Coliseum Park Apartments 



Coliseum Park ApartmentsToday we are pleased with the design of the Coliseum Park Apartments, a combination of two low-rise buildings, a garden between, and a garage below. Influencing that design were federal law, conservative financing, and the desire to create an attractive development.

Federal law was the prime reason our complex took the form that it did. To be eligible for Title 1 slum clearance funding, fifty-one percent of the Coliseum site, 58th to 60th Streets and Broadway to Ninth Avenue, had to be used for a residential project. At the same time, only a quarter of the fifty-one percent could be housing. The intention of the one quarter restriction was to provide light and air, probably the 'tower in a park' concept popular at that time. By contrast, before the urban renewal project, ninety percent of the former two block site was covered with residential or commercial buildings, many cold water flats. Another federal restriction limited the height of the proposed residential buildings to fourteen stories for about forty years.

Columbus Circle Apartments, Inc., a group of seven or eight developers, was the successful bidder at the public auction. The first business of Columbus Circle Apartments was to establish a site office for relocating the tenants, who were given priority in getting into public housing. Within two years, by 1955, relocation was largely completed.

The architects chosen for the project were the father and son team of Sylvan and Robert Bien. Sylvan Bien was most notably the architect of the Hotel Carlyle and of the moderne style Children's Day Treatment Center and School at 255 West 71st Street. The son, Robert Bien, was the architect of the Riverdale Branch of The New York Public Library, commended by the AIA Guide to New York City, 3rd edition, as, "a simple and appropriate composition whose great gable gathers the light necessary to read by". Robert Bien was the architect of many post war apartment buildings, predominantly on the East Side of Manhattan. One West Side exception, done by the father and son team, was Schwab House, which replaced the French chateau built for Charles Schwab, a business partner of Andrew Carnegie.

Using conservative financing, all efforts were made to keep the project affordable for its time. In the 1950's, developers could still remember the depression when many residential projects were not financially successful. The choice of a red brick facing, instead of light colored brick, was part of the effort to keep building expenses down and make the complex rents affordable.

Our Coliseum Park Apartments are built on solid bedrock; no piles were needed. Rocks had to be removed to excavate the basements. Typical of buildings of that time, steel reinforced concrete columns hold up floors of steel reinforced concrete. Unusual for those times, the ceilings are 8 foot, 6 inches in height, not the usual 8 foot, 1 inch height.

The space between the two buildings could have been used for parking as it is in the Lincoln Towers development. Fortunately for us, the garage is at the basement level, allowing a garden above. The first Landscaper architects consulted were reluctant to take the job of designing the garden. J.J. Levison, author of several books on landscaping, accepted the challenge. Most of the trees have survived from the original plantings. Except for one year, Landing Landscaping, has provided the garden planting and maintenance. Early on, the garden was covered with ivy with a fountain as centerpiece. When the fountain caused problems, it was replaced with an evergreen tree. Grass replaced the ivy.

A 1983 lawsuit against a proposed co-op at another location, put plans for a Coliseum Park Apartments co-op on hold. In the time between the beginning and end of the lawsuit, our buildings were spruced up with new windows, new hall carpeting, and other amenities.

As a co-op, our complex is noted for being at the top of the list citywide for financial soundness. Improvements--roofing, lobby redecorating, and others--have been accomplished without shareholder assessments. Maintenance costs have risen only slightly.

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