Tag Archives: beaux arts

Broadway Chambers Building

Babe Ruth has a couple of things in common with Cass Gilbert, architect of the Broadway Chambers Building. Both were superstars in their field, and both came to New York via Boston. (But Cass Gilbert came 20 years ahead of the Babe.) *

According to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, St. Paul, Minnesota-based Gilbert became prominent for his 1893 design of the Minnesota State Capitol. That led to an 1896 commission to design a commercial building – the Second Brazer Building – in Boston. Alexander Porter, an investor in that project, was so impressed with Gilbert’s work that he introduced him to Edward Andrews, who happened to be looking for someone to design a new building on Broadway at Chambers Street.

The resulting Broadway Chambers Building, begun in March 1899, was Gilbert’s first project in New York. It was immediately successful – and followed by nine other architectural landmarks by 1936. (Babe Ruth’s career closed in 1935.)

Like other tall buildings of the era, the Broadway Chambers Building was designed like a classical column, with base, shaft, and capital. Gilbert used the then-popular Beaux Arts style of ornamentation, with a twist dictated by Andrews: Color, to make the building stand out among the monochromatic neighbors.

The three-story base is of pink granite; the 11-story shaft is of red and blue brick; and the four-story capital is of beige terra cotta with blue, green, yellow and pink accents, and a green copper cornice. The base and crown are deeply rusticated (the joints between the blocks of granite or terra cotta are deeply incised). The brickwork of the middle floors has bands of raised brick that mimics (in reverse) the rustication.

While the Broadway Chambers Building was Cass Gilbert’s first New York project, his most famous building was erected three blocks south and 13 years later: The Woolworth Building (celebrating its centennial in 1913). Gilbert’s other New York City landmark buildings include: United States Custom House (1907), 90 West Street Building (1907), Rodin Studios (1917), New York Life Insurance Company (1928), 130 W30th Street (1928), Audubon Terrace auditorium and art gallery (1928), New York County Lawyers’ Association (1930), and United States Courthouse (1936 – completed after Gilbert’s death in 1934).

* OK, I know I just gave architects and architectural historians massive heart attacks by coupling a great architect with a mere baseball player. I accept that I am forever banned from the Society of Architectural Historians and the American Institute of Architects. But this is a website aimed at non-professionals.

Broadway Chambers Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 277 Broadway at Chambers Street
  • Year completed: 1900
  • Architect: Cass Gilbert
  • Floors: 18
  • Style: Beaux Arts
  • New York City Landmark: 1992
Broadway Chambers Building Suggested Reading

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Astor Building

The Astor Building, built on the site of former Astor family homes, was beautifully restored during a 1996 condominium conversion after years of neglect. The gleaming white brick and terra cotta facade has the distinction of treating every floor differently.

The building was originally lofts for garment industry manufacturing. From 1993 to 2004 this was the home of The New Museum for Contemporary Art – occupying the ground floor and basement. The building’s owners tried to convert it to a luxury hotel, but failed; new owners stepped in with a condo conversion. Though the museum moved out, the building still calls itself “The New Museum Building.” Read the Daytonian in Manhattan blog for more fascinating (sometimes bizarre) history.

And then just enjoy the building, a floor at a time.

Astor Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 583 Broadway, between Prince and Houston Streets
  • Year completed: 1897
  • Architect: Cleverdon & Putzel
  • Floors: 12
  • Style: Beaux Arts
  • New York City Landmark: 1973 (part of the SoHo Cast Iron Historic District)
Astor Building Suggested Reading
  • NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report (SoHo Cast Iron Historic District, p. 48)
  • The New York Times archives (about the restoration)
  • The New York Sun article
  • Daytonian in Manhattan blog
  • City Realty listing

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Herald Towers

Built as the Hotel McAlpin in 1912, Herald Towers began life as the world’s largest – and in some respects most innovative – hotel.

Today, the building’s most striking feature is the Beaux Arts crown – seven stories of lavish terra cotta. Two deep light courts face west (Broadway), but the 25-story building is now overshadowed by more recent towers.

The McAlpin’s owners converted the hotel to apartments in 1980, and attempted to go condo in 2005. The condo offering failed, and the building is now rental apartments.

Along the way, the hotel’s spectacular Marine Grill was dismantled. The restaurant was vaulted, like Grand Central Terminal’s Oyster Bar. Preservationists (led by Friends of Terra Cotta President Susan Tunick), rescued the restaurant’s terra cotta murals. Those panels are now on display at the Fulton Street (Broadway/Nassau) subway station. [nycsubway.org photos]

Herald Towers Vital Statistics
Other Herald Towers Resources

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Five Penn Plaza

Five Penn Plaza is overshadowed now, but as the Printing Crafts Building it was the “tallest and most imposing business structure on Eighth Avenue” [The New York Times] when built in 1916. Today, the gilt panels of former tenants recall the structure’s history.

It was conceived as the nation’s largest printing/publishing building, with 10 floors devoted to presses and binderies, and 12 floors for stockrooms and offices of publishers and ad agencies. Proximity to the main post office and Penn Station were key ingredients of the building’s success.

Despite the building’s age, it has been modernized with “green” technology (LEED-certified silver) and multiple fiber optic lines.

Five Penn Plaza Vital Statistics
Five Penn Plaza Recommended Reading

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The Lucerne Hotel is distinctive for its bold color as well as its bold Beaux Arts style and uptown location.

Opened in 1904 as the Hotel Lucerne, the building was converted to a condominium (not to be confused with Lucerne Apartments on East 79th Street). It’s a hotel again – with the name reversed to Lucerne Hotel.

