When it first opened in 1910, the 12-storey Alwyn Court (180 West 58th St.) had only two large, 14-room apartments per floor, each with 5 bathrooms and dressed inside with the finest marble and wood paneling. The exterior is no less decorative, hailed by Christopher Gray of the NYTimes as, “The most intricate apartment façade in New York.”
Designed by the firm of Harde & Short, this luxury residence was made in the style of the French king Francis I, a marriage of Gothic and Renaissance ornamentations. At the time, this stretch of 7th Avenue was home to the city’s wealthiest elites, and Alwyn Ball, the project’s namesake and prime developer, wanted to craft a building that would equal the grandeur of a private residence while affording the perks and efficiencies of staffing a luxury apartment. With building staff provided, an apartment here could be served with half the number of servants and could easily be closed for the months when the tenants traveled.
Though the building managed to survive a devastating fire soon after it was complete, the neighborhood began to decline in the '30s, and by 1937 the building was completely empty.
It was later foreclosed and gutted and subdivided into 75 apartments. The main entrance on the corner of 58th and 7th was converted into a retail space and a new doorway was inserted on the avenue. Also, the large cantilevering cornice was removed.
Today the retail corner is occupied by the lavish Petrossian Restaurant, known for its exquisite caviar. However, the real delight of this building is the glazed terra cotta façade. Made by the Atlantic Terra Cotta Co., the building repeats an intricate pattern of crowned fire-breathing salamanders and delicate floral motifs.
At the first storey, the pilasters closest to the corner are embellished with a recessed nook that is supported by a pair of cherubs. The gentle repetition of the leafy ornament and smiling faces between the windows is interrupted every three or so floors with a strong horizontal band of balusters, giving a sense of solid grounding to the otherwise lightness of the design. The capitals at each break at first appear as a Corinthian variant, but incorporate the crown motif along with the necks of stern looking geese and what seem to be a variety of fruit.