These days we claim to want the natural, the simple, albeit with a Wi-Fi connection. Perhaps that explains building names like Azure, Platinum, Indigo, Jade and Blue. You could call it the Crayola method of apartment-house naming. Certainly the names are more down-to-earth than, say, the old-style Parc V and Capri.
Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
For trendiness in nomenclature, there is Blue, a k a 105 Norfolk Street.
Office for Metropolitan History
The Rhinelander, shown in 1950, is becoming Philip House.
And we continue to have a fascination with tradition, though two buildings now coming on the market suggest that history ain’t what is used to be.
In the 1890s, a land rush of pretentious apartment-house nomenclature got under way. From La Rochelle to the Yucatan, from Robert Burns to Nathan Hale, from the Wharfedale to the Meteor, few people or places on earth, in literature or in history were spared, even though most of these structures were of modest circumstances.
Few overreached more than five 1898 apartments still standing at 230-238 West 122nd named Carthage, Laodicea, Memnonium, Praetorian and Thermopylae. The owner was not a Latin don at Oxford, but Mary C. Macallister of Brooklyn.
Just before 1910, when the gentry apartment house arrived in Manhattan in quantity, the whole name thing seemed shopworn, and buildings like 925 Park Avenue, 131 East 66th Street and “Number One Lexington Avenue” relied on a simple address.
By the 1920s naming an apartment house in Manhattan had fallen almost entirely out of favor, with exceptions like the 1927 Rhinelander, at 88th and Lexington, built by the Rhinelander family, Huguenots who had arrived in America in the 17th century.
After names were revived in the late 1950s, they tended toward the generic, often combinations using plaza or towers or house, like the Gotham Towne House at 153 East 57th. But the developers Hyman and Irving Shapiro got creative in the 1960s with the Cezanne, the Van Gogh and the Vermeer, and in the 1970s, when old industrial buildings and warehouses were converted, they were identified by their original uses, like the Piano Factory.
By the 1980s, a new interest in history sparked the resurrection of long-forgotten names. When I told my fellow tenants at Broadway and 90th that our 1910 building had once been known as the Cornwall, the legend soon went on our new, gentrifying canopy.
Over the past 10 years, developers have reached deep into the paint box for possible names, coming up with Onyx, Zinc and others. They seem to be searching for some kind of antiglitz, like the Element, on far West 59th Street, which identifies its amenities with symbols: “H2O” is the pool; “Ki” is for the kids gym.
Then there are the associations with something fundamental, say, like water, but pumped up — that is, Vitamin Water. How else to explain the Viridian, in Greenpoint, somehow “the color of Brooklyn.” Presumably the Burnt Sienna and the Sodium Chloride are not far off.
Two new apartment projects testify to a return, of sorts, to respectable-sounding surnames. When Henry Marquand’s 1884 mansion at Madison and 68th was torn down in 1912, it was followed by an apartment building known as Marquand House. But that name soon disappeared, and 11 East 68th Street was adopted, notwithstanding the escutcheons with “M” on the facade.
That building is being converted to condominiums, and the Marquand name has popped up again, but as a postscript under the numerical address. Marquand was a major art collector, the head of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a railroad financier. Two decades ago, the gilt edge of the Marquand identification would almost certainly have restored it to top billing.
Over at 88th and Lexington, the old Rhinelander is undergoing a similar conversion, but now it’s Philip House. Philip was the given name of several men in the distinguished Rhinelander family.
The Cheshire Group is doing the conversion, and Susan Hewitt, the president, declined to discuss how the venerable Rhinelander name was found wanting. But she does say that the firm wanted to make the building “more modern and contemporary.”
So the Cheshire Group ripped out the marble, brass and plasterwork of the lobby on 88th Street, replacing it with wood paneling and modern doors.
On the other hand, the renovation has included a magnificent cleaning of the grimy brick facade, and new six-over-six windows with divided lights, when the company could have gone for the low end, one-over-one variety.
The new cohort of named apartment houses arrived with concierges and Web sites, but there may come a time when the stainless steel will stain, the Web sites will go dark and their names will be forgotten. Who now remembers the 1907 Chislehurst on Fort Washington Avenue?
Perhaps even Philip House will fall onto New York’s compost heap of history. Then, a century or two hence, it will be rediscovered by a future generation. Will it be the Philip or the Rhinelander?