Artists have always had a tough time finding bright, generous, inexpensive studio and exhibition space in New York.
So in the flourishing city of the late 19th century—with the population bursting and Manhattan filling up in every direction—studio buildings that were specifically designed for artists began appearing.
One 12-story studio building constructed in 1900-1901 still stands on Sixth Avenue and 40th Street, at the southwest corner of the recently renamed Bryant Park (until the 1880s, it had been known as Reservoir Square).
The Bryant Park Studios Building is a lovely structure where Edward Steichen, Fernand Leger, Irving Penn, and other painters and sculptors took advantage of double-height windows and northern light.
Today, it’s hard to imagine traffic-choked midtown Manhattan as an artists’ neighborhood.
But the light a century ago was uninterrupted, and new studio buildings had also gone up on West 57th Street—making it an “artistic center,” notes this 1988 Neighborhood Preservation Center report.
Who had the money to fund such a lovely building? A Paris-trained American artist named A.A. Anderson, who had married into wealth. He explained why he constructed the studio building in his autobiography, excerpted in the NPC report:
“My business friends said it was a foolish thing to erect so expensive a studio building in what was then the ‘Tenderloin District,'” he wrote.
“‘But I wanted the best, since it is usually the best or the poorest who pays.'”
By the middle of the 20th century, the building was repurposed for fashion industry showrooms, though one artist hung on to space she had first occupied decades earlier and had it at least into the 1990s.
[Middle photo: an early photo of the building, with nothing in its way and the gritty Sixth Avenue El on the right.]
[Bottom photo: It looks like this was taken in the 1970s; the Bryant Park Studio Building is still lovely, but boxed in from the side and behind.]