During a 1999/2000 restoration, the owners replaced a missing cornice (on the Amsterdam Avenue facade) and refinished the terra cotta.

Lucerne Vital Statistics
Lucerne Recommended Reading

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Brooklyn Public Library

Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library was 35 years in the making – a case of municipal overreaching. Brooklyn’s pride was on the line – former Brooklyn Mayor David A. Boody was the library president. The grandiose plan began in 1906 with sending the chief architect, the consulting architect and the chief librarian to Europe for a 19-city tour to study 24 libraries. The following year, architect Raymond F. Almirall proposed a Beaux Arts design. The library’s board and the city’s Municipal Art Commission approved the plans, but construction didn’t begin until 1911.

Financial support soon became a political issue, and as early as 1914 city administrations were balking at paying the library’s enormous cost. In October 1930 – 19 years after groundbreaking – the library was only one third complete.

A new library administration in 1933 abandoned the grandiose four-story Beaux Arts design in favor of a less expensive three-story modern plan. In 1935 the directors chose new architects: Alfred Morton Githens and Francis Keally. They unveiled new plans in 1937; the city approved the plans in 1938, and construction resumed in 1939. Githens and Keally used the foundations and first three floors of the steel frame, but scrapped most of the existing masonry and ornament. In just under two years, they completed the project.

Brooklyn Public Library Vital Statistics
Brooklyn Public Library Recommended Reading

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Chatsworth Apartments and Annex

The Chatsworth Apartments and Annex are magnificent Beaux Arts buildings at the foot of West 72nd Street, overlooking the Hudson River and Riverside Park. The eight-story annex was built two years after the 12-story main building; the two are distinctively separate except for a unifying limestone base. Although not apparent from the front (W 72nd Street), the Chatsworth itself is two buildings. The second, with a less elaborate facade, is now visible only from W 71st Street. Donald Trump’s Harmony House condo (2003) blocks the buildings’ west facades, which used to overlook the abandoned West Side rail yard (and the Hudson River, beyond).

The most lavish of Chatsworth’s 66 apartments ranged from five to 15 rooms, which rented for $900 to $5,000 per year (1904 dollars!). The smaller Chatsworth Apartments Annex had one apartment per each of its eight floors.

Take time to read the Daytonian in Manhattan piece for some fascinating history; The New York Times three pieces detail tenants’ battles with the landlord and with Donald Trump.

Chatsworth Apartments and Annex Vital Statistics
Chatsworth Apartments and Annex Recommended Reading

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Knox Building

The Knox Building is a landmark 10-story Beaux Arts commercial building, wrapped by the modern 29-story HSBC Tower. Both have ties to 19th-Century personalities.

Civil War hero Edward Knox took over his father’s ailing hat business and pledged to make the Knox name known wherever hats were sold. The Knox Hat Building on Fifth Avenue was part of the route taken. Knox, active in veterans’ affairs, met architect John H. Duncan and was impressed by his designs of the Grand Army Plaza Memorial Arch and the General Grant National Memorial (Grant’s Tomb). Knox subsequently commissioned Duncan to build his newest store and company headquarters.

In 1964 Republic National Bank bought the building and converted it to banking, making relatively few exterior changes (though they did remove the mezzanine). Then in 1985 Republic wrapped a 29-story L-shaped tower around the Knox Building. HSBC acquired Republic, and in 2006 made additional restorations and renovations to the structures.

The artfully done tower (Eli Attia, architect) comes off as a drape backdrop for the Beaux Arts Knox Building. The art came at the expense of the Kress Building, which many preservationists wanted to save from demolition.

HSBC Tower preserves some history that predates the Kress Building, though. In the middle of the Fifth Avenue facade a bronze door memorializes the site of an 1850s “House of Mystery.” That mansion was owned by the Wendel family until the last daughter, Ella, died in 1931 at age 78.

The five-story red brick home was said to be the last residence on that stretch of Fifth, an eccentric home to an eccentric and very wealthy family.

When Ella died, the estate reportedly took 10 years, 250 lawyers and $2 million to settle – there were no less than 2,300 individuals claiming to be heirs.

Drew University was among the beneficiaries of Ella’s will: They received, then sold, the mansion, and a Kress Department Store was built on the site.

Knox Building Vital Statistics
HSBC Tower Vital Statistics
Knox Building / HSBC Tower Recommended Reading

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Grand Madison Apartments

Grand Madison Apartments is now in its third life. It was originally conceived as a replacement for the Brunswick Hotel, but built as offices instead under the name Brunswick Building. Later it became a showroom center, the Gift and Art Center Building. And since 2006, it has been luxury condominium apartments, attracting the likes of Chelsea Clinton and her husband (who have since moved, but I felt like name-dropping).

Curiously, although Grand Madison Apartments overlooks Madison Square Park and the Flatiron Building, the official website identifies instead with Gramercy Park – eight blocks away.

Grand Madison Apartments Vital Statistics
Grand Madison Apartments Recommended Reading

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Johnston Building

Johnston Building, aka NoMad Hotel, was built in 1903 as a store and office building. It is notable for its limestone facade – an expensive finish for an office building – and for its corner tower and cupola. Last but not least, it is also notable (for 1903) that the owner was a woman: Caroline H. Johnston.

After a lengthy conversion (2008-2012) by Sydell Group, the building is now a Parisian-inspired boutique hotel with interiors designed by Jacques Garcia.

Sydell Group also operates the Ace Hotel – the former Breslin Hotel – located one block to the north.

Johnston Building Vital Statistics
Johnston Building Recommended Reading

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