COLISEUM PARK APARTMENTS
Today 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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