Tag Archives: commercial

2 Park Avenue

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
2 Park Avenue Recommended Reading

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767 Third Avenue

767 Third Avenue represents the personality of developer Melvyn Kaufman more than it stands for an architect or style of architecture.

FxFowle Architects designed a beautiful building, to be sure. Subtle brick detailing outlines the ribbon windows; corners are sinuously rounded; the whole tower is raised on pilotis, revealing a lobby sheathed in oak-framed glass (instead of metal or stone). The more playful details are on E 48th Street, in the courtyard behind the building. A three-story chessboard adorns the wall of 212 E 48th Street; huge steel footprints are welded to the sidewalk utility grates; a stage coach and a 1929 Ford truck are parked in the plaza.

The New York Times’ obituary for Melvyn Kaufman noted, “Though he was not an architect, his buildings were generally acknowledged to have sprung as much from his own vision as from the architect of record’s — a vision Mr. Kaufman realized with the aid of designers like Pamela Waters and Rudolph de Harak.”

The Times continued, “Mr. Kaufman had a lifelong fascination with office buildings as public spaces with which tenants and passers-by could engage. If one was going to erect a leviathan, his design philosophy seemed to go, at least make it leviathan with levity.

“He deplored lobbies, the sine qua non of office buildings since the dawn of recorded history. ‘Marble and travertine mausoleums are bad for the living and terrific for the dead,’ Mr. Kaufman told The Times in 1971.”

Kaufman seemed fond of this stretch of Third Avenue: He built other office buildings at 711, 747, and 777.

767 Third Avenue Vital Statistics
767 Third Avenue Recommended Reading

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Staten Island Savings Bank

Staten Island Savings Bank is a tall single-story structure filling the triangular plot across Water Street from Tappen Park and Edgewater Village Hall.

According to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, “The bank is a fine example of Beaux Arts classicism. It presents two well-defined facades replete with classical symmetry, recognizable Renaissance motifs such as the rusticated wall and arched windows framed within pilasters, and ideal proportions. More importantly, the subtle insertion of the circular colonnaded portico between the acutely angled facades, thus creating the main entrance, is a masterful means of turning an otherwise difficult acute angle into a positive element. A precedent for this treatment had been established by Sir John Soane in his design for the Bank of England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century which may be the source for Aldrich’s design.”

Staten Island Savings Bank Vital Statistics
Staten Island Savings Bank Recommended Reading

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818 Flatbush Avenue

818 Flatbush Avenue is a two-story commercial building in Flatbush, unremarkable except for Art Deco terra cotta uncannily similar to that of the Chanin Building on E 42nd Street in Manhattan.

The Brooklyn store and office building and the Chanin Building were both completed in 1929 – but were planned by different architects. Boris W. Dorfman planned the Flatbush Avenue structure; Sloan & Robertson designed the famous skyscraper. The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission reports that Chanin Building’s terra cotta was created by sculptor Rene Chambellan and architect Jacques Delmarre (of the Chanin Construction Company).

I suspect that Mr. Chambellan was also responsible for the Brooklyn art, but I can’t find any documentation.

Newspaper accounts show that real estate and construction could move at lightning pace in 1929. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that the existing three-story apartment building and lot were being auctioned on April 15. By June, new owners Flatbush Improvement Corporation had picked an architect and filed plans for a new $45,000 building. On December 10, the Department of Buildings issued a Certificate of Occupancy for the structure, completed the previous day. In just over eight months developers bought the property, demolished the old building, and completed the new structure.

818 Flatbush Avenue Vital Statistics
818 Flatbush Avenue Recommended Reading

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Battery Park City

Battery Park City was built on landfill – the ground removed for the original World Trade Center excavations.

The architecture, naturally, is all new – post-1980. But the interesting part of Battery Park City is how its apartment and commercial buildings have been combined with green space: there really is a park in the middle of Battery Park City.

The Esplanade is the park’s backbone, running from Battery Place up to Chambers Street along the Hudson River. It is a link in the growing “Greenway” bike/pedestrian path along most of New York’s waterfront.

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Siegel-Cooper Buildings

The Siegel-Cooper Dry Goods Store, designed by DeLemos & Cordes (New York), was the world’s largest store when opened in September 1896. The Beaux Arts-style building on Sixth Avenue between 18th and 19th Streets had the other distinction of being the first steel-framed store in New York City. The same architect designed the Siegel-Cooper warehouse a few blocks away. (And in 1902 De Lemos & Cordes designed Macy’s Herald Square – which took over the “world’s largest” title with its expansion in 1924.*)

The current tenants at 620 Sixth Avenue are Bed Bath & Beyond, T.J. Maxx, and Marshalls.

The warehouse/wagon house is a block-through building with entrances on 17th and 18th Streets, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. The 18th Street Side is currently used by Barneys New York.

Siegel-Cooper Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 616 Sixth Avenue between W 18th and W 19th Streets
  • Year completed: 1897
  • Architect: De Lemos & Cordes
  • Floors: 6
  • Style: Beaux Arts
Siegel-Cooper Warehouse Vital Statistics
  • Location: 249 W 17th Street block-through to 236 W 18th Street between Seventh and Eight Avenues
  • Year completed: 1902
  • Architect: De Lemos & Cordes
  • Floors: 6
Siegel-Cooper Buildings Suggested Reading

*Korean chain Shinsegae took over the title in 2009 with a store in Busan.

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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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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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Seagram Building

After half a century, the elegant, glowing bronze Seagram Building on Park Avenue remains a landmark in several realms: New York City, structural engineering, architectural style, corporate identity, personal achievement and more.

New York City’s Landmark Preservation Commission bestowed landmark status on October 3, 1989, recognizing the structure as an architectural treasure. In terms of structural engineering, the steel-and-concrete dual framing system was the first of its kind for a tall building, and the first tall building to use high-strength bolts (instead of rivets). The architectural style – International Style – had become the mode for new office buildings. (Though New York’s first curtain wall structure following Mies van der Rohe’s principles – Lever House – stood across the street.) To achieve the purity of the design, Seagram president Samuel Bronfman purchased enough land to create a large plaza (avoiding the typical wedding cake setbacks of other tall buildings) and budgeted for a lavish bronze and glass curtain wall. The 38-story tower is Mies van der Rohe’s only New York project – but it is considered his finest.

The Seagram Building’s bronze glow is achieved through tinted glass, backed by ceiling light panels all around. Mies even dictated three-position (fully open, half open, fully closed) window blinds with slats fixed at 45 degrees, to ensure a uniform appearance. As Mies would say, “God is in the details.”

The building’s owners change the plaza sculptures periodically, and provide occasional concerts.

Seagram Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 375 Park Avenue between E 52nd and E 53rd Streets
  • Year completed: 1958
  • Architect: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, design architects with Kahn & Jacobs, associate architects
  • Floors: 38
  • Style: International
  • New York City Landmark: 1989
  • National Register of Historic Places: 2006
Seagram Building Suggested Reading

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