P R O P O S E D H I S T O R I C D I S T R I C T E X T E N S I O N
RUSSELL SAGE FOUNDATION
The Russell Sage Foundation was founded in 1907 by Margaret O. Sage as a memorial to her husband, the prominent politician and Wall Street financier who had died in 1906. The foundation was established with an initial endowment of $10,000,000 and the goal of promoting the improvement of social and living conditions for the poor. The Russell Sage Foundation was active in the development of social work and urban planning as professions, published many books and articles about social welfare and sponsored and supported many progressive activities. The foundation is also known for Forest Hills Gardens, a model housing project conceived in 1908. The architect for Forest Hills Gardens was also commissioned to design the foundation's headquarters.
Following the organization of the foundation, office accommodation was sought in the United Charities Building on East 22nd Street and Park Avenue South, but since this building was fully occupied, space was rented in several buildings in the surrounding area. In 1912, Mrs. Sage and her leading adviser, Robert de Forest, chose to build a headquarters building that would be a physical memorial to Russell Sage. The site at the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 22nd Street was purchased, and Grosvenor Atterbury was commissioned to design the new nine-story building (a 10th-floor penthouse was added in the early 1920s).
Since the new headquarters building was planned as a memorial, more money was spent on the design and construction than would have been appropriate if it had simply been built to house the offices of the charitable group. The street elevations are clad in a particularly beautiful rough-cut red sandstone, known as Kingwood stone, thought to have been used only once before in New York (at the synod house at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine). For the Russell Sage Foundation, Atterbury adapted the form of a Florentine Renaissance palazzo to the needs of a modern office building. The street elevations display the tripartite horizontal massing and rhythmic arrangement of openings that is typical of Florentine palazzi.
A particularly interesting feature of the building is the use of carved panels symbolic of the ideals and goals of the foundation. Located on the second floor, these panels, each in the form of a shield, represent health, work, play, housing, religion, education, civics, and justice. Above the former main entrance, on 22nd Street, is a rectangular panel representing the specialized work of the organization - study, service, and counsel. This use of ornamentation to communicate symbolically the purpose of a building was popular among the Beaux-Arts-trained architects such as Atterbury, and is evident on many late-19th- and early-20th-century public and institutional buildings in New York City. These panels are early examples of the architectural sculpture of René Chambellan, a sculptor better known for his later installations at Rockefeller Center and the Chanin building.
The foundation's new building not only housed the offices of the Russell Sage Foundation, but also contained offices of other social-service organization, including the American Association of social Workers and the Family Welfare association of America. The charitable organizations housed in this building received their space at no charge. The two top floors of the building housed the Social Work Library, one of the finest libraries of its type. In 1929, the foundation decided to expand the building by erecting a wing on East 22nd Street that was to be a profitable venture with space rented to social-service organizations. Atterbury designed a wing that would complement his original building by a five-story hyphen. The construction of a low building on the midblock site was required by a covenant attached to the deed by the site's prior owner, the Gramercy Park Hotel, who wished to preserve the light entering the hotel rooms that faced north. The New York School of Social Work became the primary tenant of the addition.
In 1949, the Russell Sage Foundation moved from this building and it was sold to the Archdiocese of New York, which used the structure to house the offices of Catholic Charities. in 1975, the building was sold again, and it was subsequently converted into apartments.
Gramercy Park Hotel
Church Missions House
New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
United Charities Building
Manhattan Trade School for Girls
Family Court Building
Gustavus Adolphus Swedish Lutheran Church
Miss E.L. Breese Carriage House
111 & 113
115 & 117
IRT Company Substation
65 & 71