How the other half renovates: Faded Beaux Arts beauty on the Upper West Side becomes luxury condos

How the other half renovates: Faded Beaux Arts beauty on the Upper West Side becomes luxury condos

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Designer Stephen Sills' inspiration for the stone floor of the new lobby at 101 West 78th St. came from a pattern at the Hotel Lutetia in Paris. 

Brown Harris Stevens

The new apartments at 101 West 78th St., one of the oldest apartment buildings in New York City that recently underwent a massive gut renovation, are undeniably aimed at the 1 percent and are not likely to fit most people's budget. 

Most people are not likely to own a Picasso or Renoir either, but might still love art and to go to museums. Similarly, if you love buildings and seeing how old ones get fixed up, you might like to poke around on tours. So in that spirit of appreciation, Brick Underground decided to check out not how the other half lives, but how the other half renovates.

First, though, a little bit of history: This 1886 Beaux Arts building with a grand, red brick façade is called the Evelyn and it is across the street from the American Museum of Natural History. In the late 1980s, residents of the Upper West Side rallied to save the terra cotta angels on the façade from a remodeling project, according to the New York Times’ archives. And though the terra cotta angels were indeed spared, it would be almost another 30 years before other guardian angels came through for the rest of this building on the corner of Columbus Avenue. Despite its prime location, the building fell into a state of extreme disrepair that interior designer Stephen Sills described as “broken down and crumbling” in Architectural Digest.

Stephen Sills' vision

Sills, an Architectural Digest "AD 100" designer known for his work on the St. Regis Hotel New York and London, and apartments at the Apthorp and the Baccarat Residences, was tapped by New York developer GTIS Partners to design the building's lobby, amenity spaces, and apartments. Architect H. Thomas O'Hara Jr. of HTO Architect designed the residence floor plans, part of a massive condo conversion project that began in 2015. (The building’s former tenants won a rare settlement against the previous landlord Newcastle Realty Services that included free rent as compensation for putting up with the construction work. The landlord was fined for illegally inducing tenants to leave.)

Rob Vahradian, senior managing director at GTIS and Amanda Young of Brown Harris Stevens, which is handling sales, led Brick Underground on a recent tour of the building, where half of the units are sold and the first residents have moved in. Five condos remain available, ranging from a three bedroom, two and a half bath for $5,950,000 to a four bedroom, three and a half bath for $10,950,000.

A few old details remain

The first stop is one of the model apartments, and to get there, you can take a narrow elevator not much wider than a bathtub. It is slightly alarming, at first, until Young explains that back when the building was constructed an elevator like this “was considered the height of luxury.” (Another roomier elevator has also been added, but was getting its finishing touches in March.)

Aside from the building’s façade, very few original details remain, just the grand open stairway with original stone, and fireplaces in some apartments. The building needed a complete gut and all new mechanicals. The renovation was $700-$800 per square foot in hard costs, excluding the architect.

“We couldn’t really use anything from the original,” Vahradian says. “We did a lot of surgery here. A lot of structural walls had to be replaced.” 

Underneath the grime that had built up at the building, GTIS could see it once had been a glorious place.

“It’s unusual to find an existing building with such a grand scale in a great location on a corner lot,” Young says. The building’s 10-foot ceilings were a major draw, but its small rooms, both features typical of buildings constructed around the turn of the century, were not. Out of 44 apartments, GTIS created 21, including one full-floor penthouse, which was still being finished in March. The penthouse sold just two months after it went on the market for $23.5 million last October. 

Adding another floor

In a way, you could say that the new penthouse restores the building to its initial vision.

That’s because the original plan for the building, built and designed by architect Emile Gruwe, had allowed for another floor, but the builder fell on hard times and couldn’t add the additional floor. Of course, adding another floor in modern times is not just a matter of money. Here’s just one example of the complications involved: The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission weighed in the size of the balustrade around the terrace and a debate ensued over a single large panel, part of the original design, which would have blocked the view of the museum from the master bedroom. 

It might be encouraging to the DIYer to hear that even an experienced developer and design team sweats the small stuff. Vahradian says they went back and forth over decisions about the moldings and the color of the floor stain: “Sills didn’t want to do the same thing everyone is doing. He was aiming for something timeless and chic, not trendy.”

The timeless interior seems fitting for a building that has stood for such a long time. 

“It is rewarding to take a building that’s in disrepair, and create something better, rather than replacing it,” says Vahradian.

Sills describes the final result as “the best of both worlds existing together: the grand, prewar features combined with beautiful and luxurious contemporary materials and palettes which are comfortable for modern living.”  

For an inside look at the newly updated 101 West 78th St., check out the slideshow.