Tag Archives: commercial

51 Astor Place

51 Astor Place

51 Astor Place, scorned as the “Death Star” of Greenwich Village, is an imaginative form for the irregular former site of Cooper Union’s engineering school.

The Village Voice‘s harsh words may be familiarity-bred contempt. The Voice was headquartered just two blocks south during the years of construction.

Certainly, the blue-black mirror-glass edifice towers over and clashes with most of its low-rise masonry landmark neighbors. Paradoxically, the reflective facade makes the 1906 landmark Wanamaker’s Annex twice as prominent.

Viewed from the west, the Fourth Avenue facade seems simple a simple monolith, like a giant tower PC. (A fitting image, as the prime tenant is IBM!) From any other angle, the irregular pentagon takes on more complex forms. The east side of the tower incorporates an optical illusion. The wall is split diagonally into narrow panes of light-colored glass above wide panes of dark-colored glass, giving the appearance of a faceted facade. The view from above (via Google Earth) is revealing.

The eastern side of the building – with separate entry numbered 101 Astor Place – is now the Manhattan campus of St. John’s University.

Meanwhile, Architect Magazine explains why and how the Third Avenue and Fourth Avenue facades are different. The Metals in Construction article explains the building’s complexities.

51 Astor Place Vital Statistics
51 Astor Place Recommended Reading

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Goelet Building

Goelet Building * looks surprisingly modern for architecture more than a century old. The structure was built in two stages. The first five floors were completed in 1887. The original sixth floor was demolished in 1906 and replaced with five floors that more or less mimicked the three floors below.

The Maynicke & Franke addition blends very well with the McKim, Mead & White original. The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission notes minor differences in materials and patterns, but the final result maintains a colorful, yet elegant appearance. This is no small accomplishment; add-on floors can be disastrous. Just take a look at De Lemos & Cordes’ 1889 Armeny Building, defaced by a two-story addition in 1893.

As with their Warren Building diagonally across the street, McKim, Mead & White faced the challenge of a non-rectangular plot. They rounded the corner, to avoid the awkward corner dictated by the property line.

In his New York Times Streetscapes column, historian Christopher Gray lauds the Justin family for rescuing the Goetlet Building from decline. Zoltan Justin bought the building in 1977. He and son Jeffrey cleaned the facade, removed non-historic elements, and restored the structure to its original glory.

* Not to be confused with the 1932 Goelet Building, now known as Swiss Center Building, located at Fifth Avenue and W 49th Street.

†See Tom Miller’s post in Daytonian in Manhattan for a look at the original six-story building.

Goelet Building Vital Statistics
Goelet Building Recommended Reading

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Cable Building

Cable Building

Cable Building, at the southwestern corner of the NoHo Historic District, is the last remnant of a San Francisco-style cable car system that once served lower Manhattan. The nine-story* Beaux Arts building housed the massive steam engines and winding wheels that pulled 40-ton cables at 30 mph. Alas, the cable system was uneconomical. The last cable car ran just seven years after the first.

For architects McKim, Mead & White, this was their first all-steel-frame building. The four-story-deep basement held the machinery. Above ground, it was a doughnut of offices built around a central light court. Both of the building’s Houston Street corners are chamfered. Light orange brick and terra cotta rise above the two-story limestone arcade base.

While Broadway’s Bowling Green-to-36th Street cable cars did not survive, Cable Building did. Metropolitan Traction Company reorganized as New York Railways Company, and sold the building in 1925. For the next six decades the structure housed small businesses and manufacturers. Then in the late 1980s it went back to being an office building.

Angelika Film Center took up residence in 1989, using the four basement floors.

* The building appears to be eight stories, if you count the floors of large windows. But tiny square windows tucked under the cornice – and larger windows in the north facade – reveal an attic ninth floor.

Cable Building Vital Statistics
Cable Building Recommended Reading

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200 Madison Avenue

200 Madison Avenue has a split personality. Its ornate neo-classical facade shelters a technically modernized interior. While the richly decorated lobby and elevator doors remain, the office tower has LEED energy certification.

If the ornamentation reminds you of the Helmsley Building (aka New York Central Building), that may be because Warren & Wetmore designed both. (Warren & Wetmore also designed Grand Central Terminal.) You’ll have to look up to enjoy the effect. The building’s ornamentation is primarily in the cornices, at the setbacks and crown.

Of historical note, this is where the Empire State Building developers had their offices during construction of New York’s most famous skyscraper.

200 Madison Avenue Vital Statistics
200 Madison Avenue Recommended Reading

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Buffalo Savings Bank

Buffalo Savings Bank is an important Buffalo, NY landmark, and now a branch of M&T Bank. Its style is inspired by the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

While the outside is magnificent – that’s real gold leaf on the dome – the interior is breathtaking! (Even more remarkable, the bank permits photography inside. What a difference from New York City attitudes – but that’s a story unto itself.) Murals under the dome depict signs of the zodiac and scenes of local industry, history and commerce.

From humble beginnings – just six depositors at opening – Buffalo Savings Bank grew to national prominence as Gold Dome Bank for Savings through a series of mergers. Alas, the mergers were the bank’s undoing, and Gold Dome was liquidated in 1991.

The building is just one of many architectural surprises awaiting anyone who visits Buffalo.

