Manhattan's Precious Few Carriage Houses
by mike olson
They were built for captains of industry, the men who ran railroads, owned steamship lines, and manufactured typewriters. Well, technically they were built for their horses. Regardless, the carriage houses that once stored the horse-drawn transports of the city’s elite have become a different type of status symbol, creating an exclusive club of which it is almost impossible to become a member. But one such carriage house—one of the 75 that somehow survived into the 21st century—can now be had at 178 East 75th Street for $19 million, creating a bridge between Manhattan’s gilded past and stylish present.
Unlike the wealthy Englishmen in 18th-century London who had the space to build mews streets to house their horses, New Yorkers faced one small obstacle: cramped 25- by 100-foot lots that threatened to put people a little too close to their favored mode of transportation. “The proximity of the stable building to the house was a problem,” explains Mosette Broderick, Director of the Urban Design and Architecture Studies program at New York University. “So almost from day one there were streets that evolved as stable blocks—the equivalent of a parking lot district.”
Indeed, stables on the north sides of East 43rd and 44th Streets near Grand Central predated the actual terminal building itself. And by the turn of the century, the carriage house’s golden age, clusters could be found just west of Ladies’ Mile on 18th Street, where store owners like Hugh O’Neill and Benjamin Altman offered delivery care of livery drivers in brightly colored carriages that doubled as rolling billboards. Meanwhile, on the Upper East Side, the more affordable real estate closest to Third Avenue’s elevated trains (but still a stone’s throw from the mansions on Fifth) became the preferred place for robber barons to store their rides.
Today, that now-valuable real estate on East 73rd Street is still lined by a dozen or so landmarked carriage houses ranging in style from Beaux-Arts to Romanesque Revival, and they were designed by masters of the craft like Richard Morris Hunt, the same architect responsible for the façade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While each of these buildings boasts its own unique, irreplaceable details, it is actually two blocks north on East 75th Street that one carriage house stands above the rest—literally.
Unlike the typical two- and three-story design (the first floor for a carriage and horses, the upper floors for haylofts and staff apartments), 178 East 75th Street measures in at six stories, featuring five bedrooms and 6,600 square feet. And in a true high-tech touch, an elevator services each of these levels, from the English basement (complete with a gym and a sauna) right upstairs to the home’s five bedrooms (each with its own fireplace).
“It was built in 1903, but it went through a full renovation in 2007,” says Nest Seekers International senior vice president Caroline Grane, who points to the building’s Crestron home automation system and central air. But one need only look up to see this home’s most striking feature. “The ceiling height on every floor is between 10 and 12 feet, whereas in others it may only be eight and a half,” adds Grane, “and in the garage that height is actually double.” A 22-foot ceiling is ideal for displaying artwork, helping explain why the likes of gallery owner Larry Gagosian, plus artists like Mark Rothko, Tony Rosenthal, and Jasper Johns, have been drawn to similar spaces in carriage houses.
In another rarity, natural light floods the home, a perk that did not exist when this building housed equine occupants and their keepers. This is most striking in the master suite, where skylights in the bathroom bathe the Jacuzzi tub and double shower in sunlight, large fourth-floor living room, and solarium. “That is very unique,” says Grane. “In most carriage houses you don’t have any rear views, but this is basically a greenhouse.” Speaking of views, 178 East 75th Street also takes advantage of its uncharacteristic height with a private roof deck—1,246 exterior square feet with a bird’s-eye view of the neighborhood.
Still, as any New Yorker who has circled the neighborhood in search of parking will attest, the home’s biggest draw may just be the room for three cars on the ground floor, making the idea of paying for a space seem as quaint as needing a coachman and team of horses to bring you to the theater.
Today’s carriages may be horseless, but 178 East 75th Street’s colorful past is never far away. “This is for the buyer who appreciates history combined with every modern convenience,” says Grane. “Plus, they also don’t have to do any work. They can just move right in to a prime location on the Upper East Side.” Meanwhile, NYU’s Broderick realizes there’s another factor at play. “I think there’s a novelty and a coolness to it,” the history lover admits. “It’s better than saying, ‘I just live in an apartment.’ You get to say, ‘I live in an old carriage house.’” Caroline Grane, Nest Seekers International, 415 Madison Ave., 917-601-2703
photography by RICHARD CAPLAN