Tag Archives: John H. Duncan

General Grant National Memorial (Grant’s Tomb)

Why not President Grant National Memorial? A National Park Service ranger explains that Ulysses’ record as General was more impressive than his record as President. General Grant National Memorial it is.

Either way, the memorial is probably better known as Grant’s Tomb. It is the largest mausoleum in the Western Hemisphere, and is said to be copied from the original Mausoleus’ tomb.

The memorial was financed by donations, not by the government, though the National Park Service now maintains the monument. There’s a small National Park Service visitor center well-hidden across the southbound lanes of Riverside Drive and down a flight of stairs.

“The Rolling Bench,” a series of 17 mosaic-covered concrete benches, was installed around the monument in 1974. Personally, I think the benches are an atrocious, grotesque defacement of the monument; bureaucratic vandalism. But that’s just my opinion, and what do I know?

P.S. – “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?” Well, technically, no one. The General and his wife Julia are entombed (above ground), not buried (below ground).

General Grant National Memorial Vital Statistics
  • Location: Riverside Drive at W 122nd Street
  • Year completed: 1897
  • Architect: John H. Duncan
  • Style: Roman Revival
  • New York City Landmark: 1975
  • National Register of Historic Places: 1966
General Grant National Memorial Suggested Reading

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Hotel Wolcott

Hotel Wolcott was built at the time when Herald Square was becoming New York’s “center of gravity” for entertainment, shopping, restaurants and hotels. While some prominent hotels were built on the avenues – Fifth Avenue and Broadway – mid-block properties offered quieter ambience without sacrificing convenience.

The Beaux Arts/Second Empire style was adopted for many hotels of the period. However, architect John H. Duncan designed Hotel Wolcott with oversized, flamboyant decoration to make it stand out on the mid-block location and to be unique among competitors.

John H. Duncan designed several NYC landmarks, the best-known of which are the General Ulysses S. Grant National Memorial (Grant’s Tomb) and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch in Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn.

Hotel Wolcott Vital Statistics
  • Location: 4 W 31st Street, between Fifth Avenue and Broadway
  • Year completed: 1904
  • Architect: John H. Duncan
  • Floors: 12
  • Style: Beaux Arts
  • New York City Landmark: 2011
Hotel Wolcott Suggested 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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