This was one in a series of posts marking the 50th anniversary of the designation of the Greenwich Village Historic District in 2019.
Credited with building some of the most elegant New York buildings of the interwar years, Emery Roth (July 17, 1871-August 20, 1948) was one of New York City’s most prolific architects during the first half of the 20th century, contributing to the dramatic change in the skyline and cityscape that took place during that time. Known for his residential architecture (though he also designed houses of worship, theaters, and especially in later years, office buildings), Roth was known to combine the classicism of Beaux Arts design with the more contemporary Art Deco style to create some of the most iconic New York buildings of the era. He was closely associated with the development firm of Bing & Bing, and each became synonymous with a certain type of classic New York interwar apartment building — high-rise with graceful setbacks, and elegantly simple designs with both classic and modern elements.
When his sons Julian and Richard joined the firm in the 1930s, Roth changed the name to Emery Roth & Sons. Even after Emery’s passing in 1948, the Roth legacy of shaping New York City would continue. While many of his most high-profile commissions were outside of our neighborhood, such as the El Dorado, San Remo, and Beresford on Central Park West, the Ritz Hotel on East 57th Street, and the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn Heights, the Greenwich Village Historic District has several notable buildings designed by Roth, and one by his sons.
Emery Roth was born in Galzecs, Hungary, and came to the United States at age 13. He worked as an apprentice for an architectural firm in Bloomington, Illinois, and was later fortuitous enough to work for the firm of Burnham & Root as a draftsman for the 1893World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Following the Exposition, Roth started a successful mail-order architectural rendering business in Chicago but then decided to move to New York. He was hired by Richard Morris Hunt’s office; he had assisted Hunt with modifications to his plans for the Exposition’s Administrative Building. In 1895 Roth opened his own office at 248 West 16th Street. Roth specialized in luxury apartment houses applying historic designs to the relatively recent advancement of steel frame design construction. His first building in Greenwich Village came a few decades into his career, but just at the beginning of the 1920s boom that would transform this neighborhood and much of New York.
39 Fifth Avenue
Roth designed this 14-story apartment building, his first in Greenwich Village, in 1922. It was the first of many of the larger apartment houses which would line this part of Fifth Avenue, typically replacing the 19th-century mansions which originally lined the thoroughfare. It is clad in Flemish bond brick and is restrained in its ornament with the exception of the multi-colored terra-cotta loggias at the third and the eleventh and twelfth floors.
The Fifth Avenue Hotel, 24 Fifth Avenue
Replacing the Brevoort mansion at the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and West 9th Street, the Fifth Avenue Hotel was built in 1926 as a high-class apartment hotel. Apartment hotels provided people with the option of a permanent residence with the provision of housekeeping and cooking services. Typical units ranged in size from one to three rooms and each came with a serving pantry in lieu of a kitchen. This handsome building is 15 stories in height with a limestone, two-story base and brick in two different shades of buff to lend texture to the upper floors. Terra-cotta ornament is featured throughout the exterior colored in blue, brown and gold.
“The Shenandoah”/10 Sheridan Square/80 Grove Street
This building was also originally an apartment hotel, albeit presumably intended for more middle-class residents than the intended tenants of 24 Fifth Avenue. It was built in 1928-29 and designed in what the Greenwich Village Historic District designation report refers to as “a severely simple version of Neo-Romanesque” style. The battlements, use of irregular and multi-colored stone and dark brick lend to a medieval feel to the exterior of the building. The living units were designed predominantly as one-room apartments which served as living, dining and sleeping space, with a bathroom and a pantry directly adjacent.
299 West 12th Street
Built in 1929-31, this 16-story apartment house is clad in multi-colored brick set in Flemish bond creating an interesting texture to the exterior. Randomly cut and placed stones of varying colors are placed at the window and door openings and at the corners of the building. Along with 59 West 12th Street, this was one of two collaborations between Roth and the development team of Bing & Bing and exemplified the elegant interwar style of New York apartment building for which both came to be known.
59 West 12th Street
This Art Deco mid-block apartment house was built 1929-31 and features a smooth stone base capped by a wide flat band course with incised geometric ornament. It is symmetrical in its massing and composition and the upper floors are clad in light colored brick. The upper floors are stepped back from the front and side facades creating roof terraces and at the center is a large square tower. This is the second of two Roth/Bing & Bing collaborations in the Greenwich Village Historic District.
Emery Roth & Sons
In 1932 Roth’s son Richard joined the firm, and later Roth’s other son Julian did as well. In 1938 Emery renamed the firm Emery Roth & Sons formally recognizing his sons as partners. Julian (1901-1992) specialized in construction costs and building materials and technology, while Richard (1904-1987) was named the firm’s principal architect. The Greenwich Village Historic District contains one building designed by the firm:
2 Fifth Avenue
2 Fifth Avenue was built in 1951-52 and was designed in two distinct sections. There is the lower section which fronts Washington Square North, is only five stories in height and clad in red brick in order to fit in visually with the 19th-century row houses along that scenic thoroughfare. The high portion of the building makes up most of the building and is twenty stories in height and clad in glazed white brick. This was one of the first of an almost endless parade of glazed white brick apartment towers built in New York City after the construction of the Upper East Side’s Manhattan House in 1950, which made glazed white brick the standard architectural vocabulary for new middle and upper-middle class apartment house design.
The building was the subject of considerable controversy at the time of its construction, both for the demolition of the Rhinelander Mansions on Washington Square North which it necessitated and for the scale and design of the apartment tower.
You can see other tours of the Greenwich Village Historic District on our interactive map here. You can learn more about Emery Roth via our 2021 program celebrating the 150th anniversary of his birth here.