Aaron Shikler, the famed portrait artist resided at 44 West 77th Street for over 50 years, until his death in 2015 at age 93. It was here in his studio overlooking the American Museum of Natural History, that he painted one of his most notable works, the official White House portrait of John F. Kennedy. I recently had the pleasure of visiting this 11-room residence located on the 4th floor, which is currently on the market for $5,998,000. The original architectural details of several of the rooms are truly breathtaking, especially the Grand Hall, with its 14.5 foot ceiling and carved wood pilasters and Corinthian capitals. With 2 apartments per floor and a total of only 33 apartments, it is truly a treat to find an apartment with so much of the original decorative features.
This 14-story building, once called The Manhattan Square Apartments, was built in 1909. Walter Russell, who already had success commissioning several studio/ apartment cooperatives on West 67th Street, wanted to bring this same idea to 77th Street and hired the architectural firm of Harde and Short for the project. Herbert S. Harde and R. Thomas Short were already known for their distinctive designs, having earned critical recognition for the Elizabethian-styled five-story Red House at 350 West 85th Street in 1903, followed in 1906 and 1907, with the neo-French Renaissance Alwyn Court on West 58th Street and the neo-Gothic Park View on East 66th Street. But 44 West 77th Street, when completed, did not earn the same praise; the neo-Gothic facade covered in elaborate terra-cotta ornamentation and topped with a French Gothic Tower, led the critic of the Architectural Record to remark that it made him stare and gasp in astonishment. Architectural historian, Andrew Alpern, wrote in his book Luxury Apartment Houses of Manhattan that it was “encrusted with ornaments that appeared to have been squeezed out of a pastry tube”.
By the late 1930’s, pieces of terra-cotta began falling to the street. Poor installation, acidity in the atmosphere and pigeons who regularly visited the frontage of the building, caused further damage. In 1940, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company took over the building with a deed in lieu of foreclosure and in 1944, rather than taking on a costly restoration, the company’s architect made the decision to remove the bulk of the terra-cotta.
It is hard to imagine that the exterior of the building once looked so radically different. If you have the chance to peek into the lobby, you can still find all the details of a very dramatic gothic lobby complete with leaded glass windows, grand columns, groin-vaulted ceilings, pendant chandeliers and bronze statues.
To read more about the altered façade of 44 West 77th Street, read Christopher Gray’s article in the New York Times:
To read more about the history of the building and it’s residents, visit Daytonian in Manahattan: