Tag Archives: 1931

1 Christopher Street

1 Christopher Street

1 Christopher Street is an imposing Neo-Federalist apartment house in the heart of Greenwich Village, towering over nearby landmarks Stonewall Inn and Jefferson Market Courthouse.

The 16-story structure was built in 1931. Architects Van Wart & Wein designed One Christopher six years after their Beekman Mansions on E 51st Street. The pair are an interesting contrast. One Christopher is best viewed from afar, as its best architectural details are a dozen stories up. Beekman Mansions is best viewed close up, as its architectural details are in the four-story base.

Retail spaces are at street level along the Greenwich Avenue facade; 131 rental apartments – studios and one-bedroom units – rise above.

Largely because of the views, City Realty calls the building “one of the finest pre-war rental apartment buildings in Greenwich Village.” Thanks to Greenwich Village’s landmark status, those views will be preserved for decades to come.

1 Christopher Street Vital Statistics
1 Christopher Street Recommended Reading

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230 Riverside Drive

230 Riverside Drive is relatively plain on its 15 lower floors, but blossoms above the setback with gargoyles, arcades and glass-canopied penthouse.

The landmarked building was converted to condominiums in 2004. According to Street Easy NY, the sponsor renovated the 268 units in three classes. High-end apartments were lavishly fitted with the finest appliances and amenities, including heated bathroom floors. Some units were renovated “in a more economical sense,” and some units were offered as “do-it-yourself” units.

However, under guidance of conversion architect H. Thomas O’Hara, the sponsor did preserve and restore the structure’s terra cotta.

While the facade’s style is Medieval Revival, the lobby is designed in Art Deco. It was last renovated in 2011.

230 Riverside Drive Vital Statistics
230 Riverside Drive 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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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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General Electric Building

The General Electric Building (like the GE Building in Rockefeller Center) was originally designed for RCA-Victor (the merged Radio Corporation of America and Victor Talking Machine Corporation) in 1929. RCA wanted a headquarters building to express the company’s identity.

Architects Cross & Cross designed a 50-story Gothic/Art Deco tower rich in electricity/radio wave symbolism to convey RCA’s corporate identity. The brick and terra cotta design was crafted to blend in with its neighbors on the block, St. Bartholomew’s Church to the west and (St. Patrick’s) Cathedral High School to the south. (The high school has since been replaced.)

While the building was under construction, RCA negotiated independence from parent General Electric – and a move to an even bigger headquarters in Rockefeller Center. As part of the settlement, General Electric took over the tower at Lexington Avenue and E51st Street. Luckily, the electric bolts and radio waves also worked for GE’s identity. Only the logo on the corner clock seems to have been changed!

The General Electric Building was completed in December 1931; in the mid-1980s the windows were replaced. The building achieved NYC landmark status in July 1985. In 1995 the building was donated to Columbia University, which extensively restored the structure – notably the lobby. Entered into the National Register of Historic Places in January 2004.

General Electric Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 570 Lexington Avenue at E 51st Street
  • Year completed: 1931
  • Architect: Cross & Cross
  • Floors: 50
  • Style: Art Deco
  • New York City Landmark: 1985
  • National Register of Historic Places: 2004
General Electric Building Suggested Reading
  • Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report
  • Docomomo entry (Docomomo stands for the documentation and conservation of buildings, sites and neighborhoods of the modern movement)

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Nelson Tower

Nelson Tower (after Julius Nelson, the developer) is one of the tallest buildings in the Garment District, built at a time when everyone seemed to be racing to be tallest. The building’s architect, H. Craig Severance, also designed 40 Wall Street – one of the “world’s tallest” contenders of the day. Alas, 60-story One Penn Plaza now looms over 46-story Nelson Tower from across 34th Street.

The distinctive white crown can be seen throughout the neighborhood; polychrome brick spandrels enhance the vertical lines.

Other prominent buildings designed by H. Craig Severance include 40 Wall Street (aka The Trump Building, Bank of Manhattan Trust Building), Taft Hotel, and the Montague-Court Building.

Nelson Tower Vital Statistics
  • Location: 450 Seventh Avenue between W 34th and W 35th Streets
  • Year completed: 1931
  • Architect: H. Craig Severance
  • Floors: 46
  • Style: Art Deco
Nelson Tower Suggested Reading

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Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is still New York City’s most-visited landmark, even though it lost “world’s tallest skyscraper” title in 1972. The building claims four million visitors a year to its 86th and 102nd floor observatories; the building reputedly makes more money from observatory ticket sales than from rents.

