone townhouse architecture from the period. Then Rudolph showed up and began to experiment. The result is a rooftop addition of three-stories, a cantilevered mass of steel bars, concrete planes and airy windows (some of which were infamously bricked over by an irate 23 beekman penthouse drawings
a few years ago).

The interiors were the building’s true signature, all lucite walkways without railings and other architectural shenanigans. Those were altered after the house was purchased in 2003, to the dismay of some–the owners insisted, kind of rightly, that it was a nearly inhabitable space–but now the one-of-kind exterior will be saved at least.

The commission’s designation report points out that the building is not only unique for its design but also for the fact that “relatively few buildings survive that have been designed and built by architects for their own use.” Still, it is for the architecture that this building is being saved, as the report makes clear:

Though some neighbors on Beekman Place objected to the penthouse and the views that were lost, his was certainly a unique solution that reflected a bold and distinctive architectural philosophy. Abstract and minimal, open and closed, classical and industrial, 23 Beekman Place has a strong sculptural quality – a quality rarely found in Manhattan’s residential streetscape.

It will become a rather ironic landmark, as a number of commissioners joked last October, when the project was certified, that, were it proposed today, the commission would almost certainly disapprove of its construction, forbidding such an ostentatious structure atop a historic building.

UPDATE: The commission voted unanimously in favor of landmarking 23 Beekman.

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mchaban [at] | @mc_nyo The Coolest Townhouse in Town Becoming a Landmark