Tag Archives: Art Deco

American Radiator Building

Passers-by are probably puzzled by the industrial-strength gilt-painted chimerae on Bryant Park Hotel – if they even lift their eyes to the third floor level. But the figures make perfect sense in the context of the facade’s original owners, American Radiator and Standard Sanitary Company.

Originally, this was the American Radiator Building and later known as the American Standard Building. The ground floor initially contained showrooms for the company’s bathroom fixtures.

The 23-story tower still stands out for its colors – black brick trimmed in gold – and unconventional shape. One architecture critic called it “the most daring experiment in color in modern buildings yet made in America.”

According to the Wikipedia article, the building is based on a design submitted for the Chicago Tribune building.

The building was converted to a hotel in 2001; it has New York City landmark status, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Bryant Park Hotel Vital Statistics
  • Location: 40 W 40th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
  • Year completed: 1924
  • Architect: Raymond Hood and André Fouilhoux
  • Floors: 23
  • Style: Gothic/Art Deco
  • New York City Landmark: 1974
  • National Register of Historic Places: 1980
Bryant Park Hotel Suggested Reading

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Fred F French Building

The Fred F. French building was constructed in 1926-27 as headquarters of real estate developer Frederick Fillmore French (who built Tudor City, among other projects). French’s own architect, H. Douglas Ives, collaborated with John Sloan (Sloan & Robertson) to create the Art Deco-cum-Babylonian design. Setbacks are outlined in colorful terra cotta; the massive top panels are of faience, a more expensive glazed version.

The building’s lobby and Fifth Avenue vestibule are small but stunning for their rich colors and gilding. At this writing (August 2012) the ground floor retail space is being renovated for a Tommy Bahama store – one hopes that the storefronts will be in character with the building. The 38-floor French Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004 and became a New York City landmark in 1986.

Sad Admission Department: For many years, I worked one block away from this building and never noticed it.

Fred F. French Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 551 Fifth Avenue at E 45th Street
  • Year completed: 1927
  • Architect: H. Douglas Ives and John Sloan
  • Floors: 38
  • Style: Art Deco
  • New York City Landmark: 1986
  • National Register of Historic Places: 2004
Fred F. French Building Suggested Reading

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Chrysler Building

Volumes have already been written about the Chrysler Building, so I’ll keep this short.

The Chrysler Building is among the very few landmarks that define New York City’s skyline. It’s the unmistakable DNA marker that – like the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty – proclaims “New York.”

Besides being unique, the Chrysler Building is beautiful. The silhouette, the crown, the setbacks, the gargoyles, the brickwork, the detailing are all beautiful. There is so much complexity and subtlety at work – such as the black brick accents at the corners that accentuate the building’s vertical lines.

Here are a few facts, with links to a wealth of fascinating articles, and my humble addition to the building’s ever-growing photographic record.

Chrysler Building Fast Facts
  • The Chrysler Building began life as the Reynolds Building – a project for real estate developer and former New York State senator William H. Reynolds.
  • The Chrysler Building was never owned or financed by the Chrysler Corporation – it was the personal project of Walter P. Chrysler.
  • The land under the Chrysler Building is owned by Cooper Union; the architect – William Van Alen – studied at Pratt.
  • The Chrysler Building and Manhattan Building (40 Wall Street, now the Trump Building) competed for “tallest” designation; their architects, William Van Alen and H. Craig Severance, had been partners before they became competitors.
  • Van Alen had to sue Walter Chrysler to collect his fee; he won, but the suit wrecked his career. After designing one of the most famous buildings of all time, Van Alen wound up teaching sculpture.
  • The Chrysler Building is now part of the “Chrysler Center,” managed by Tishman-Speyer, which also includes Chrysler East and Chrysler Trylons.
  • Chrysler Center is now 90% owned by Abu Dhabi Investment Council
Chrysler Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 405 Lexington Avenue between E 42nd and E 43rd Streets
  • Year completed: 1930
  • Architect: William Van Alen
  • Floors: 77
  • Style: Art Deco
  • New York City Landmark: 1978
  • National Register of Historic Places: 1976
Chrysler Building Suggested Reading

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Beekman Tower Hotel

Originally known as Panhellenic Tower, the 28-story Beekman Tower Hotel was conceived by the New York Chapter of the Panhellenic Association in 1921 as a 14-story residence for female college grads. The association of Greek-letter college sororities wanted to provide affordable housing for women who were just entering the workforce in the years after World War I.

The building was completed in 1929 – delayed until the association raised enough money (through stock and mortgage) to buy land and build. The architect, John Mead Howells, also designed Pratt’s Memorial Hall and Columbia’s St. Paul’s Chapel. However, Howells was the Panhellenic Association’s second choice: Their original architect, Donn Barber, died before the land was purchased.

The building’s name changed to Beekman Tower Hotel and its clientele changed to include men during the 1930s, to stay viable through the Depression.