Books have been written about the Empire State Building (one of the best is linked below) – we’ll just hit the highlights here:

  • The land under the Empire State Building is part of a six-square-block tract that the City sold to John Thompson for $2,600 in 1799. He farmed the land, and sold it for $10,000 in 1825. Two years later William B. Astor bought the farm for $20,500. In 1859 and 1862 the Astors built two mansions on the plot now occupied by the Empire State Building. In 1893 and 1897 those mansions were demolished to make way for the Waldorf Hotel and Astoria Hotel, which were operated jointly as the Waldorf-Astoria. In 1928 the Bethlehem Engineering Corporation bought the properties for $20 million.
  • General Motors executive John J. Raskob set up The Empire State Corporation in 1929, with four-time New York Governor (and Democratic presidential candidate) Al Smith as President.
  • It took five months to demolish the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel; two months to excavate the site for construction; 13 months to build the Empire State Building.
  • Architects Shreve, Lamb and Harmon produced drawings for the Empire State Building in just two weeks – based on their earlier designs for the Reynolds Building (Winston-Salem, NC) and Carew Tower (Cincinnati, OH).
  • Under budget: The Empire State Building was erected in less time (13.5 months vs 18 months) and for less money ($24.7 million vs $43 million) than budgeted.
  • President Hoover officially opened the Empire State Building by pushing a button in Washington, D.C. on May 1, 1931. (May 1 was the traditional lease-signing day in New York City.)
  • Bad timing: The building opened during the Great Depression, and for years was derided as the “Empty State Building” for lack of tenants.
  • Lights: The Empire State Building has always used lights to attract attention. A November, 1932 beacon celebrated the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as President. In May, 1956, four “Freedom Lights” beacons were installed. In 1964 the building installed floodlights, commemorating the New York World’s Fair. In November 2012, the Empire State Building switched on LED lights, replacing the floodlights.
  • 1933: “King Kong” is released.
  • 1945: An Army Air Force B-25 bomber en route to Newark swerved to miss the fog-shrouded Chrysler Building – and crashed into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building.
  • 1950: The Empire State Building grew 217 feet via a new broadcast antenna, after the FCC ordered an end to NBC’s exclusive use of the tower.
  • 1978: First Annual ESB Run-Up competition. Record time: 9 minutes, 33 seconds from ground floor to 86th floor.
Empire State Building Vital Statistics
Empire State Building Recommended Reading

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The Carlyle

The Carlyle Hotel and Carlyle House are next door neighbors on Madison Avenue, both designed by architects Bien & Prince and so closely matched you might not notice that they’re separate buildings. The hotel has the 40-story green-and-gilt-capped tower – and gilt-edged history to go with it.

The yellow brick and limestone buildings had an inauspicious start: Just two years after their 1930 opening, the hotel and apartment building were auctioned off, victims of the 1929 stock market crash. New owners kept the properties afloat financially, and in 1948 sold to Robert Whittle Downing. Downing is credited with turning The Carlyle into an elegant, fashionable address.

U.S. Presidents from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton visited The Carlyle, but President Kennedy made it the “New York White House.” He had purchased an apartment in The Carlyle’s tower when he was a Senator. You can spot the apartment today by the breakfast nook that sticks out of the north side of the tower.

Kennedy wasn’t alone in modifying the tower – scan the facades and you’ll find a number of irregular windows.

Today, the hotel tower contains 180 guest rooms and suites, and 60 privately owned residences. The apartment building has 43 residences.

The Carlyle Vital Statistics
The Carlyle Recommended Reading

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275 Madison Avenue

275 Madison Avenue (originally known as 22 E 40th Street) is an Art Deco landmark in midtown Manhattan. Its polished black granite and silver base continues to be a striking presence more than three quarters of a century after construction. (If only mere mortals had such staying power!)

In contrast to other commercial buildings of the day, 275 Madison had almost no decoration above the base. The tower was promoted as a “shadowless” skyscraper (because there were no projecting cornices, sculptures or other features to cast shadows), though some critics say the lack of ornament was simply a cost-saving measure dictated by the stock market crash. The building’s vertical lines are accentuated by dark columns of windows against a white-brick background.

Architect Kenneth Franzheim is best known for his work in Houston, for Houston-based developer Jesse Jones. It was Jones’ New York-based firm, Houston Properties Corporation, that developed 275 Madison Avenue with New York Trust as the prime tenant. (The bank owned two of the five lots used to build the tower.) In 1933, Johns-Manville Corporation leased 14 floors, so the structure is sometimes called the Johns-Manville Building. However, Johns-Manville already had its own building a block away, on Madison Avenue at E 41st Street.

Despite 275 Madison Avenue’s address, the tower’s main entrance is actually on E 40th Street – and the building was originally known as 22 E 40th Street.

At this writing, 275 Madison Ave. is owned by RFR Realty.

275 Madison Avenue Vital Statistics
275 Madison Avenue Recommended Reading

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