Cliff Dwelling
243 Riverside Drive at 96th Street
Herman Lee Meader, 1914

No list of unique Upper West Side buildings would be complete without including the Cliff Dwelling, striking for its unusual floorplan and its Native American-inspired terra-cotta ornamentation. The footprint of this dramatic, 12-story apartment building conforms to its triangular lot, created where the curve of Riverside Drive intersects with West 96th Street. The northern end of the building is only nine feet wide. Large terra-cotta friezes featuring cow skulls, twin-headed snakes, and mountain lions in low relief span the Riverside Drive façade. The architect, Herman Lee Meader, apparently used these so-called "Pueblo Deco" motifs to draw an amusingly appropriate parallel between the habitats of ancient Southwest American cultures and modern, apartment-living New Yorkers. The Cliff Dwelling, one of Meader's earliest works designed shortly after he started his own practice, opened as a residential hotel in 1916 and was converted to apartments in 1931. Possibly Meader was inspired by the 1915 Panama-California Exposition at Balboa Park in San Diego, where the New Mexico Pavilion was a popular venue. Rich, creative ornament plays an equally important role in Meader's other New York works, including a loft building clad in polychrome terra cotta at 14th Street and Seventh Avenue and a building with pre-Colombian-themed ornament at 25th Street and Lexington Avenue.