211 East 48th Street, NYC, New York
(Photo by Berenice Abbott, via the NYPL)
Now this is interesting: A Modernist townhouse done in the 30s. (Still there, BTW!)
This (first) image looks like it could have been ripped from the current day streets of Williamsburg, but it’s from February 1st, 1938; the Berenice Abbott photograph has a caption that reads: “Glass Brick and Brownstone fronts” and ” brownstone townhouse at 209 East 48th Street and the more modern 211 East 48th Street.” The modern structure was designed by architect William Lescaze from Geneva; according to this website, he came to New York in 1923, originally designing interiors for restaurants and nightclubs before focusing more on office, retail and apartment interiors.
Lescaze didn’t design this above building, his own home as a matter of fact, until 1933… and it may be the first modernist house in New York City! At the time it sat out of place amongst a row of 19th century brownstones (though since then its surroundings have transformed). Can we now blame the Swiss for the destruction of old school brownstones, and the birth of the NIMBY?
While there’s not a lot of documentation about how neighbors first reacted to the structure, the building is now landmarked, and E.B. White once wrote, “Directly across the street from my grandmother’s building stands a celebrated architectural landmark. Its designer, William Lescaze, must have been dreaming about South Miami Beach when he built his glass-brick and stucco Art Deco dream house. Architect of the first fully air-conditioned skyscraper, Lescaze was a true modernist whose soon-to-be septuagenarian town house puts the much more recent buildings nearby to shame.”