It’s hard to believe that West 66th Street was once bustling with horse traffic. In addition to the First Battery Armory (April 6th blog post) which was completed in 1903 and housed 76 horses, the Durland Riding Academy, which had opened a few years earlier in 1901, was located a few doors down on the north side of the street.
Conceived by George Durland, this large Equestrian complex, located on a T-shaped lot just off Central Park, consisted of 3 brick and stone buildings. The central pavilion, set behind 7 three-story high windows, housed an enormous riding ring. The largest footprint of the 3 buildings, it ran through to 67th Street and in addition to the horses, could accommodate a viewing gallery for 600 people and a musician’s area large enough for a 40-piece orchestra. To the East and closest to the park, was the most ornate of the 3 buildings. It was elaborately decorated with a large entrance portico and projecting bay windows and was embellished with decorative shields containing horseshoes. This is where Manhattan’s elite met and the club roster was a who’s who of the time with J. Pierpont Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, August Belmont, John Jacob Astor, Thomas Fortune Ryan and several from the Vanderbilt family amongst the list of members. Flanking the ring to the West, stood a plain five story building used for boarding horses and storing carriages. Horses could also be hired here for rides in the park.
In 1949, the American Broadcasting Company purchased the building and the space was converted to television studios. One of the more notable events to occur there was on October 13th 1960, when Senator John F. Kennedy participated in the third of four historically significant Presidential debates against Vice President Richard Nixon, who was broadcasting from a separate Hollywood location. Some attribute JFK’s stunning defeat over Nixon to the power of these televised debates which were more favorable to Kennedy’s attractive appearance and calm demeanor in front of the camera. Over the years, shows like Soupy Sales, ABC Wide World of Sports and Good Morning America have also been broadcast from this location.
In the 1970’s ABC covered the façade of all three buildings, which had already been stripped of the original architectural elements, with pink stucco. Several years later during an expansion project, the western section of the Riding Academy was demolished. In a more recent restoration project, repairs were made to some of the remaining brownstone trim and the stucco was removed from the east building, exposing the original orange Roman brick façade.
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