Archive for the ‘Cool building names’ Category

The mysterious Star of David on Upper Broadway

July 27, 2015

HispaniahallUpper Broadway above 150th Street is home to many lovely apartment residences, mostly built in the early 1900s.

That’s when the neighborhood where James Audubon’s farm, Minniesland, stood in the 19th century was transformed by real estate speculators into up-and-coming Washington Heights.

One hidden gem with a curved facade is the six-story apartment building at West 156th and Broadway.

Named Hispania Hall (perhaps a nod to the Hispanic Society of America museum, which opened a block away in 1908), it was billed as “artistic, comfortable, and substantially built” when it was completed in 1909.

Hispaniahallstarofdavid

It also contains an unusual symbol: a cast-iron fence that’s topped with a Star of David. Why a Star of David? It was likely added in or after the 1930s.

Hispaniahall2015“In the 1930s, many German and Jewish refugees found a new home in the neighborhood,” states the website for the Audubon Park Historic District.

“Within a few block of this corner were ten Jewish institutions, including the Prospect Unity Club, Lublo’s Palm Garden, and several synagogues.”

Today it’s an easy-to-miss reminder of the neighborhood’s ethnic makeup decades ago.

[Top image: NYPL Digital Gallery]

An apartment house evokes “memories of Paris”

May 4, 2015

Dorilton1902architecturalreviewWhen the Dorilton opened in 1902, the 12-story Beaux-Arts building at Broadway and 71st Street was one of many grand apartment houses designed to take advantage of all the new Upper West Side residents the coming subway system would bring.

With its curvy mansard roof and enormous arched entryway, it caught the eye of architectural critics, who generally loathed its florid, ostentatious details.

“[The Dorilton] was criticized as an ‘architectural aberration’ because of its grandiose scale and overly lavish ornament,” states Gwendolyn Wright’s Building the Dream.

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But that didn’t stop people from moving in. Consider the amenities: filtered water, free electricity, separate servant and passenger elevators, soundproof walls and windows, and long-distance telephone service and refrigerators in every apartment.

DoriltonfloorplansnyplThere was even a charger for the electric automobiles hitting the streets at the time.

If flamboyant ornamentation is your thing, then the Dorilton is a dream. The iron gates at the limestone entryway look like they belong in a European palace.

And don’t forget the sculptures on the Broadway side, “two greater than life size female figures whose handsome draped clothing enhances the motion expressed in their bodies,” wrote the Landmarks Preservation Committee.

The Dorilton wasn’t one of the few luxury buildings on Upper Broadway for much longer. But as the neighborhood declined after World War II, so did the Dorilton, with pieces of the cornices and other details falling off.

DoriltonupperfloorscloseupAfter it was landmarked in 1974—with the Landmarks Preservation Committee report describing it as evoking “memories of Paris”—the Dorilton rebounded, undergoing a renovation to return it to its glory.

Today, this “aberration,” as it was called, has some of the most sought-after co-op apartments in the city. And its pull-out-all-the-stops ornamental beauty stops pedestrians in their tracks.

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[Top photo: Architectural Review; third, NYPL; fourth: Wikipedia]

8 uses for Central Park’s second-oldest building

January 19, 2015

One of only two buildings in Central Park constructed when the park was just a gleam in city officials’ eyes (the other is this stone fort), the Arsenal opened in 1851 as a state-run storage place for munitions.

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“It was considered at the time to be an ideally strategic position to deploy troops to the city, or to either shoreline,” notes centralpark.org.

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And in the ensuing 168 years (above, in 1862), this structure designed to resemble a Medieval castle on Fifth Avenue and 64th Street has been repurposed to serve a variety of city needs.

First, in 1857, it was purchased from the state by park administrators and used as an office and police precinct.

Arsenalmenagerie

In the 1860s, after many New Yorkers began dropping off exotic animals in the new Central Park, the Arsenal became the temporary menagerie, which was never part of the park’s original plan but proved to be a hugely popular attraction.

ArsenalrestaurantBy the 1870s, it housed the Museum of Natural History, whose quarters were under construction across the park. It was also home to the studio were a British artist created models of dinosaur bones.

