From horses to cars to doctors

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As Lenox Hill Hospital expands and shifts its campus to the east, it is taking over a landmark parking garage and onetime riding academy that made equestrian history in the 19th century


  • A rendering shows how Lenox Hill Hospital plans to convert the 131-year-old former riding academy and stables on East 75th Street into medical practices for its doctors. The former Park Avenue Stables building is a landmarked property that now serves as the Parkanlex parking garage. Rendering: Courtesy of Lenox Hill Hospital / Northwell Health

  • An architect’s sketch from 1888 shows a cross-section of the old riding academy on East 75th Street with storage space for carriages and road wagons and an elevated riding ring on the third floor. Architect’s Drawing: The Engineering and Building Record, June 1888  

  • A circa 1930s photo of the landmark Parkanlex parking garage on East 75th Street. Note the running boards on the parked cars. Photo: New York Public Library / Digital Collections

  • Architects call it an “equine capstone,” but it’s more commonly known as a sculpture of a horse’s head. It gazes down from a parking garage and former stables on East 75th Street, which Lenox Hill Hospital will take over for new medical practices. Photo: Courtesy of Lenox Hill Hospital / Northwell Health 

“We are thrilled that it will be restored to its original prominence by the new owners.”

Sara Kamillatos, Friends of the Upper East Side

Horses were everywhere in 1888: They hauled coal, fronted pushcarts, pulled wagons, conveyed passengers and served in the parks and piers.

But there was one place no one expected to find them — cavorting on the third floor of a commercial building, 60-plus feet above street level.

So New Yorkers were dumbfounded when a new “riding ring in the sky” with room for 140 saddle horses opened its doors on East 75th Street.

And they surged up the cleated ramps of the Park Avenue Stables to watch the animals trot, jump, canter and gallop atop the tanbark and beaten clay.

“Quite a novelty,” wrote The Engineering and Building Record in June that year. “It is the first elevated-ring riding academy in New York City.”

As it happens, it may also have been the last.

Flash forward 131 years: Epochal changes came to the block between Park and Lexington Avenues. First, the horseback-riding school closed. Then, the stables were shuttered. Next, a succession of parking garages occupied the space. Now, a Lenox Hill Hospital facility is set to move in.

In microcosm, the back story of 115 East 75th St. reflects the broader evolution of the Upper East Side as ambitious, expansion-minded medical institutions gobbled up real estate that was once the province of smaller, funkier, earthier businesses.

Instead of saddling horses, fixing flats and parking cars, the four-story structure will now be reconfigured by Lenox Hill to house the medical practices of scores of its doctors.

But amid the transformation, one part of the streetscape will be reengineered to look largely as it once did:

The exterior of the Romanesque Revival-style building, a part of the Upper East Side Historic District since its creation in 1981, is being restored to its historic appearance as a stable-turned-garage.

From the grand carriage entry at street level to the terra cotta bands on the top floors, from the brick façade to the long window arcades with arches, the decayed or vanished 19th-century period detailing will be rehabilitated.

The Omnipresent Horse

And the crowning feature of the building — known to architects as an “equine capstone,” and to laymen as a sculpture of a horse’s head — will continue to greet patients and hospital workers, just as it once stood sentinel over stallions and automobiles.

“Our plan calls for an extensive exterior renovation to restore original, historic exterior details — and an interior renovation to accommodate new physician medical practices,” said Barbara Osborn, a spokesperson for Lenox Hill, which is under the umbrella of Northwell Health.

The proposal to convert the 20,450-square-foot stable won preliminary approval on Jan. 8 from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, which found that the adaptive re-use will return it “significantly closer to its historic conditions ... reinforce its historic façade elements,” and “recall the character of its open-carriage entranceways.”

Preservationists largely agreed: “The majority of work proposed here is sensitive and laudable,” said the Historic Districts Council, an advocacy group, in its testimony to the LPC.

“This type of commercial structure has often been overlooked or quick to be redeveloped, so the modern existence of this former stable and garage is owed to the much-deserved protection afforded by its landmark designation,” said Sara Kamillatos, preservation associate at Friends of the Upper East Side.

“We are thrilled that it will be restored to its original prominence by the new owners,” she added.

While praising the harmonious intersection of modern and historic design elements, Kamillatos offered one critique. Flanking fire doors to be built on either side of the façade will create out-of-character symmetry, she argued.

“The different phases of the building have all been characterized by an asymmetry that arose from the shifting needs of equine, pedestrian and automobile entry,” Kamillatos said.

If the structure’s past uses were muscular and industrial, Lenox Hill, as a member hospital of Northwell, is now positioning the property for its healing mission as part of Northwell Health Physician Partners, made up of its doctors and staff.

In fact, its plans call for construction of a connective walkway that will physically attach the rear of the converted stables on 75th Street to the back of another medical facility where its doctors practice at 122 East 76th St.

Eastward Ho!

The expanded practice is just one element of a mega-reorientation of Lenox Hill’s campus that Our Town first reported exclusively in “The Metamorphosis of a Hospital” in the issue dated Jan. 17 to Jan. 23.

It told how the institution — which first put down stakes on Park Avenue at 77th Street in 1868, when it was known as the German Hospital and Dispensary — was exploring the possible sale and redevelopment of some of the pricey property at its legacy home.

Under one scenario being evaluated, Lenox Hill would monetize some or all of a three-building parcel it owns at 855 Park Ave., between 76th and 77th Streets, as a means of financing a costly expansion to the east.

Its western frontage, a full city block that runs 204 feet along Park Avenue, occupies some of the most valuable land in Manhattan. If it were sold to a luxury developer, the proceeds could pay for new hospital construction, including a possible tower on the Lexington Avenue side of its campus.

Meanwhile, Lenox Hill is also developing plans for the entire blockfront it controls on the site of six separate, three- and four-story, mixed-use buildings on the east side of Third Avenue between 76th and 77th Streets.

On the drawing board is a 250,000-square-foot home for ambulatory surgery, imaging, a cancer center, doctors’ offices and clinical services.

Compared to such game-changing real estate plays, the move into the old stable is small bore — but it speaks to the sea change in the UES property market over the past century.

In the late 1880s, the Park Avenue Stables could accommodate 140 horses in its second story and basement, while the carriages for a livery business were stored on its first floor, according to research by Higgins Quasebarth & Partners, Lenox Hill’s preservation consultant on the project.

Then in 1908, the business model for the stables imploded as the first Model-T rolled off Henry Ford’s assembly line. With the auto playing an increasingly outsized role on city streets, the utility of the horse began to disappear.

In 1912, the Park Avenue Stables was converted into the Sullivan Garage. The property continued to change hands, eventually becoming the Parkanlex, which today houses 165 cars.

Since Lenox Hill now holds the long-term ground lease on the property, those cars will be evicted once the reconfiguration is complete.

Once, there were many other stables on the 75th Street block, said Higgins Quasebarth associate Sarah Sher.

“They embraced the inevitable and served as garages during the first half of the 20th century, ultimately being replaced by apartment buildings and a synagogue,” she said.

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