A Beaux-Arts facade on 31st Street has a secret

LifeheadquartersOnce-fashionable 31st Street is a good place to hunt for hidden architectural gems. And number 19, just west of Fifth Avenue, is a striking example.

Look past the Herald Square Hotel sign, and its Beaux-Arts beauty comes to light: a limestone and red brick building with enormous arched front windows.

They frame a cherub holding a pen, surrounded by symbols of the arts: musical instruments, paintbrushes, and a pad. The words “wit” and “humor” appear on a banner.

So what’s it all about? The clue lies under the third-floor front windows. Beneath each window is the word “Life”—for the magazine that once was headquartered here.

When Life moved into the building, designed in 1895 by architects Carrere and Hastings (the same guys who designed the New York Public Library), it was a different publication from the 20th century version.

Lifeheadquarterscherub

Life was a general-interest humor magazine, similar to rivals Puck and the New Yorker, and they published a fairly impressive group of literary and artistic talents, including Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the Gibson Girl illustrations that debuted in the 1890s.

The cherub was sculpted by Philip Martiny. “Winged Life” is its name, and it symbolized a magazine that in the 1930s was turned into a photo weekly and then shut down in 2000.

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3 Responses to “A Beaux-Arts facade on 31st Street has a secret”

  1. sheela wolford Says:

    Thomas Hastings is a relative on my father’s side. Thank you for sharing this! His bust at NYPL comforts me as his profile is so similar to my father’s. Thomas Hastings also designed the Manhattan Bridge. This building is magnificent! Thank you.

  2. Bob_in_MA Says:

    Life, Puck and Judge were the three “sophisticated” humor magazines of the the pre-WWI period, but to a modern reader they are pretty unsophisticated (also thoroughly racist and, Life particularly, anti-Semitic.)

    The Puck building also still stands, on Lafayette St.:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puck_Building

    They were on their last legs when the New Yorker arrived in the 20s. It’s difficult for us to imagine how much tastes, fashions, etc., changed between 1915 and 1920. I think Life was a casualty of that change.

    Thanks for the post!

  3. spanky mcgruder Says:

    I work at the Front desk here . Some of the original features remain today ; original winding stairs with marble treads for 8 floors and some restored flooring in the halls – various colored marble . The top floor (originally artist studios has the original stairwell lobby and there is much of the original iron work . Otherwise its a simple tourist
    hotel . The original winged life statues was returned to the lobby after 40 yrs in a CT. basement .

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