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New York, New York: 1931

December 15, 1931. "River House, 52nd Street and East River. Shoreline with clouds." 5x7 safety negative by Gottscho-Schleisner. View full size.

December 15, 1931. "River House, 52nd Street and East River. Shoreline with clouds." 5x7 safety negative by Gottscho-Schleisner. View full size.


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River House 1931

Apartments were offered for sale in December 1930 ranging from $37,000 to $275,000. The latter was the triplex penthouse purchased by Marshall Field III. It is now a top floor simplex with roof patio (owned by a former opera star) and a duplex owned by a prominent art dealer. The duplex was formerly owned by the Gutfreunds (Salomon Bros CEO) and was featured in a Manhattan Inc. story about using a crane to bring in a 20 foot Christmas tree into the double height living room.

River House

River House was so luxurious that it had its own dock, for mooring your yacht. Those days came to and end with the construction of the East River Drive, now the FDR Drive, in 1941.

Despite the glamor of the associated with Beekman Place and environs, the East River was still rather gritty, with industry lining its banks.


So strange not to see the FDR Drive running along underneath these buildings.

The Whitneys

I previously mentioned 2 Beekman Place, the high rise building with its back to the river, just to the right of the coal silos. It came back to me that the penthouse belonged to Mrs. Betsey Cushman Whitney. She moved there because NYC rerouted an exit from the Queensborogh Bridge, forcing traffic on to East 61st Street. The Whitneys' town house was on that street and she couldn't handle the noise. She was a customer of mine but probably didn't know it. The purchasing was done by her personal assistant and her butler. The Beekman Place apartment had the reputation of being one of the grandest in the city. She and her husband, John Hay Whitney, also owned Greentree Farms, a famous race horse stable. She died in 1998.


The four story building, with the rounded end facing the East River near One Beekman Place (the highrise to the right of the coal silos), is 17 Beekman Place. It was the home of Irving Berlin. He lived there from 1947 until his death, at age 101, in 1989. The building now headquarters the Mission to the United Nations of The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

Back to the Future

So, I guess it wouldn't be a good idea to take the DeLorean out on the freeway in front of the River House, unless you wanted to end up in 1931 at the bottom of the river.


According to NYC-Architecture, "despite its vast size, River House contained only sixty-four apartments."

Residents have included Henry Kissinger, Clare Boothe Luce and Sigourney Weaver. It seems Gloria Vanderbilt wasn't good enough to live there.

Here's a floor plan for a place with a $39 million asking price. Of course, that was in 2006, so now it's probably more affordable!

Empire State building?

Is that it under construction in the background?

[The finished Empire State Building is to the left of the Chrysler Building in this photo. - Dave]

Start spreadin' the news

You'd never know this was shot during the Depression. It looks so sunny and promising. Optimism seems to glint right off the top of the Chrysler building.

435 East 52nd Street

River House today:

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The old RCA Building

The skyscraper looming in the background to the right of the River House tower is at 51st and Lexington, and up until the time that Radio City was built and opened, was the HQ for RCA and NBC. Later it was used by General Electric for its NYC corporate offices. And in the far left of this photo can be seen the Daily News building, on 42nd Street east of 3rd Avenue, which must have just recently opened in 1931. I've always been fascinated by the huge World Globe that is a feature in the lobby of the News building.

Well to do

I wonder how it cost to live in the River House in 1931?

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