Street landscapes | The Yale Club – Society Membership for Belle of Vanderbilt Avenue


YES, it’s a binder, but the 22 story Yale Club at Vanderbilt Avenue and 44th Street is a really nice binder! That is, it is progressively more attractive than the rest of the Midtown buildings dating back to World War I.

Question: Is “sympathetic” sufficient for the landmark designation proposed by the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Municipal Art Society?

In 1900, the Yale Club opened at 30 West 44th Street in the New Club District west of Fifth. Although other clubs rose four or five stories, Yale rose to 11, leaving little three-story Harvard across the street in the dust. “It will be easy to despise Harvard and throw bouquets at them when there is an opportunity to do so,” a Yale Club member told the New York Tribune in 1901.

Bouquets or not, the club’s history says the building was designed in such a way that it could be converted into bachelor’s apartments if the business failed.

He does not have. Indeed, in 1913, the club exploded and the members decided to build the current tower of 22 floors. The new club skipped Fifth Avenue, rising east across from Grand Central Terminal.

Vanderbilt Avenue had been a lost hole as it skirted Grand Central’s large rail shed, but when the railroad finished sinking and covering the tracks in 1912, thousands of commuters passed through Vanderbilt every day.

The first structure to set up in the area, on Madison between 43rd and 44th, was the Biltmore Hotel, designed in 1912. When the Yale Club opened three years later, the Harvard Club found the opportunity worthy of a bouquet, sending 100 American Beauty roses with a card that says “Hell with Yale”.

Along with the Biltmore and other large buildings brought about by Grand Central, the Yale Club was part of what was called Terminal City.

James Gamble Rogers III, architect and grandson of designer James Gamble Rogers, Yale ’89, says the 1915 Yale Club was also designed to be converted into a hotel.

Granted, it was big enough to be a hotel, with 165 rooms on 11 floors.

Members visited other clubs to determine the most comfortable chairs for the living rooms. And, Town & Country magazine reported in 1915, “The wood of which the small round tables are made, and the finish applied to them, have been the subject of long and careful experimentation by a qualified committee – with the result is that all kinds of water and any brand of alcohol can be spilled on top of them without leaving a trace.

The club prospered and the conversion of the hotel proved unnecessary. In November 1923, after a drought of a few years, Yale won the annual Harvard-Yale match, 13-0, and 500 members walked out of the club in a merry serpent dance up West 44th Street, just in case where the Harvard club had missed the news.

The Yale, like all big clubs, is the subject of sarcastic remarks from members of small clubs about its low bar for admission. Writing in The Architectural Forum in 1926, Alexander Trowbridge (Cornell, 1984) recounted a visit to “one of New York’s great college clubs” and a visitor’s remark that the place reminded him of the Biltmore Hotel. Its host, a club member, said brightly, “Yes, it’s like the Biltmore, but not that exclusive! “”

Edward C. Brewster, Yale ’32, was in 1969 a member of Links, Piping Rock and University Clubs. That year, when he was president of the Union Club, he told the New York Times, “We don’t want salespeople here, nobody pushing themselves up and barging in,” adding, “The Yale Club can absorb that kind, I guess. ”

A recent proposal to increase the density of East Midtown has raised concerns about redevelopment, and the Municipal Art Society and the New York Landmarks Conservancy have proposed a landmark designation not only for the Yale Club, but also for 16 other structures in the region.

These include well-known works like Arthur Harmon’s influential 1923 Shelton Hotel in Lexington and at the 49th (now the New York Marriott East Side). But other proposals include the 1915 office building 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, at 45th Street, and the 1924 Roosevelt Hotel, both typical of the solid and respectable building stock of the Grand Central district.

The five-story limestone base of the Yale Club is attractive, yes, but the limestone is then attractive. The brick facade is nice, but the old masonry structures shine compared to those from the glass box era. It has a nice two story colonnade at the top – but a lot of buildings have it.

Both groups believe the Yale Club should become a landmark because “it is important as one of the few remaining buildings from the Terminal City era and as a fine example of continuity of use.” In fact, most of the buildings on the list are still used as originally intended.

The Monuments Preservation Commission received the proposals too recently to have taken any action. And any proposal like this will face an uphill battle – no cute little brownstone is involved, no co-op perspective is compromised, no particular ox is gored.

If a public debate takes place, perhaps it will be debated on the substance – something not always seen in the world of historic preservation.


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