The Hudson View Gardens apartment complex, erected in 1923-25, is the product of an extraordinary moment in New York’s history when changing economic and social realities left a marked imprint on the city’s architectural character. The period between the end of the World War I and the onset of the Great Depression was one of considerable speculative real estate development in New York City. Much of the development was closely linked to radical changes that occurred in living patterns as the apartment house became the city’s predominant residential building type. Many of those who did not wish to trade the privacy and convenience of a single-family home for life in a multiple dwelling joined the emigration of middle-class people to the suburbs.
One solution to the problem of the middle-class flight was to build affordable urban housing that exuded suburban ambience and would, therefore, appeal to those considering a move out of New York. This was the scheme devised by Dr. Charles Paterno, one of the city’s most active developers, for a plot of land on Pinehurst Avenue between West 182nd and 186th Streets in Washington Heights, across the street from his own Hudson River estate. His solution was a novel one: the construction of a “garden community” of cooperative apartments designed specifically to attract the middle-class families who could afford to move to the suburbs, but were hesitant about giving up the convenience and pleasures of urban life. Paterno’s idea was to create a suburban apartment house community resembling a medieval English village.
To design the project, Paterno called upon the skills of George F. Pelham, one of the foremost and best known architects in New York City. Pelham’s fifteen Hudson View Gardens buildings occupy 40% of the 3.869 acre site. The nine six-story elevator buildings and six four-story walk-ups were carefully sited to take full advantage of the open space in the complex, the view to the west toward the Hudson River, and the views east toward open land that was to become Bennet Park. The materials chosen for the facades, imported irregularly textured Holland brick, deeply recessed and highly textured mortar, stucco, half timber, rock-faced stone blocks, and slate, plus casement windows, were seen as being a modern adaptation of English architectural forms. Hudson View Gardens was a relatively early example of the use of Tudor design for a multiple dwelling in the city. It predated by almost two years the construction of the other major Tudor complex in Manhattan, Tudor City.
Since over half of the site was reserved for open space, the landscaping was of paramount importance. To layout the gardens, Paterno hired Philadelphia landscape architect Robert B. Cridland. The landscape architect noted in 1924 that he used the changes in site level “to great advantage in enhancing [the buildings’] picturesque quality.” The terraced gardens overlooking the private drive were lined with cascading plants; the courts were treated as intimate gardens; tall straight gingko tress were strategically placed to enhance the beauty of the architecture; and a formal rose garden was laid out in a location to take full advantage of the views toward the river. The gardens were planned to be beautiful in all seasons, with large numbers of conifers, rhododendrons, and other evergreen trees and shrubs.
The apartments were designed to cater to middle-class households who did not have servants. Apartments were not planned with guest rooms, but every unit originally contained Murphy beds for guests. All apartments had refrigerators, large cabinets, gas ranges, built-in ironing boards, linoleum kitchen floors, and most interestingly, motor-driven “Sani-in-Sink” dishwashers. The complex originally had a large steam laundry where residents could have their clothing cleaned and ironed, a central telephone switchboard, a tailor and valet shop, barber and beauty salons, and maid service, and a large private restaurant. The complex also owned a bus that connected Hudson View Gardens with the IRT subway station at St. Nicholas Avenue and 181st Street [prior to the opening if the IND/8th Avenue line in 1932, which stops only one block from Hudson View Gardens]. Paterno also arranged for what he called “small-town features” that would inspire a friendly community atmosphere, including a playground and a nursery, a post office substation, a small general store called the “Commissary,” and a radio receiving station that transmitted four different programs into each apartment.
At the time of its construction, Hudson View Gardens was the largest cooperative in New York and one of the earliest planned specifically for the middle class and sold on the 100% cooperative ownership plan. Paterno ran an extensive and unusual advertising campaign that included the purchase of half and full pages in newspapers. The design ambience of Hudson View Gardens and Paterno’s advertising strategy proved to be very successful, attracting teachers, editors, architects, doctors, managers, salesmen, and other professionals. The development was an immediate success so viable that it was able to weather the Depression, when many other New York cooperatives failed.
Hudson View Gardens has aged well. It retains much of its original architectural integrity, its landscape features, and many of its original amenities. Hudson View Gardens has attracted a heterogenous new generation of homeowners and continues to be one of New York City’s most unusual and attractive apartment complexes.
Excerpted from Andrew S. Dolkart, “Hudson View Gardens: A Home in The City,” 20 SITES 34 (1988). Mr. Dolkart is the Director of the Historic Preservation Program at the Columbia University School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, where he also holds the James Marston Fitch Professorship of Historic Preservation. He has been a resident at Hudson View Gardens since 1987.
See the video presentation about Hudson View Gardens, part of Columbia University DKV's online feature The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart here.