The lighter-colored bricks seen today are the result of repairs in 1996-97; originally the tower had a uniform orange-tan color. The deeply recessed columns of windows give the building its strong vertical lines. The glassed-in “Top of the Tower” enclosure was added in 1959.

While cited as an example of Art Deco architecture, the building’s decoration is relatively sparse (compared to other NY examples such as Rockefeller Center, Chanin Building and Chrysler Building). Greek-letter tiles on the ground floor reveal the hotel’s sorority lineage.

Beekman Tower Hotel Vital Statistics
  • Location: 3 Mitchell Place at First Avenue
  • Year completed: 1929
  • Architect: John Mead Howells
  • Floors: 28
  • Style: Art Deco
  • New York City Landmark: 1998
Beekman Tower Hotel Suggested 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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Mercantile Building

The Mercantile Building, once considered the world’s fourth-tallest building, was owned by Frederick William Vanderbilt. Frederick was grandson of Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt, whose New York Central Railroad was headquartered a few blocks away in what is now the Helmsley Building.

The building was also known as Chase Tower – named for Chase Brass and Copper, not the bank.

The Mercantile Building was the last building in New York City to leave Thomas Edison’s original DC (direct current) power grid. It switched to AC on Nov. 14, 2007.

Mercantile Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 10 E 40th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues
  • Year completed: 1929
  • Architect: Ludlow & Peabody
  • Floors: 48
  • Style: Art Deco
Mercantile Building Suggested Reading

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Health, Hospitals, and Sanitation Building

The Health, Hospitals, and Sanitation Building (formerly NYC Department of Health Building) overlooks Thomas Paine Park and Foley Square, surrounded by the federal, state and city courts of Manhattan’s Civic Center. It’s a restrained Art Deco granite cube, 10 stories high, pierced on the Leonard Street side by a light court above the third floor.

The principal decorations are bronze grillwork and torcheres, and health-themed medallions on the sides of the building by Oscar Bach, whose work also adorns Radio City Music Hall, the Woolworth, Chrysler, and Empire State Buildings – among other landmarks.

The joy is in the details.

Health, Hospitals, and Sanitation Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 125 Worth Street, between Lafayette and Centre Streets
  • Year completed: 1935
  • Architect: Charles B. Meyers
  • Floors: 10
  • Style: Art Deco
Health, Hospitals, and Sanitation Building Suggested Reading
  • Department of Citywide Administrative Services listing
  • Emporis database
  • Ephemeral New York blog
  • Eating in Translation blog

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Friends House

Friends House (originally the B.W. Mayer Building) seems Mayan-inspired in its brickwork, terra cotta snakes and skulls, and turquoise details. The architect, Herman Lee Meader, also designed the Cliff Dwelling apartments on Riverside Drive and the Mayan-inspired 154-160 West 14th Street.

As the B.W. Mayer Building, it was originally offices; then for many years it was a trade school. In 1994 the Quakers purchased the building and restored it, converting the structure to a group residence.

Friends House Vital Statistics
  • Location: 130 E 25th Street at Lexington Avenue
  • Year completed: 1916
  • Architect: Herman Lee Meader
  • Floors: 7
  • Style: Art Deco
Friends House Suggested Reading

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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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New Yorker Hotel

New Yorker Hotel was once an elegant celebrity-studded 2,500-room property – New York City’s largest when it opened in 1930. Convenient to Pennsylvania Station, it boasted five restaurants, a 42-chair barbershop, and platoons of snappily-uniformed bellboys.

Architecturally, the 43-floor Art Deco tower was (and is) quite plain; apart from size and shape, the building’s most prominent feature is the four-story, west-facing red “NEW YORKER” sign in the crown.

As the big-band era faded, so did New Yorker’s glitter; by the 1960s the hotel (then owned by Hilton) was in decline, financially, and closed in 1972. The World Unification Church (Rev. Sun Myung Moon) bought the hotel in 1975. By 1994 the church decided to re-open the building as a hotel – starting with 178 rooms and a $20 million renovation. Ramada granted a franchise in 2000. The hotel spent an additional $70 million on renovations 2007-2009; the property now has 900+ rooms on floors 19-40. In addition, Educational Housing Services uses five floors (9, 14, 16, 17, 18) for student housing.

New Yorker Hotel’s architects, the firm of Sugarman and Berger, have several other prominent New York City buildings, including: Gramercy Arms Apartments, Broadway Fashion Building, One Fifth Avenue, Millennium Towers North/Navarro Building, Paris Hotel/Paris Apartments.

New Yorker Hotel Vital Statistics
  • Location: 481 Eighth Avenue between W 34th and W 35th Streets
  • Year completed: 1930
  • Architect: Sugarman and Berger
  • Floors: 43
  • Style: Art Deco
New Yorker Hotel Suggested Reading

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