The story of architectural Modernism in New York City goes beyond the familiar touchstones of Lever House and the Seagram Building.
Eighty-five years on, the little white town house on East 48th Street by William Lescaze still startles. With its bright stucco and Purist volumes, it pulls the eye away from the do-nothing brownstones on one side and the noirish sub-Miesian tower on the other. The machined rectitude of its upper floors, telegraphed by two clumsily large spans of glass block, is offset by the freer plastic arrangement of the bottom levels. Le Corbusier’s five points are in evidence (minus the roof garden), suggesting an architecture ready to do battle. Built in 1934 from the shell of a Civil War–era town house, this was the first Modernist house in New York City, and its pioneering feeling for futurity extended to its domestic conveniences. (A skeptical Lewis Mumford noted its central air-conditioning.)