River House

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435 East 52nd Street, New York City, NY

River House

New York City's finest apartment building
Building Information
Developer Bottomley, Wagner & White
Architect Bottomley, Wagner & White
Number of Units 79
Number of Floors 26
Year Built 1931
Construction Method Concrete
Type of Roof PMR
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435 East 52nd Street, New York City
Distance to Public Transit Less than one block
Region New York City
Municipality New York City
Zoning R-10
Title of Land Condominium



River House lies between 52nd and 53rd Streets on the bank of the East River. This gray brick and limestone art deco structure was completed in 1931, the same year as the Empire State Building was built. It is arguably considered to be one of the finest and most luxurious residences in New York. It was designed by by architect William L. Bottomly (1853 - 1951)in partnership with William Sidney Wagner and A.J. White. River House was their best known commission as the architectural firm, Bottomly, Wagner and White.

Built in a U-shape, the 14 story wings face the East River and the 26 story tower is nestled in the middle. River House was the epitome of "swell" living in slum district where it had been built. It replaced a cigar factory and and a cabinetmaker. It was an unusual juxtaposition of wealthy and poor in the same neighborhood.

Upon opening, the building had uninterrupted access to the water and this was the home of the River Club, a private social organization that leased space from River House. However, members of the ultra-discreet River Club lost its access to the romantic stone quay and yacht landing after construction began on the East River Highway, which is now known as the Franklin D Roosevelt Drive.[1]

It had originally been designed to house 64 apartments, but over the years renovations and changes in ownership redefined the apartment count to 79. Stylistically, River House combined several architectural motifs. It was generally designated as Georgian-revival, but elements of baroque, regency, and art deco were also incorporated into the overall design. However, throughout its 80 plus year existence, River House still retains its superlative views and phenomenal prices.

Historically, River House welcomed the socially eminent. The co-op board is now extremely selective. Liquid assets seem to be the main criteria for potential candidates. It seems that liquid assets should exceed four to six times the value of an apartment and that if financing is used, it is only for tax purposes.


River House is built between 52nd and 53rd Streets facing the East River in an area of New York called Beekman, a residential neighborhood in relative isolation from congested traffic areas giving it a sense of privacy. Despite the sense of privacy residents may have, River House stills garners walk score of 95 out of 100 for day to day shopping and services and also a perfect score of 100 for ease of access to transit.

It is only a few short blocks from the United Nations Plaza. Five blocks to the west brings residents of River House to Lexington and then Park Avenues. When it was first built, there were not many restaurants in the area. After all, River House had been built in a slum and tenement area. Today, however, numerous restaurants, cafes, and other dining options may be found offering a broad range of ethnicity.[2]


River House was built to be opulent and luxurious. It was meant to be The Place to live and be seen, and over the decades it became just that. Apartments are grand and spacious. Ceiling heights varied, but were usually higher than most buildings of its day.

Special care was taken in the design to allow for natural ventilation, although before the United Nations Plaza was built, slight changes in the breeze from the river would waft in the stink of the slaughter houses just to the south.

The building is massive, but the design features moderated the bulkiness artistically. Numerous bay windows were installed. Limestone trimmed the dark gray brick and multiple terraces were on upper floors before the finial top capped the building. It retains the elegance and grandeur of bygone days.[3]

Layout and Features

Every unit in River House is large, seldom going lower than 4 bedroom units, although some do exist after larger multilevel suites were reduced in size. One suite boasts 15 rooms and 5 bathrooms over 3 levels.

A large and impressive gated driveway greets residents. The lobby is large and see-through and attended by a concierge. There a two large cloakrooms for guests attending swank parties within the building of which there are many. There are elevator persons.

Floor Plans

River House features about 27 floor plans. Here are a few variations:


The River Club, although somewhat removed from the water, has tennis courts, squash courts, a swimming pool, and dining facilities. The elevators are staffed. Concierge services are available and there is a doorman on duty. Laundry services are in the building as are parking and storage.


River House Bylaws
Rentals No
Pets Yes
Age No

  • Pets get to live in a very luxurious building in New York
  • Rentals and sub-letting is not allowed
  • There are no age restrictions for residents ... just available levels of wealth.


It's not likely that William Bottomly was worried about the operational costs of the building. His target market was, of course, an incredibly wealthy demographic. Concern was placed more on utilizing the location to enhance the desirability of River House, and of using design features to make use of natural light and ventilation.[4]

Current residents may take part in New York City recycling programs and install energy efficient appliances.


  • At River House, it has long been conjectured that the Co-op board may be unreasonably strict about who they approve to live there. Since it opened, River House has had very rich and very famous people as residents. Mr. and Mrs. Henry Kissinger currently live there. Others who have called River House home include Clare Boothe Luce, Charlie Chaplin, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, former Salomon Brothers chairman John Gutfreund, and Ruth Baker Pratt, widow of a Standard Oil Company founder’s son.
  • Other names from history include Harold Stirling Vanderbilt, who twice defended the America's Cup, and apparently, also invented contact bridge. Marshall Field lived in River House when his family moved there from Chicago. As an Eton schoolboy, Marshall Field was already a millionaire many times over. After Cambridge in 1917, he returned to the United States to enlist as a private in the army. He returned from France a cavalry captain, despite his connections.[5]
  • Just as interesting to note who lives or has lived in River House, is the list of people that the Co-op board denied. This includes names like Gloria Vanderbilt (yes, that was her cousin Harold Stirling Vanderbilt who already lived there ...). Perhaps it was because of her close friendship with Bobby Short, a debonair singer who happened to be African American. Gloria Vanderbilt filed suit against River House in May, 1980, alleging that River House had refused to sell her an apartment valued at $1.1 million, suspecting that her rejection was due to racial bias. The building's board said it wanted to avoid "unwanted publicity."
  • At one point, River House tried to forbid all usage of the building's name, reputation, descriptions and photographs from Real Estate companies entirely.
  • Also rejected were Richard Nixon and Diane Keaton.


  1. City Realty - Review
  2. Walk Score
  3. City Realty
  4. Columbia Library
  5. Huffington Post

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