Theses Master's

Influence and Contributions of Speculative Row House Developers on the Architecture and Urban Design of New York City's Upper West Side: 1879-1908

Middleton, Michael Anthony

The history of the architecture and development of New York City’s Upper West Side row-houses is a subject that has been written upon extensively but never specifically looked at from the point of view of the speculative real estate developer and how he influenced and marketed design. When making the case for historical significance of a building, one generally looks only to the architect or any notable inhabitants or users of that building to fulfill National Register of Historic Places criteria. Why has the real estate or speculative developer been excluded so often in the discussion of a place’s significance? Arguably, these men helped to shape design, space, and even entire neighborhoods on equal footing with the architects whom they chose to hire and probably more so than those who purchased their homes. October 27th, 1904 marked the opening of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company’s (IRT) subway-line for New York City, which resulted in highly escalated land values near the line and effectively, for developers, rendered speculative row-houses uneconomical compared to high-rise apartment construction. Concentrating on speculative row-house construction between 1879 and 1905, the duration of such construction on the Upper West Side, this thesis seeks to examine what developers of the period saw as standard amenities or novelty selling-points for the designs of row-houses in order to keep them desirable but also competitive when compared with apartment living. The turn of the century speculative real estate developer, particularly those active on the Upper West Side, had an array of media through which he was able to market his rows. Week after week completed and projected designs appeared in the Real Estate Record and Guide, in advertisements in the city’s newspapers, or through private publications and prospectuses produced by the developer himself. Ultimately, the speculative row house developer with his desire to make both the neighborhood in which he built and the houses which he sold beautiful and desirable directly impacted the feel and atmosphere of the Upper West Side. Perhaps in light of this investigation we can begin to assign and evaluate new areas of significance for historic row houses. Those being not the ties to famous residents or acclaimed architects, but also to the previously rather anonymous speculative developers which shaped the history, architecture, and development of New York City’s Upper West Side and, indeed, row-house neighborhoods across the country.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Dolkart, Andrew S.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 20, 2015