Tag Archives: Art Deco

888 Grand Concourse

888 Grand Concourse

888 Grand Concourse has seen better days. But even in decline, the curvaceous Art Deco landmark is striking and memorable. The bold corner treatment, in particular, stands out for its concave gilt and mosaic entry.

The Emery Roth-designed apartment building stands at E 161st Street, across the “Boulevard of Dreams” from the old Bronx County Courthouse. In 2009, The New York Times called 888 “a particular stunner, a medley of curves, scallops and concave spaces executed in black granite, bronze, stainless steel, marble mosaic and gold stripes.”

Since then, the building has fallen on hard times. In 2013, the Daily News reported that the apartment house had 341 open violations and was one of the Bronx’s ten worst buildings. In February 2016 tenants staged a rent strike, and the building is in foreclosure, according to The Real Deal. The New York Real Estate news site described the building as “rat-infested.”

One can only hope that the landmark emerges from foreclosure with an owner that can rehabilitate the building.

888 Grand Concourse Vital Statistics
888 Grand Concourse Recommended Reading

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Post Towers

Post Towers, built in 1926 as the New York Evening Post Building, is a residential conversion in New York’s Financial District. The 21-story Art Deco building was the Post’s second headquarters, after the landmark building on Vesey Street.

Post Towers’ architectural distinction is the colorful geometric terra cotta design in the crown. This was recently cleaned and restored, and is best seen from across West Street.

When built, this (and all buildings on the east side of West Street) was on the waterfront. Battery Park City is built on landfill from the excavation for the original World Trade Towers.

Post Towers Vital Statistics
Post Towers Recommended Reading

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Park Plaza Apartments

Park Plaza Apartments is one of the first Art Deco apartment houses to be built in the Bronx. It was designed by the prolific team of Horace Ginsberg and Marvin Fine, who built dozens of buildings on and around the Grand Concourse, including the Fish Building and Noonan Plaza Apartments. Bold, colorful glazed terra cotta enlivens the 365-foot-wide facade.

Ginsberg (who later changed his name to Ginsbern) specialized in the design and layout of apartments, while Fine specialized in the elevations – the facades. Fine began his career working for Cass Gilbert, the architect of the Woolworth Building, among other landmarks. But while working for Ginsberg – in the midst of the Park Plaza project – Fine broke with his classical training and experience to embrace “modernistic” design. Fine credited the work of William Van Alen (Chrysler Building) and Raymond Hood (American Radiator Building) as his inspiration.

The Park Plaza Apartments is on an L-shaped site with its long side on Jerome Avenue; the base pokes through the block to Anderson Avenue. The eight-story building, viewed from the front, has five blocks or wings separated by courtyards. Initially, the building was to have 10 floors. During construction, fire destroyed the building, and the Department of Buildings imposed a lower height for the rebuilt apartments.

When built, Park Plaza Apartments promoted its quiet views of Jerome Park. Part of the park remains (Mullaly Park), but the New Yankee Stadium occupies what was Macombs Dam Park, across the street. So much for quiet.

(At this writing, facade repairs spoil the picture; I hope to re-photograph the building when the scaffolding is removed.)

Park Plaza Apartments Vital Statistics
Park Plaza Apartments Recommended Reading

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Buffalo City Hall

Buffalo City Hall is the city’s most dramatic building. When built, it was among the largest, tallest and most expensive city halls in the country. But it’s the style and ornamentation that makes this structure so impressive.

From the richly carved granite base to the illuminated polychrome terra cotta crown, the soaring tower of limestone and sandstone is finely detailed to accentuate the skyscraper’s height and Buffalo’s place in history.

City fathers enlisted the talents of skilled artisans: Albert T. Stewart for the portico frieze; William de Leftwich Dodge for the lobby murals; René Chambellan for detail sculpture; Bryant Baker for bronze statues of Presidents Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland; ceiling vault by Rafael Guastavino.

Beyond Buffalo City Hall’s artistic merits, the landmark has some notable architectural features. Instead of merely cloning each floor, plans were customized to meet the needs of the city departments that were to occupy the spaces. All of the building’s 1,520 windows open inward, so they can be washed from the inside. Offices were originally cooled by a “green” wind-powered ventilation system: Large vents in the western facade channeled strong winds off Lake Erie through cool subterranean chambers and then back through the building.

Local lore pokes Buffalo politicians. Architect John Wade designed the Common Council Chamber with pillars, each to hold busts of famous Buffalonians. But Council members could not agree who was to be honored. Plan B emerged, to have each pillar display the virtues – such as Fidelity, Prudence, and Faithfulness – of Councilmen. Ever since, the public has asked why Honesty, Efficiency and Economy are missing.

Although City Hall is no longer Buffalo’s tallest building – it was overtaken by One Seneca Tower in 1970 – the 28th floor observation deck is still a favorite tourist stop. The city provides free tours of the building, daily at noon.

Buffalo City Hall Vital Statistics
Buffalo City Hall Recommended Reading

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Fish Building

Fish Building is “one of the most astonishing apartment houses in the Bronx, indeed in New York City,” wrote Christopher Gray in his July 15, 2007 New York Times Streetscapes column. The six-story building, aka 1150 Grand Concourse, is an Art Deco delight designed by Horace Ginsbern and Marvin Fine. This Grand Concourse landmark gets its name from the aquarium motif mosaic at the main entry.

But Mr. Gray decries the structure’s decline. “HOW do old buildings disappear? Sometimes all at once, under the wrecking ball. But more often they fade away on little cat’s feet, first the cornice, then a doorway, then the windows, then a balcony … leaving behind nothing but an architectural zombie.” And indeed, historical photos that accompany the Streetscapes column show an even more fantastic Fish Building existed some 50-odd years ago. The original cornice, roof railing, windows and door have been replaced with unimaginative substitutes.

