Rutherford Estates Condos: A Chance to Return to Your Roots – January 22, 2006
BARBARA ROCHE FIERMAN harbors unusually intense nostalgia for the place where she was born. At age 68, she has decided she wants to buy a part of it and make it her home.
Until now, that has been almost impossible at the stately 10-story building at Second Avenue and 17th Street that is called Rutherford Place at Stuyvesant Square.
Opened as Lying-in Hospital in 1902, the result of a gift from J. P. Morgan, it was said to account for 60 percent of all births in Manhattan. In 1934, after Lying-in Hospital moved uptown, the building became the Manhattan General Hospital and in the 1960’s a drug treatment center run by the Beth Israel Medical Center. In 1983, Barnet L. Liberman and Winthrop D. Chamberlin bought it and converted it into a condominium but until now kept most of the apartments as rentals in exchange for a variety of tax benefits.
Now the time seems ripe to sell all the units, Mr. Liberman said, so along with other partners in an enterprise called Rutherford Estates, they have put the units on the market as they are renovated, much to the delight of Ms. Fierman, who owns a cleaning company, New York’s Little Elves.
“I rushed over there the minute I saw the ad,” she said. “I’ve always been intrigued by that building and never pass by in a taxi without telling the driver, ‘I was born there,’ ” she said. She does not, of course, have a direct memory of that event, but she became very familiar with the building during her childhood because her grandparents owned a laundry a few doors away on Second Avenue, and she spent a lot of time there while her mother helped out.
“Their clients were doctors from the hospital, and my grandparents did their shirts and handkerchiefs along with nurses’ caps,” she said. “I was born during the Depression, and my parents were worried about where they would get the money for the hospital, so my grandmother bartered laundry for my delivery.”
Years later, she dated a man who lived in the building. “I just loved visiting there and wanted to know which was the delivery room, which halls my mother walked through,” she said. The man moved to Florida, but Ms. Fierman’s passion for the building was not quenched.
Now she hopes to put her money where her heart is and has put her name on a list for a studio or one bedroom.
Because of the limitations imposed by its structural origins as a hospital, no two of the 127 apartments have the same layout. The floors, bathrooms and kitchens are being upgraded with high-quality finishes and appliances. There are eight simplexes, 50 duplexes, 66 triplexes and three quadriplexes. With some rooms perched over others, including sleeping lofts over studios, ceilings vary drastically from 7.6 feet to 19 feet – in some cases, in the same room.
Among the more interesting configurations are five duplexes with semicircular living rooms situated where a circular staircase once wound through the whole building. The two penthouses are nestled into the mansard roof, which gives them sloping walls and windows and steel trusses cutting through the living rooms.
Prices, which are largely based on the layouts, range from $770,000 for studios, $950,000 for one-bedrooms, $1.095 million for two-bedrooms to $1.975 million for three-bedrooms.
The lobby, with its elaborately carved Carrara marble, gold leaf embellished ceiling and glass doors embellished with wrought iron, retains its old world grandeur. The facade can never be altered because the building is a National Historic Landmark.
It has two sculptures of naked boys carved into it above the arched glass door that would have been changed had it been up to a woman who wrote to Mr. Morgan, vociferously objecting. While praising the hospital’s benefactor for his “princely gift,” she wrote, “Is it necessary to have nude figures of male children only, when both male and female children are treated in the institution?
“Hoping that you will the naked clothe,” she ended.
Her framed letter now adorns the lobby.
Correction: Jan 29, 2006, Sunday:
A report in the Postings column last Sunday about condo sales at Rutherford Place at Stuyvesant Square referred incorrectly to the building’s historic designation. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places; it is not a National Historic Landmark. In addition, the report misstated the rules regarding potential changes in the building’s facade. With the permission of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, the facade could indeed be altered.