An art gallery and weather station followed—the city’s weather instruments recorded the official temperature from the top of the Arsenal.

An Arsenal restaurant (right) appeared in the early 20th century. By the 1920s, the building was falling apart, and after an overhaul reopened as offices for the Parks Department.

Arsenal2015

By the 1980s, the Arsenal assumed the role it still plays today: “as a gallery and space for public forums related to Parks’ mission and may be reserved for private and public functions,” states the Parks Department website.

It stands guard on the east side of Central Park, its Ivy gone, a testament to a changing city.

[Top two images: NYPL Digital Gallery]

The bears and foxes in a Garment District lobby

December 1, 2014

224west30thstreetskyscrapermuseumA little south of the main Garment District, in the West 30s and 40s at Seventh Avenue, is one of its apparel-related offshoots, the dwindling Fur District.

And in the small lobby at handsome 224 West 30th Street, the animals who gave the skins off their backs to this industry are celebrated in art.

Walk through the front entrance, and the decorative foyer contains what look like two small bear heads flanking each side.

Farther inside, along a wall above the security desk, are two larger fox sculptures in front of bas reliefs of fox heads and the heads of what might be otters or beavers.

224west30thstreetthreefoxes

This is a building that the attendant told me was still home to many furriers, along with a mix of other businesses.

224west30thstreettwofoxes

224west30thstreetfoyerbearcuThe animal images probably date back to the building’s opening in 1926, when the fur industry was thriving and well before wearing animal fur became a fashion faux pas.

This other Fur District building down the block also pays homage to the animals who built its financial success.

[Top photo: Collection of Andrew S. Dolkart via the Skyscraper Museum]

A spooky Gothic skyscraper next to Trinity Church

October 13, 2014

Well, skyscraper by 1905 standards. That’s the year the 21-story Trinity Building finished construction.

Designed as a Neo-Gothic complement to Trinity Church on Lower Broadway, it’s loaded with gargoyles and creepy human faces, as well as fanciful gables and moldings topped by a gorgeous cupola.

Trinitybuildingpostcard

This vintage postcard doesn’t reveal all the incredible detail on the facade, but it’s a nice look at Broadway in 1910, I’m guessing.

The cemetery next door is so tourist-free and green, it looks like a lawn. And hey, streetcars!

The mystery quote on the Daily News building

June 27, 2014

DailynewsfacadeThe (former) headquarters for the New York Daily News, on East 42nd Street, is a 1930 skyscraper masterpiece.

The enormous lobby, with its illuminated revolving globe and compass points set into the floor, is an impressive monument to wonder and the bigness of the universe, as well as a nod to the newspaper’s global perspective.

Then there’s the huge facade framing the 39-story building’s main entrance.

Dailynewsbuilding1931This bas relief features the newspaper name, an urban cityscape, and a crowd of people, with this inscription: “he made so many of them.”

What does it mean?

It’s part of a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “God must love the common people; he made so many of them.”

Sounds like an homage to the regular New Yorkers who made the Daily News, which got its start in 1919 as the city’s first tabloid, one of the nation’s biggest newspapers throughout the 20th century.

Dailynewsfacadequote

At the time of the building’s opening, the News had an impressive circulation of 1.3 million. Now it’s roughly half that.

The Skyscraper Daredevil dangles over Midtown

May 5, 2014

BendovacontortionistThe skyscraper age of the 1920s and 1930s didn’t just bring the city cloud-touching towers.

It also inspired stuntmen who performed acrobatic shows (or at least, the illusion of acrobatics) a thousand feet over Manhattan.

One of these stuntmen was Joseph Spah, a German-born contortionist and acrobat (left).

After immigrating to Queens, Spah adopted the name Ben Dova and hit the vaudeville circuit.

By the 1930s, he developed his signature act: the “convivial inebriate,” which had him stagger onstage in a tuxedo trying to light his cigarette with the lit flame of a gas street lamp.