Clever Design

At least one aspect of the building’s design is permanent: Its adaptation to the irregular street grid.

The Grand Concourse was designed as a scenic boulevard, and as such it meanders to follow the terrain, often at an odd angle to the street grid. Such is the case at Mc Clellan Street. The Fish Building accommodates the boulevard’s zig with a stepped western facade that artfully hides the skewed grid, and keeps apartment walls rectangular. See the floor plans from Columbia University’s New York Real Estate Brochure Collection.

If the outside of 1150 Grand Concourse is exceptional, the inside is absolutely stunning. The terrazzo floor, murals, light fixtures and boldly decorated elevators are a joy to behold.

If the Fish Building leaves you wanting more, you can visit nearby Park Plaza Apartments. It’s located at 1005 Jerome Avenue, across the street from Yankee Stadium. This grander-scaled apartment building was also designed in Art Deco style by Ginsbern and Fine. It features bold, colorful terra cotta details definitely worth the trip.

Fish Building Vital Statistics
Fish Building Recommended Reading

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The Majestic Apartments, like sister building The Century, is a scaled-down version of Irwin Chanin’s original concept. Nonetheless, it is a New York architectural landmark for its Art Deco style – simultaneously bold and austere.

According to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), Chanin envisioned a 45-story full-service apartment hotel for the site. The single-tower design was to replace the Hotel Majestic of 1894. The stock market crash changed all that; The Majestic became a twin-towered 32-story apartment house. Chanin’s “experimental” use of Art Deco in a residential context was stripped to its essentials, relying almost entirely on economic brickwork for ornamentation.

The design contrasts with even his own Art Deco commercial design, the 1929 Chanin Building. The office tower employed marble, bronze and terra cotta ornamentation of the base and tower. (Although the Chanin Building was designed by the Sloan & Robertson firm, Chanin supervised the exterior detailing, the LPC said.)

The Majestic’s cantilevered steel frame was an important innovation, which made wraparound “solaria” windows possible.

The building became a cooperative in 1958.

The Majestic Vital Statistics
The Majestic Recommended Reading

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The Century Apartments is among New York’s finest examples of Art Deco and residential architecture, and a nationally-recognized landmark. Yet it was only the architect’s “Plan B”!

The building is one of a pair of twin-towered Art Deco landmarks (the other is The Majestic) designed and built by Irwin S. Chanin along Central Park West. Both were constructed almost simultaneously, though The Majestic started and opened earlier. Both buildings were named for their predecessors – Century Theatre and Hotel Majestic. And both buildings used then-innovative cantilevered steel frames that allowed corner windows.

According to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission report, Chanin considered The Century to be the finer of the two buildings. But the structure is a far cry from what Chanin had envisioned. He had purchased the entire block and in 1929 proposed a 65-story “Palais de France.” The office and hotel tower were to house the French consulate and tourist board, offices of French commercial firms, three stories of exhibition space for French goods, and shops on the ground floor. Chanin failed to secure financing from French banks, however, and he abandoned Palais de France in 1930. The Century was half as tall and half the area of Chanin’s dream.

The building’s apartments were scaled down from those of The Majestic because of the difficulty in renting large apartments during the Depression. Originally the structure held 417 suites in 52 different layouts. Over the years, some apartments have been combined; the building now has about 350 units.

An investment group purchased The Century in 1982 and attempted to turn it co-op. The NY Attorney General nixed the deal, but in 1989 a condominium conversion passed after a long, bitter battle with tenants.

The Century has been home to numerous celebrities, but the most recent celebrities paid no rent: Peregrine Falcons nesting in the south tower!

The Century Vital Statistics
The Century Recommended Reading

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2 Park Avenue

2 Park Avenue is “one of [Ely Jacques] Kahn’s most dramatic and successful works and survives today as one of the most beautiful and distinctive office towers of the Art Deco period,” in the words of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).

LPC continued, “Kahn was able to successfully integrate a new decorative type produced by the application of colorful terra-cotta panels in geometric designs to a tall, commercially successful office/loft structure. 2 Park Avenue was one of the important late 1920s buildings that helped create the visually lively and iconic city of the early 20th century.”

According to the commission, the building’s developers were not sure what they wanted to do with the structure. The neighborhood was in transition, and the dominant commercial tenant was unknown. The owners asked Kahn to design a building that could be used as offices and showrooms or for light manufacturing.

2 Park Avenue Vital Statistics
2 Park Avenue Recommended Reading

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711 Brightwater Court

711 Brightwater Court is a colorful six-story Art Deco apartment building in Brighton Beach, “Little Odessa,” a short block from the Boardwalk.

Confession: I didn’t discover this by researching in AIA Guide to New York City or NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. I spotted it in an episode of the sci-fi series “Person of Interest.” (The program uses NYC locales even to masquerade as foreign cities.)

Some of the terra cotta needs repair or replacement, but I hope I look as good when I reach 80 years old!

I couldn’t find the name of the architect – if anyone knows, please let me know via the Contact form. Thanks!

711 Brightwater Court Vital Statistics
711 Brightwater Court Recommended Reading

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Where Do I Get Inspiration?

With a million buildings in the New York Metropolitan Area, how does one decide what to photograph and research?

Books are one source of inspiration. Initially, the “AIA Guide to New York City” was my main guide. But after the architecture bug has taken hold, inspiration comes from everywhere.

This morning, I’m off to Brighton Beach because I saw (and subsequently tracked down with Google Street View) 711 Brightwater Court in a “Person of Interest” episode. Gorgeous Art Deco, seems to be in good shape – I just hope it’s not time for the building’s Local Law 11 maintenance and attendant scaffolding.

My Plan B is to shoot five other buildings in the seven adjoining blocks. Stay tuned.