Rosario Candela’s Mansions in the Sky
Updated: Aug 20, 2020
By Bart Boehlert
At a time when Manhattan was growing and wealthy New Yorkers were moving out of private houses and into apartment buildings, architect Rosario Candela excelled at designing large, elegant, graceful apartment buildings along Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue and Sutton Place. His buildings reshaped the landscape of uptown in the 1920s and 30s, and still today are among the most desirable addresses in the New York real estate market. With expansive proportions, high ceilings, generous windows, working fireplaces, and a gracious sense of flow, a Candela apartment has a timeless grandeur and is instantly recognizable.
A classic example is 770 Park Avenue, 2D now offered with Brown Harris Stevens. Located at the corner of Park Avenue and East 73rd Street and completed in 1930 with a lobby that was designed by renowned decorator Dorothy Draper, 770 Park is one of Candela’s best known buildings. This apartment’s large, airy rooms, sweeping proportions, working fireplace, and outdoor terrace all reveal the architect’s understanding of luxurious city living.
Rosario Candela was born in Palermo, Sicily, in 1890, and, the story goes, came to the United States in 1909 with only $20 and a few words of English. Still, he graduated from the Columbia University School of Architecture in 1915 and opened his own architecture practice. With the help of Sicilian-born real estate developers, Candela got large commissions and was on his way to designing 75 apartment buildings in New York City, many of which are now protected by New York City landmark status.
Both outside and in, Candela’s buildings were unique. The bases of the buildings were clad in limestone and featured classical motifs while at the top, Candela designed receding terraces so the buildings elegantly narrowed as they grew higher. This and Candela’s asymmetrical handling of rooftops and arches that hid chimneys are echoed today in contemporary buildings like the romantic rooftop skyline of the masterful 15 Central Park West designed by Robert A. M. Stern.
Inside, Candela was a puzzle-solver, designing one-floor, duplex, and triplex apartments with different ceiling heights, but all fit perfectly together and each had an ideal floor plan. Additionally, he made external walls thicker, so there were no unsightly bumps for pipes, beams or columns. With architecture, he created graceful movement and harmonious flow.
In 2018, the Museum of the City of New York presented “Elegance in the Sky: the Architecture of Rosario Candela,” the first exhibition to examine the work of the influential designer. “He established new standards of chic, urban living. Even today, almost a century after they were built, Candela’s buildings rank among the most prized in the city,” notes the museum’s curator of Architecture and Design Donald Albrecht. Times have changed but the language of Rosario Candela’s architecture still speaks with a quiet allure.
(Images via the Museum of the City of New York)