The Dorilton – One Beautiful Aberration

Address: 171 W 71st St, New York, NY 10023
Architect: Janes & Leo
Opened: 1900


One cannot help noticing it. It’s elaborate, it’s bright-colored, it’s imposing… it is the Dorilton. The twelve-story structure is located at the corner of Broadway and 71st street across from its stylistic counterpart – the Ansonia. In contrast to the lacy and grayish pale Ansonia, which has always been a refined beauty, the Dorilton is loud and ornate. In 1902, when the Dorilton was built, its appearance was perfectly shocking. To the critics’ delight, everything about it seemed wrong. The Architectural Record Magazine in genuine disgust called it “an edifice which cannot be regarded with apathy, a sight of which strong men swear, and weak women shrink affrighted.” The Architectural Record article on Dorilton appeared in the section entitled “Architectural Aberrations” and stated that the building was so loud that even the color-blind person could not help but notice it.  It went on to discuss the shade of the brick which was too bright, and the offensive contrast between the redness of the brick and the whiteness of the limestone. In fact, the latter was considered nothing less than violent while the statuary was described as garish. Hated was the grand entrance with the oversized arch placed in such a way that its shadow always darkens two floors at midday. The final unkind verdict to the Dorilton accused the structure of being marked by “the violence of color, the violence of scale, the violence of thinness – the multiplicity of detail.”

The Dorilton, facade
The Dorilton, detail of a facade

The “violent” building was constructed by the architectural firm of Janes and Leo, known for other Beaux-Arts apartment buildings and townhouses. The Dorilton is a typical representative of the French Second Empire style with its characteristic abundance of decoration. The Dorilton is topped with the mansard roof – the most distinctive feature of the style.

The Dorilton
The Dorilton from 71st Street

The mansard roof was created by 17th century French Renaissance architect Francois Mansart but only became popular in the 19th century during the reign of Napoleon III. It was designed to create more livable space in the building by increasing room in the attic and providing an extra floor. Of course, in the Dorilton case it provided not one but three extra floors. The base of the building, as well as its top part, measures three stories high. Considering that the middle part occupies six stories, the building has a somewhat high-waisted and low-shouldered look (what a comparison to the elongated, well proportioned Ansonia!)

Despite all the criticism, the Dorilton was built as a luxury building arranging for all conveniences that the market expected, such as its own heating, lighting, refrigeration, and power plants in the court. Apartments were trimmed with mahogany, oak, white enamel, and bird’s eye maple. Two elevators had special devices to give an easy start and stop. The rents ringing up to $4,000 a year afforded apartments with five to ten rooms, equipped with long-distance telephones and free electric light. Like the Ansonia the building was completely fireproof and soundproof, making it a favorite among musicians.

The Dorilton
The Dorilton, rainy day, spring

Time did wonders for the Dorilton. The walls changed color from violent red to dignified burgundy. The violence of scale diminished with the rise of taller buildings in the neighborhood. The statuary no longer seems garish. Its slightly disproportionate look gives it old-world charm. And at last, if the Dorilton was not there, wouldn’t the Ansonia feel a little lonely?

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