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Hawks With a Taste for Quality Construction

Dora @ christo
Dora, left, mothers her young in spring of 2014 atop an air conditioning unit on the south-facing side of Christodora House. That’s the “nestcam” inside the window.  Photo by Laura Goggin.

It’s easy to see, from the many blogs devoted to the subject, that New Yorkers are fans of our local hawks. These raptors add notes of wildness and grace to our busy days, amidst the city’s manmade grit and tumult.

Did you know the hawks themselves are fans of notable architecture, as well? Let’s take a look at the two buildings where the East Village’s mated pair has feathered nests of late: first the Christodora House, at 143 Avenue B, on Tompkins Square Park, and now Ageloff Towers, which fronts Avenue A from East 3rd to East 4th Street.

Both buildings are large and stately – with projecting window air-conditioning units that provide a base on which to build a nest. It was just about one year ago that EVGrieve reported: “The resident hawk pair of Tompkins Square Park have built a nest on the East 9th Street side of the Christodora House at Avenue B.”  Eggs, baby hawks, and plenty of human attention followed, with the parents being dubbed Christo and Dora.

hawk @ christo
Busy father Christo, last spring at the Christodora building. Photo by Laura Goggin.

Both buildings were constructed in 1928 – part of the trend of apartment construction that began in the second half of the 19th century. They were initially referred to as “French flats.” Before that, tenements were the standard multi-unit dwelling in New York City.

From a forthcoming GVSHP report on the architectural history of the East Village by Francis Morrone, here’s more on the 16-story Christodora:

“It can only be described as a deluxe settlement house, incorporating a profit-making apartment hotel. Its construction was funded by Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Curtiss James. Mr. James, a railroad and mining tycoon, was one of America’s richest men, and Mrs. James was the president of Christodora’s board. … It was designed by Henry Colden Pelton (1867-1935). The lower floors originally contained a swimming pool, a gymnasium, a chapel, music practice rooms, a concert hall, a lounge, classrooms, and a wood-paneled library with fireplaces. …

christodora bldg
Christodora House, south elevation.

“Christodora House was the first skyscraper settlement house, and the first settlement house to combine social service functions with an income-generating apartment hotel. …Christodora was founded as the Young Women’s Settlement by Christina MacColl and Sarah Libby Carson. …The purposes of settlement houses included offering classes in academic and vocational subjects — not least in English — that would help poor neighborhood residents find jobs and climb the economic ladder. At the larger settlements, the breadth of the educational offerings was impressive, and included art, music, and drama classes as well as classes in sewing, typing, bookkeeping, stenography, and so on. …Settlement houses also often had auditoriums or concert halls where plays, concerts, and lectures were offered to the people of the community. The entire fourth floor of Christodora House was occupied by a concert hall.

“The building is a great red-brick mass, its brick-faced steel piers subtly raised. Terra-cotta ornamentation is reserved for the two-story entryway on Avenue B, where medallions and two grotesques outline the top of a stately limestone enframement with fluted pilasters, and for the top of the building, where bands of Romanesque-inspired ornament outline the parapets. Pelton, the architect, was contemporaneously engaged in the design of John D. Rockefeller’s Riverside Church on Riverside Drive and 120th Street…

“…In 1949 Christodora [the settlement] moved into the new Jacob Riis Houses on Avenue D. The city acquired the building through condemnation, and the Welfare Department used it for offices and training facilities. In the 1960s, the city allowed local community groups, including the Black Panthers and the Young Lords, the use of the building. That did not end well. …In 1986 the building was converted to condominium residences as well as offices for community organizations. Because of its physical prominence, the building became a symbol of the 1980s gentrification of the Tompkins Square neighborhood.”

Ageloff bldg
Ageloff Towers, at the southwest corner of Avenue A and East 4th Street.

Within the past few months, Christo and Dora were evicted from their nest due to work taking place on the Christodora. They were sighted around the neighborhood, as people wondered what new spot would become home. The winner is Ageloff Towers, where the red-tailed hawks have built a new nest on another a.c. unit.

The white 12-story building was named after its first owner, Samuel Ageloff, a prolific builder based in Brooklyn. The architects were Shampan and Shampan, and you can see real estate brochures for some of their projects here.

As Morrone writes in the report, this structure was one of a group that began to alter the look and feel of the neighborhood:

“In 1927 Saul Birns built the fifteen-story Peter Stuyvesant apartments at 170 Second Avenue (Segal & Sohn, architects), at the southeast corner of Eleventh Street; in 1929, Henry Kaufman developed the fifteen-story Warren Hall, which incorporated a new home for the Baptist Tabernacle, at 162-168 Second Avenue (northeast corner of Tenth Street), designed by Emery Roth. These and the twelve-story Ageloff Towers… represent a small wave of high-class apartment construction that would no doubt have transformed the East Village had it not been for the stock market crash in October 1929.”

hawk @ ageloff
This week, Christo ruled the roost at his grand new home. Photo by Laura Goggin.

Join us for a free program on local hawks on March 25. RSVP required. See details here.


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