Audubon Park Historic District Walking Tour
Berler-Levy House Architectural Rendering
(click to enlarge)
Mr. Berler, who holds title to a number of parcels on the heights, became interested in the housing solution several months ago.  Believing that there was a demand and a good market for the duplex or two-family dwelling of the better type, he planned and built the structure at 809 Riverside Drive as a model.
New York Times
February 12, 1922

The large buildings [on the southeast side of Riverside Drive] were erected some years ago facing Audubon Park upon the assumption that the Riverside Park system would naturally be extended north of 155th Street...These groups of buildings ...have made the 157th Street district a most attractive and high class residential centre, contributing by their influence to the construction and occupation of other high class properties.  Any interference with their attractiveness...would have a detrimental effect upon other values...
A Statement by Washington Heights Taxpayers Association

Second Wave of Development
No doubt, the lovely double-house directly across the street from the Grinnell's front entrance has already caught your eye. By the 1920s, the ever-increasing need for housing in Manhattan enhanced the market for developing the land on the western side of Riverside Drive, beginning with the Berler-Levy house at the corner of Riverside Drive and 158th Street.

Berler-Levy House (809/811 Riverside Drive)
In 1920, Nathan Berler, a wholesale clothing manufacturer, and lawyer Charles Levy, built the Berler-Levy duplex as a prototype for an alternative to apartment dwelling in Washington Heights. As a form, the houses replicated the Soulard-Miller house, which was still standing then, approximately fifty feet from Berler and Levy's "innovative design." Although Berler owned several parcels of land in the vicinity, this was the only duplex example he built. Significantly, his next foray into development would be the adjacent apartment house at 807 Riverside Drive.

The two joined brick houses, designed by Moore & Landsiedel in a Spanish style, feature a tiled roof and a one-story conservatory at either end. Notice the arched windows with fanlights, the pairs of Doric columns flanking each door and a balustrade at each window.

The Berlers moved from 809 Riverside Drive in the 1930s, but owned the house and adjoining apartment building until 1951. The New York Times reported on May 27, 1930 that “the three-day dwelling at 809 Riverside Drive, fronting 48 feet and adjoining the south corner of 158th Street, has been leased by Louis Robison from Nasarolu, Inc., Nathan Berler president, through the Houghton Company, as brokers. The house, which was built only seven years ago, contains a $25,000 organ and a garage. It receives heat and hot water from 807 Riverside Drive, the adjoining apartment house, also owned by Mr. Berler." 

The organ, listed in The New York Organ Project as a Welte, Op. 121 (built in 1920), was probably an orchestrion, a home organ equivalent of a player piano, featuring organ pipes as well as percussion effects, and perhaps even a piano. (An owner in the 1960s removed it; its location is lost.)  In 1934, Nasarolu, Inc. leased the house to Louis Berkowitz for three years, after which the house changed hands several times before the present owners purchased and began renovating it in the mid-2000s.

Dr. Luigi Capobianco purchased 811 Riverside Drive along with the three-car garage in May 1942 and practiced medicine in one of the first floor rooms, housing his family in the remainder. After his death, the house remained in the Capobianco family until 1979, after which it passed through the McCloud family to the present owner, who has lived there since 1997.

809-811 Riverside Drive
(click to enlarge)
Soulard-Miller House
(click to enlarge)
This architectural rendering of the Berler-Levy houses appeared in the New York Times as construction was begining
Built in the mid-1860s and remodeled over the next decades, the Soulard-Miller house was still standing when Berler and Levy built their version in 1922
Crew of L&A: SVU shoveling snow before a shoot
Continue your walk . . .
Funded by the Audubon Park Alliance