THE unique development of one West Side block produced an unusual pair of near-twin buildings. But no matter how far out the windows they stretch, the residents of the Evanston, at 90th and West End, will never be able to see the facade of its mate, the Admaston, at 89th and Broadway.
After the Civil War, big things were expected of Broadway on the Upper West Side. But exactly what things no one quite knew, and most owners held their properties off the market. Thomas W. Evans was one of these, purchasing the entire block from Broadway to West End, from 89th to 90th, in 1873. Dr. Evans, a dentist practicing in Paris, had become rich while tending to the teeth of Emperor Napoleon III.
Dr. Evans died in 1897, and his estate did not sell the land until after the subway came up Broadway in 1904, with a stop at 91st Street. The Evans block was unusual in that it had not been divided into lots, and in 1909 the investor Robert Emmet Dowling paid $1.25 million for it.
Because of the recent construction of the full-block Apthorp, at 79th, and the Belnord, at 86th, it seemed possible that the Evans block, too, would be the site of a giant courtyard building. But most apartment buildings were built for resale, and the buyers for a single massive structure were necessarily limited. So Dowling sold his property in five pieces, two of the corners to George F. Johnson Jr. and Leopold Kahn, who had already built large apartment houses.
The New York Times predicted Johnson and Kahn would put up “two of the most magnificent apartment houses on the West Side,” and in 1911 they completed the Admaston, at 251 West 89th, and its fraternal twin, the Evanston, diagonally opposite, at 610 West End.
George and Edward Blum designed both, using their trademark Secession-like styling, with hypnotic lacy runs of terra cotta, beige tapestry brick with deep-struck joints, and extensive and inventive use of iron ornament.
The Admaston had no cornice but did have a continuous iron balcony one floor below the roof. The Evanston had a typical projecting cornice, since removed, and a striking, owl-face iron fence around the ground floor, and trapezoidal projecting balconies, still there. The buildings were joined by two other apartment houses, at 89th and West End and at the middle of the block on 89th, and a theater on 90th and Broadway, restricted to four stories in height for the following decade.
A writer for The Times in 1911 regretted Dowling’s decision to divvy up his land, made, he said, at the expense of “working out a harmonious appearance for the entire block.”
The Admaston has stores on Broadway. Perhaps to make up for this indignity, it has one of those sprawling West Side lobbies, easily the equivalent of a three-bedroom apartment. The five- to eight-room apartments there rented early on for $100 to $200 a month. The Evanston had much fancier apartments, including duplexes of up to 10 rooms. One was advertised in The Times for $375 a month.
Census returns for 1920 for the Evanston show mostly clothing and dry goods executives, but there was also a musical contingent, including Julius Witmark, one of the founders of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, known as Ascap, and George Maxwell, its president.
In 1923 Maxwell was accused in a bizarre case in which scores of anonymous letters mailed to prominent New Yorkers alleged, in what The Times called the “most vulgar and common terms,” intimate relations between Maxwell and various married women. These letters were usually sent to the husbands. Maxwell was indicted, but the case was later dropped. He remained head of Ascap.
Over time, the West Side fell a couple of pegs on the economic and social scale, especially buildings on Broadway. In 1948 detectives working on a $75,000 jewelry burglary raided the Admaston apartment of William Bruley, and ultimately recovered a 68-carat diamond pendant. The Times took care to note that the thief’s den had a radio in every room, and that the men arrested there were watching a television.
Although the Evanston was converted to a co-op in the 1960s, the Admaston was, like most West Side buildings, a creature of the rent-regulated economy, which meant minimal maintenance, fluorescent lights in the lobby and a day-shift doorman, if that. In the mid-1980s, the Evanston decided to redo the lobby but could not afford the restoration of the deteriorated terrazzo, and covered it with thin marble applique. While intended to exude elegance, the look was down market.
The Admaston was converted to condos around the same time, but did not address its lobby until a decade later, when it laid similar marble over the terrazzo in its entry, and put up a canvas canopy, a sine qua non for a co-op.
Within the last decade, the Evanston has taken up its marble squares, and restored the terrazzo, an expensive but tasteful change. The co-op also took down its awkwardly designed canvas canopy, flooding its lobby with light.
However, this is hardly news to me. As the brother of twin sisters, I can tell you they swap clothes all the time.