135 EAST 91st STREET: A SIDNEY LUMET JOINT
My pointless obsession with movie director's houses (click here for more than you really need to know about Billy Wilder's apartment) continues apace with the New York townhouse abode of one of the paciest directors known to man, the late great Sidney Lumet. A die-hard New Yorker who never shot anywhere else if he could help it, Lumet was pretty much half of the NYC film industry (the other half was Woody Allen) through the 1960's and early '70's. (Scorcese didn't really shoot in NYC with regularity until the late seventies). As befits local royalty, Lumet made his home in a townhouse on the Upper East Side which was--despite his proletariat personal style--quite ...well...royal.
Located at both 1380 Lexington Avenue and 135 East 91st Street, the house was, in fact, more distinctive than simply lavish, partly due to the fact that it was that rare thing--a corner townhouse, meaning that it had windows on three sides rather than just the standard front to back arrangement of most brownstones (thus the two addresses). You entered right on Lexington Avenue (above) and the "side" of the house in fact fronted onto 91st street (below).
This permits the house to have the unusal New York townhouse feature of a room with windows on a "L" as opposed to strictly front to back as per the usual "shotgun" layout of Brownstones. Viz:
Here are some more views of the main rooms:
But that's not all. The house came with an additional eccentricity, namely the only detached private garage in Manhattan. Here it is.
The floorplan of the house is fairly typical for a Brownstone, with the usual dining/kitchen boogie on the bottom floor, entertaining rooms on the second floor and the little warren of bedrooms squeezed into floors three and four. The place has a genteel, good-mannered quality to it and I rather like the public nature of the house--fronting on the avenue feels very bold and the long, windowed side of the house makes it feel rather more New Orleans-esque than Manhattan-centric. Note the windows indicated on the left side of each floor.
The house was built in 1885 and was designed by an architect named Adam Weber, who built it for a brewer named Jacob Rupert's daughter. Or something to that effect. Lumet appeared to have lived here for a good many years, selling it in the early 1990's. So unusual was the house that there was a segment done on it on a CBS morning show. Click here for the video link.
Unfortunately the recent sales history appears to be a bit of a botch, with multiple listings, price drops etc. according to this article in Curbed.
When I met Lumet in 2002, he lived in the Beresford on 81st and Central Park West. At that time we lived at the other end of the block--on Columbus and 81st. We briefly compared 81st street stories (what the hell could they have been?) and I recall him saying that for many years he had a townhouse but his wife decided she was tired of living in such a dark place and wanted bright, big views. Could this have been the house? Or is their another house in the Lumet canon? Who knows? And for that matter, who gives a damn? The fact is, Lumet was probably gone from home more than he was hanging around the house given his massively busy filming schedule--the guy pretty much made a movie a year for most of his career. And so taken was I with his work that--as a young man--I chose to stalk him in order to get a job on one of his movies. Yes, stalk him. For more on that shameful episode click here...
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 10:55 AM