Monday, January 27, 2014

Mostly Modern: The Washington Arms Apartments

Syracuse, NY. Washington Arms Apartments.  621 Walnut Ave. 1928. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2013)

Syracuse, NY. Washington Arms Apartments.  621 Walnut Ave. 1928. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2013)

Almost Modern: The Washington Arms Apartments

The 1920s were years of easy credit and fast money, and that meant a real estate and building boom in most American cities, and Syracuse was no exception.  Architecturally, the period offers a mix of styles, with Classical, Gothic and Byzantine styles still popular.  But throughout the decade a simple functionalism also took root - in part keeping with a taste for stripped down style in art, literature (think Hemingway) and fashion (think flapper), but also because it was generally more economical for speculative builders.  Higher end buildings had more decoration, but this tended to be variations of the flat, often geometric Art Deco.  The simpler version could be substituted, as was done in Chaumout Apartments, by simply patterning brick. 

When one thinks about Walnut Avenue on the east side, the large houses - mostly now frat houses along Walnut Park - come to mind.  But in the early decades of the 20th century the older part of Avenue at he north end was already being transformed with new apartment buildings rising replacing 19th-century single family homes.  

I've written about the Sherbrooke Apartments at Walnut and Madison, designed by Ward Wellington Ward in 1914. Another noteworthy apartment building is the soaring (everything is relative) Roosevelt Arms Apartments one block south, up the hill, opening in the fall of 1928, at 621 Walnut Street.  This fine building, the architect who which remains unknown to me at this time, is a fine example of everything that was though modern at the time (we known, however, that Anthony Paratore, was the contractor).

 Syracuse, NY. Washington Arms Apartments.  621 Walnut Ave. 1928. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2013)

The building shares characteristics with the commercial Hills Building downtown, built the same year.  Both are steel frame and brick buildings that emphasis versatility in their sleek design, but bow to tradition with the inclusion of stylized vestigial Gothic details on the ground floor, and on in certain other details.  We might call this type of Art Deco building a cross - something akin to Gotho-Deco. The combination was surprisingly common in the 1920s.  For vertical building its a kind of mash-up of the New York's City giants, the Woolworth and the Empire State Buildings.

While the outside of the Washington Arms no doubt looked strikingly modern on Walnut Avenue, possibly as out of place in its time as Bird Library at the top of Walnut Park would be seen in its time (and even today), it was the modernity of the inside of the apartments that them desirable.

Advertised as the "most exclusive apartment in Syracuse" and the "Apartment Home Supreme,", Washington Arms boasted large kitchens, plenty of closets, gumwood doors and trim, tiled baths and storage lockers in the basement.

 Advertisement of the The Washington Arms, Syracuse Herald (Sept. 9, 1928)

A prominent advertisement in the Syracuse Herald of September 9, 1928, announced the building this way:
The Washington Arms
Opposite Chancellor's Residence
Corner Walnut Ave. and Harrison St. 
Opening selection of choice 3, 4 and 5-room steam heated apartment locations, richly furnished lobby with fireplace, mirror wall, attractive sunny living rooms, large corner front bedrooms with cross ventilation, roll-away beds, complete baths with specially finished walls which gives a rich appearance, showers with bath curtains, etc., convenient kitchenette with gas or electric range, plenty of built-in cupboards, broom closets, ironing board, composition tile drain boards, Kelvinator, attractive dinettes, plenty of clothes closets, a dressing room and full length mirror with each apartment, gumwood package receivers. Abundance heat, hot water, elevator and janitor service. Two apartments ere completely furnished for your inspection.

An extra and very interesting feature is the large beautifully furnished sun parlor overlooking city for general use of the tenants. This is a mammoth enclosed sun porch giving a clear view of the entire city besides being a health spot. 

Visit The "Apartment Home Supreme" 
The Washington Arms 
Distinctive in its location and build, which consists of 33 apartments; three, four and five rooms each; and presents a soundproof, well-built, practicable place to make your home. Many exclusive features await the prospective tenant, Briefly outlined they are: Adams type hardwood floors throughout, Oiltex walls which can be washed without losing the exquisite Neutral color shades, composite tiled dinette and breakfast rooms, Gumwood doors and trim, Walnut finish in every apartment and corridor, tiled baths, safety mail boxes, lockers in basement, grand tiled corridors with a heavy one tone runner, iron-trimmed entrance door.
 Syracuse, NY. Washington Arms Apartments.  621 Walnut Ave. 1928. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2013)

The building is designed on an dumbbell or H-plan, with two blocks three bays deep a the west and east connected by a longer narrower block.  This design, pioneers in the 19th-century for better tenement design, here provides, because the building is free-standing on a corner lot, abundant windows for all apartments.  Compare this to the simpler blocklike plan of the Chaumont Apartments, where it was more difficult for light to penetrate deep into the building.

The five-story structure originally 33 apartments, but the Great Depression put pressures on this building, as on so many other new apartment and commercial buildings. Already in late 1929 and early 1930 it is clear that many units were becoming available. 

According to the Syracuse University Archives  website (a great source on SU buildings), Syracuse University acquired the Washington Arms in 1943 to house Army Air Corpsmen, but  because of housing shortages caused by the war, the soldiers were moved to other quarters and  the apartments were available for civilian rentals. In 1946 nursing students lived in the apartments and by 1950 it was  a women's dormitory.  the building was renovated in 1978 and again in 2002.  By 2010 housed 64 students in suite-style rooms with full kitchens on each floor.

Syracuse, NY. Washington Arms Apartments.  621 Walnut Ave. 1928. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2013)

Other CNY Early Modern Buildings:


  1. Hi I am Jyoti Sharma. I suggest you a suitable rental office in Noida is what every business needs. This type of office is a perfect choice for small and large businesses. If you need a new office location or an additional office space for your business, Office for Rent in Noida can answer your needs.

  2. Syracuse, NY Washington Arms Apartments are just mesmerizing offering the travelers to the city best of amenities and services.

  3. Fast, efficient and friendly: Oxford is rated as one of the best real estate firms in NYC by agents and clients. Find out why when you buy, rent, sell, or join our dynamic team. NYC Office Space for sale