That doesn’t sound too thrilling, except that he performed this act on the edge of the roof of the Chanin Building, the 56-story Art Deco skyscraper on East 42nd Street opened in 1929.

Bendovafourshots

Footage of his skyscraper act looks legit. But it’s actually the product of some trick photography, according to one historical blog.

“Spah’s lamp post was placed on the small, one-story brick structure on the roof of the Chanin Building, rather than on the edge of the roof itself,” explains the blog.

“The angle of the cameras make it look as though Spah were hanging over the edge of the Chanin Building’s roof, when in fact he was only facing a drop of perhaps ten or twelve feet to the building’s main roof had he lost his grip.”

Spah performed his act all over the States and Europe. His act has a certain magic, and Spah himself certainly had luck on his side.

On his way back from Europe to make it to a week-long run at Radio City in May 1937, he caught a ride on the Hindenburg . . . and survived the terrible fire that killed most of the passengers.

The world’s tallest building for one year only

March 17, 2014

Opened in 1908, the slender, elegant Singer Tower, headquarters of the sewing machine company, rose more than 40 stories over Broadway and Liberty Street.

A marvel in its day, it spent one year as the tallest building in the world, only to be usurped by the Metropolitan Life Tower on 23rd Street in 1909.

Singertowerpostcard

Tourists paid 50 cents to visit its 40th floor observation deck. It was prominently featured in postcards, like this one above.

SingertowerLOCSixty years later, it met the wrecking ball.

“High above the intersection of Broadway and Liberty Street yesterday, a demolition torch blazed against the hazy sky as a steelworker cut into a beam on the tallest building ever to be demolished,” reported The New York Times on March 27, 1968.

“Yesterday the lobby looked as if a bomb had hit it. The Italian-marble surfacing and the bronze medallions with the Singer monogram were stripped from many columns and were being offered for sale.

“Holes pocked the elaborately sculptured pendentives that support the series of domes forming the ceiling. Plaster flaked onto a floor strewn with wood, shattered brick and discarded coffee cups.”

Central Park West’s most enchanting apartments

March 17, 2014

SturbantallThe wonderful thing about New York is that you can pass a building hundreds of times before discovering its magic.

Which is how, on a rainy late afternoon with just a slant of sunlight left in the sky, I discovered the beauty of the Beaux-Arts gem the St. Urban.

It’s a 12-story apartment house at 89th Street, one of many French flat–style residences built in an almost unbroken line along Central Park West at the turn of the last century.

The building’s neighbors, the Dakota and the San Remo, are perhaps more flamboyant. The St. Urban’s beauty is more understated, and it stands today as an elegant throwback—described in one book as a “splendid anachronism” of gracious, Gilded Age living.

SturbancherubFacing the park is a porte-cochere—a magnificent recessed carriage entrance—illuminated by golden globes affixed to the limestone entrance.

The St. Urban’s sloping mansard roof and dormer windows give it a castle-like feel, which is underscored by its rounded, domed tower crowned with a copper lantern.

I’m not the only one enchanted by the St. Urban. In 2001, writer Andre Aciman had this to say about the building, in a New York Times Magazine issue that focused on the specialness of New York City.

Sturbanlobby

“As with Monet’s portraits of the Rouen cathedral, does the St. Urban stir so many images that changing the season, the cast of light or time of day changes the building as well?,” wrote Aciman.

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“All I know is that something in me is forever grafted here—which is why I dare not think of the city without this building, or of me without this city, or of this building without me.”

A downtown street once called “Newspaper Row”

February 27, 2014

In the late 19th century—before media companies concentrated in Midtown and the Chelsea/Flatiron area—the short stretch of Park Row next to City Hall was New York’s media neighborhood, dubbed Newspaper Row.

Newspaperrow

Newspaper Row was home to major dailies such as the domed New York World, the New York Tribune, and the Sun (the little building between the World and the Tribune). The New York Times‘ headquarters stood on the other side of the Tribune.

Why Park Row? To be near the action at City Hall and close to NYPD Headquarters and the courts.

As the city marched northward, so did the newspaper headquarters: to new enclaves named for them, like Herald Square and Times Square.


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