Buffalo Savings Bank Vital Statistics
Buffalo Savings Bank Recommended Reading

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256 Fifth Avenue

256 Fifth Avenue is among the few examples of Moorish Revival architecture in New York City. As the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission noted, it’s “remarkably intact” for a building that went up in 1893.

The windows steal the show: Their size, shape, number and decoration changes from floor to ornate floor.

Alas, the building is not without alterations. The ground floor storefront is now standard commercial granite; the sixth-floor terra cotta balcony was removed – probably because it was in danger of falling after a century of use. The gaps in the terra cotta were never filled in.

256 Fifth Avenue Vital Statistics
256 Fifth Avenue Recommended Reading

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203 E 45th Street

203 E 45th Street, home of “The Perfect Pint,” is a bit of a mystery to me. My usual sources have no real information on the building – but then, why would they? The three-story-plus-roof-garden building is a modest structure with no special architectural features.

But it appears to belong in “Holdouts!: The Buildings That Got In The Way” (or the earlier paperback version “New York’s Architectural Holdouts” ), a fascinating book by Andrew Alpern and Seymour Durst. The neighboring 32-story Wyndham Hotel is cantilevered over The Perfect Pint, similar to 160 E 22nd Street.

The Wyndham was originally the Alex Hotel, completed in 2006 on the site of the famed Pen and Pencil restaurant. While there are numerous online articles about the Alex’s early financial troubles, I found none that mention dealings with the owners of the property’s diminutive neighbor.

203 E 45th Street Vital Statistics
203 E 45th Street Recommended Reading

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Williamsburgh Savings Bank (Tower)

Williamsburgh Savings Bank is New York architecture that entertains from afar – and from close up. The tower’s graceful taper dominates the Brooklyn skyline for miles; the Rene Chambellan sculpture around the base fascinates passers-by. More sculpture, mosaics, and majestic vaulted ceilings overwhelm visitors inside.

The landmark fulfills architect Robert Helmer’s wish that the tower “be regarded as a cathedral dedicated to the furtherance of thrift and prosperity of the community it serves.” Not bad for a tiny bank that started out in the basement of a (now-demolished) church in 1851, before Williamsburgh dropped the “h” from its name.

Architects Halsey, McCormack & Helmer specialized in banks, so it is a little ironic that one of the firm’s non-bank buildings was the Central Methodist Episcopal Church – right next door to their “cathedral of thrift.”

The building is based on a steel “portal frame” – a special structure designed to support the weight of the massive tower above the equally massive void of the banking hall. (Think of this as a 35-story office building on top of a six-story church.) The bank insisted – over the architects’ objections – on a gilded dome as a crown for the tower. The dome was an architectural reference to Williamsburgh Savings Bank’s original headquarters in downtown Williamsburg.

When built, this was the tallest building in Brooklyn, and the clock was the largest four-sided clock tower in the world. “Brooklyn’s wristwatch” sometimes had trouble keeping time, but it seems to have been fixed. Although this was its headquarters, Williamsburgh Savings Bank only used two floors (above the banking level) as offices. The rest of the tower was rented – and for some reason, mostly to dentists!

Williamsburgh Savings Bank was acquired by Republic National Bank, and then merged into HSBC. In 2005, a partnership of the Dermot Company and Canyon-Johnson Urban Funds bought the tower. The lower floors were converted to Skylight One Hanson – event space – while the upper floors became 1 Hanson Place luxury condominiums.

The tower has the distinction of being triple-designated by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission: as an individual landmark (1977), as part of an historic district (1978), and as an interior landmark (1996).

Urban Omnibus has an exceptional narrative on the building’s history.

Williamsburgh Savings Bank Vital Statistics
Williamsburgh Savings Bank Recommended Reading

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Riverside Memorial Chapel

Riverside Memorial Chapel is suitably somber, suitably monumental for a funeral home. The structure is actually two buildings: The smaller 180 W 76th Street was given a new facade and joined to 331 Amsterdam Avenue in 1946.

The building underwent renovation and restoration in 1994-1998.

Riverside Memorial Chapel Vital Statistics
Riverside Memorial Chapel Recommended Reading

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Beacon Hotel and Theater

Beacon Hotel and Theater share a Broadway facade, but it’s the theater’s interior that keeps getting rave reviews. Conceived as part of the Roxy theater chain, the showplace was described by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) as “…a lavish space with stylistic effects drawn from the traditions of Greek, Roman, Renaissance, and Rococo architecture.”

The buildings are a collaboration of Samuel L. Rothafel – better known as Roxy – and The Chanin Construction Company. LPC explains, “Undoubtedly pleased with the success of combining three theaters with the Hotel Lincoln, thereby providing common building services for all, the Chanins saw a combination theater-hotel structure to be a logical solution for the site.”

Alas, Roxy’s plans did not pan out. Warner Bros. Pictures wound up with the theater lease. The Beacon continued as a movie theater until 1974, when the programs switched to live performances. The LPC designated the interior a landmark in 1979. In 1986 developers wanted to convert the Beacon to a disco – plans that were halted by a judge who said the conversion would irreparably harm the landmark’s architecture. Madison Square Garden Entertainment’s parent company, Cablevision, leased the Beacon in 2006. Cablevision restored the theater at a reported cost of $10 million. Madison Square Garden Company now manages the Beacon.

P.S. It’s called Beacon Hotel because of an airplane beacon on the roof.

Beacon Hotel and Theater Vital Statistics
Beacon Hotel and Theater Recommended Reading

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