253 West 73rd Street (Level Club)
Type: Apartment Building (originally a club)
Architect: Clinton and Russell
Developer/Owner/Builder: The Freemasons
Primary Style: Neo-Romanesque
Façade (primary material): Brick
Wish List: Wishes Come True
The Level Club sits on a side street midblock in the shadow of its more celebrated neighbor, the landmark Ansonia Hotel. It is nonetheless a monument to the gradiose aspirations of its Masonic builders, who called themselves the “Levelers.” No one who passes this towering, 17-story, Neo-Romanesque structure can help but marvel at its polychrome façade replete with Masonic symbols, such as the all-seeing eye, and topped by modern setbacks. The building is partly the result of a friendly rivalry with the Shriners, another Masonic group, over who could build a better “fort.” In 1923, the Shriners completed the Mecca Temple (now City Center) straight through from 55th to 56th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, using the same architects, Clinton & Russell, who would soon design the Level Club. (At around the same time, the Knights of Pythias were building the Pythian Temple of West 70th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, now part of the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District.) The Levelers aimed to create a central clubhouse on the scale of such so-called “high-rise urban clubs” as the Yale Club on West 44th Street (James Gamble Rogers, 1915). The Levelers’ ambitions were short-lived. The 1929 stock market crash ruined the club, and their grand fort became a commercial hotel under a series of names until it was converted to condominiums and renovated, with considerable care given to preserving its architectural integrity, in the 1980s.