The Kaiser & The Rhine

1716-1720 Second Avenue
Lamb & Rich

This pair of stately Romanesque Revival style brick apartment buildings was constructed at a time when apartment-style living was becoming more socially acceptable for New York’s burgeoning middle class. They exemplified the use of distinctive architecture and evocative naming (similar to today’s “branding”) to elevate the image of the multiple-dwelling building type, which had long been associated with the cramped and squalid quarters of Manhattan’s worst tenement-house districts. In this case, the choice of the noble-sounding names “Kaiser” and “Rhine” signaled the overwhelmingly German heritage of the buildings’ presumed occupants (the U.S. Census for 1900 shows that most of the residents were of German descent), as well as the prominent Rhinelander family’s involvement in their construction and in real estate development in Yorkville in general. Although built as two separate structures joined along a party wall with interior courtyards, the buildings’ Second Avenue façades present a unified, monumental appearance. The decorative iron balcony and pent eave roof anchor the façade’s center bay, while the round arches that are a hallmark of the Romanesque Revival style play across the façade at different scales. The red-orange brick façade is embellished by rich geometric patterning and delicate Romanesque Revival style detailing, including corbels, quoins and window spandrels featuring delicate cartouches with ribbons. The building was recently restored with the removal of the white paint that had been obscuring the building’s subtle texture and fine ornament. With luck, the cornices that flanked the pent eave roof in this once-picturesque roofline will also be restored.