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
Location: 2 Park Avenue between E 32nd and E 33rd Streets
The Sherry Netherland must be bored by now with all of the superlatives lavished upon it. But if actions speak louder than words, consider this: a Sherry Netherland 18th floor apartment recently went on the market (September 2012) for $95 million. (To tell the whole truth, that’s the entire 18th floor – 7,000 square feet plus 2,000 square feet of terrace – seven bedrooms/seven baths – but still: $95 million!)
The Sherry Netherland is not, oddly enough, a New York City landmark unto itself (although the clock in front of the hotel is – go figure); it is part of the Upper East Side Historic District, along with the Hotel Pierre, Metropolitan Club, and other classics. The 40-story building was the tallest apartment-hotel in New York when built, in 1927.
The structure’s design was a collaboration of New York-based architects Shultze & Weaver and Buchman & Kahn. Shultze & Weaver specialized in luxury hotels such as the Pierre and Waldorf-Astoria. The French Gothic/French Renaissance tower is among New York’s most distinctive spires, hiding a water tank above the gargoyles. There is an observation platform at the very top – though you’d have to be brave and a climber to reach it!
While the Sherry Netherland’s public personna is a hotel, it has only 54 rooms and suites; 165 co-op apartments make up the bulk of the building.
Abraham E. Lefcourt is no longer a household name, but in his time – the 1920s – he rose from newspaper boy and bootblack to one of New York’s leading real estate developers. Lefcourt Buildings stood from 49th Street to Broad Street, from Seventh Avenue to Madison Avenue. Once dubbed “the Miracle Man of Realty,” from 1910 to 1932 Lefcourt developed 32 loft and office buildings – 20 in New York City – with an aggregate 5 million square feet of space on 477 floors, occupied by 200,000 people! The landmark Essex House on Central Park South was originally developed by Lefcourt as the Sevilla Towers – though it was foreclosed and auctioned off in 1931, before it was opened. He also launched a bank – and then, in the Great Depression, he lost his fortune, his son and his life.
At least 17 New York buildings remain [map and details below]. He built well, specializing in garment industry buildings that contained showrooms, factories and warehouses. However, only the Brill Building has NYC Landmark status; several have been drastically changed from their original appearance.
For more about Abraham E. Lefcourt and Garment District development, a few excellent resources are listed below. Also, the Skyscraper Museum‘s 2013 exhibit “Urban Fabric” was a fascinating view of Garment District development – the people and conditions as well as the brick and mortar. (The Skyscraper Museum is located in Battery Park City.)
ITT Building – 61 Broad Street Originally built as the Lefcourt Exchange Building, the 35-story structure was purchased almost immediately by ITT, which added to the building to dominate the entire block.
Brill Building (originally Alan E. Lefcourt Building) – 1619 Broadway at W 49th Street A Lefcourt building that bears the Lefcourt likeness instead of the Lefcourt name: A bust of Abraham Lefcourt’s son, Alan, is in a niche above the main entrance, and another bust is under the cornice. Leftcourt had announced an ambitious plan for a “world’s tallest” structure, but circumstances (and perhaps geometry – the site was too small to support a building of that height) prevailed. Lefcourt defaulted on the building’s lease, and the ground floor haberdasher, Brill Brothers, renamed the structure. The Brill Building went on to become a music industry landmark and, in 2010, a NYC Landmark.
The Arsenal Building, a 21-story Renaissance Revival loft building, was the first of 14 Garment District structures designed by Ely Jacques Kahn. The building is named for the New York State Arsenal that previously occupied the site.
(Not to be confused with The Arsenal at Fifth Avenue and 63rd Street, now used as a Parks Department administration building.)
At the time that this was built, loft buildings were notoriously cheap and utilitarian in construction – designed with little regard for aesthetics. Here, the developer and architect decided to invest in beauty (similar to the 1888 Schermerhorn Building in Greenwich Village, designed to demonstrate that a factory didn’t have to be ugly).
Incidentally, the Garment District’s development was quite controversial over the years. The city and the garment industry grappled with issues of worker safety, overcrowding, traffic, and disruption of business in the adjacent shopping district. The Skyscraper Museum exhibition “Urban Fabric” and Fashion Center pdf pamphlet “A Stitch In Time” have more background.
261 Fifth Avenue replaced six houses from the mid-1800s; it was used primarily as showrooms and offices of companies in the housewares and carpet industries, according to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The commission also notes that the striking bold terra cotta ornament used by architect Ely Jacques Kahn had “similarities to motifs used by Frank Lloyd Wright.” Which leads to a small bit of irony: Frank Lloyd Wright was the inspiration for Howard Roark, the hero architect in Ayn Rand’s novel “Fountainhead.” But Ayn Rand worked for Kahn (as an unpaid typist) while she was researching the book; she is quoted as saying of Kahn, “As a type, he was Guy Francon.” (Francon was a sycophant in the novel.)