I have just finished the most remarkable book, 740 Park by Michael Gross. The ‘tell all’ of New York’s best address is not only a concise history of this tony, 36-unit building, but also its architect (Rosario Candela 1890-1953), developer (James T. Lee, Jacqueline Kennedy’s granddaddy) and its moneyed residents (the Bronfmans, Fields, Guggenheims and Rockefellers, to name a few). It is also an accurate account of our nation’s economic history leading up to the stock market crash, allowing readers to come to the sad conclusion that we have learned nothing from our mistakes of 1929.
After making his way to this country from Sicily, Candela graduated from the Columbia School of Architecture in 1915. He had the reputation of being the finest architect of his day for luxury high rise apartment buildings. He actually has a St. Louis tie as one of the architects for Montclair on The Park in the Central West End, one of the last of the 69 projects he completyed before his death in 1953.
Gross makes the point that the address 740 Park Ave. alone represented more of our nation’s wealth and leaders of finance at one time than any other building in New York City. The residents were part of a very exclusive club, and it’s just as exclusive today: You must have at least $100 million in liquid assets to even be considered for residency. Can you imagine? Even if you have money, I mean real money, you have to consider the cost of living there. Apartment 4/5D, for example, which went for $123,000 in 1929, is currently on the market for $38 million! And that’s one of the smaller apartments, at 7,500 square feet! The penthouse Mr. Rockefeller inhabited was 20,000 square feet. Courtney Sale Ross (widow of Time-Warner chair Steve Ross) has ‘quietly’ put her 12/13 D on the market for a cool $60 million-plus!
Gross’ year and a half of research paid off. This book gives credible detail to the ups and downs, fortunes and losses of the people who called 740 Park Ave. home. One of my favorite stories is about Sister Parrish, the famed decorator, while doing the Bronfman apartment. When asked what color to paint the library, she remarked “All this money came from liquor, so why don’t we paint it the color of whiskey!” She did: cognac brown.
Gross has a new book coming out this spring, Rogues’ Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum. I can’t wait!