This picture is from my visit to the Cherokee on York Avenue and E 78th Street in the Upper East Side in Manhattan some years ago. Originally it was called “The Shively Sanitary Apartments”. “Sanitary” because when built in 1909 with Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt’s money, Dr. Henry Shively’s initiative and Henry Atterbury Smith’s design the buildings were to cure all bad things in city life, and especially tuberculosis. As such it is actually one of the first examples of modern housing design principles.
Despite its romantic looks the building is hard-core modernist: Light and air were the design principles. It is also one of the first attempts to actually increase the quality of life of the working class. As the only remedy to tuberculosis (and to pretty much every other illness as well) at the time was to sit in the open air the apartments have floor-to-ceiling windows in two or more directions, balconies, outdoor stairwells and pergolas on the roof of each building (these have been later removed). For some time the building also housed a home hospital to treat the residents.
The stairs in the six-story building have beautiful integrated benches to take a break when climbing up – which perhaps from today’s perspective does not seem as considerate as originally intended.
The philanthropic mission was finally a failure. Apparently they could not cure tuberculosis with architecture. But because of the elegance of its architecture, notably the Guastavino tiled passageways and cast iron balconies it remains a much beloved building and manages at the same time to demonstrate all the good intentions that modernist housing architecture originally had.