Archive for the ‘Midtown’ Category

This Art Deco skyscraper on 57th Street rightfully celebrates itself

May 9, 2022

The Fuller Building, on Madison Avenue and 57th Street, has racked up some impressive accomplishments.

Topping out at 40 floors, this 1929 masterpiece was one of New York’ first “mixed use” buildings, with the lower floors boasting high ceilings and a distinct design to attract galleries to 57th Street’s active Jazz Age art scene, according to The City Review.

Art is outside the building as well. Above the entrance is a sculpture of workmen framed around a clock and a relief of the cityscape. Construction themes are reflected on the elevators, and the upper floors feature geometric patterns on the facade.

With so much to boast about, why shouldn’t the Fuller Building have large mosaic medallions of itself embossed in the lobby?

Sure “AD 1929” sounds like the owners expect the tower to be in a museum someday. But this icon has every reason to honor itself and decorate the lobby floor with love letters to its own greatness.

[Second image: structurae.net]

Three mythological Art Deco figures on a 57th Street apartment building

April 25, 2022

Walk along 57th Street, and you’ll see many examples of Art Deco architecture and ornamentation: geometrical shapes, zigzags, and even sculptures of mighty male figures toiling in the modern city. That last one is part of the facade of the 40-story Fuller Building.

Farther east, where office towers recede and elegant apartment buildings line quieter stretches of East Midtown, there’s a different example of Art Deco artistry on one specific residence.

The building is 320 East 57th Street. Take a look at the images above the entrance: three nude women hold hands in a kind of dance, surrounded by floral motifs. Helpful Ephemeral New York readers pointed out that these are the Three Graces, the goddess daughters of Zeus in Greek mythology. Each daughter bestows a particular gift on humanity: mirth, elegance, and youth and beauty.

The bas relief appears to be modeled after this sculpture by Antonio Canova from 1814-1817, which is currently housed in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

I imagine the Three Graces has been here since the building was completed in 1926, according to Streeteasy—which attributes the ironwork in the lobby to French ironworker Edgar Brandt, a giant of Art Deco design.

Could Brandt be the sculptor behind the figures? I saw no attribution in the building, which only has a plaque outside noting that Paulette Goddard and Erich Maria Remarque resided there.

A peek inside a 1946 Yankees program—and the New York brands that advertised inside

April 25, 2022

I have no idea what a Yankees program looks like today. But I do know what it looked like in 1946, when the Bronx Bombers hosted the Cleveland Indians either in late April/early May, June, or August of that postwar year.

Strangely, the 16-page program doesn’t say when the series takes place. But it mentions the upcoming All-Star Game at Fenway Park, so it must have been before July.

The lineup of legendary players to take the field that day included Phil Rizzuto, Joe DiMaggio, and Bill DIckey, with Bill Bevens and Spud Chandler listed as pitchers. More interesting to me are the ads throughout the 16-page program—like Ruppert Beer.

The Ruppert ad for this Yorkville-brewed beer isn’t much of a surprise because the Yankees were owned by Jacob Ruppert from 1915 until his death in 1939. A plaque recognizing his devotion to his team stands in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.

I’ve never heard of Major’s Cabin Grill. It’s on 34th Street, a long subway ride from Yankee Stadium, but why not? I like the warning about betting and gambling at the stadium.

I’m glad to see Schrafft’s make an appearance in the program; the restaurant chain famous for its ice cream was highly popular at the time. Apparently the ice cream bars they sold to fans at the stadium were in short supply.

The Hotel New Yorker today may not be a five-star kind of place, but it had a better reputation in the mid-20th century. This is the first time I’ve seen it described as a “home of major-league ball clubs.”

Here’s the actual scorecard, plus some fun ads on the sides—especially for the famous Hotel Astor rooftop. At one time, this was a glamorous place for dining, dancing, and catching a cool breeze in a city without air conditioning.

The touching 1913 dedication over a Grand Central Terminal entrance

April 21, 2022

When Grand Central Terminal opened to the public on February 2, 1913, the railroad barons who financed the $35 million project could have dedicated the stunning terminal to their board of directors, or to the city officials who cut through red tape to help make this third version of a central train station at 42nd Street on Manhattan’s East Side a reality.

They could have eschewed a dedication altogether, too. After all, do most rail terminals, or other major urban development projects, have dedications?

Grand Central in 1915, two years after opening

Instead, they decided to dedicate Grand Central to the people who actually labored to build it.

“To all those with head heart and hand toiled in the construction of this monument to the public service this is inscribed,” the dedication reads, above an entrance on the 42nd Street side and under one of the many spectacular clocks across all the halls of this city treasure.

Something about the modest inscription makes Grand Central even more of a spectacular place than it already is.

[Second image: MCNY, 1915, X2011.34.3570] 

A midcentury printmaker celebrates machine age New York City

April 11, 2022

As the machine age took hold in the United States in the early 20th century, some artists took a darker view of the mechanization of urban society—seeing isolation and alienation amid skyscrapers, automobiles, and steel bridges. Painter and printmaker Louis Lozowick, however, found something to celebrate.

“Allen Street,” 1929

Lozowick isn’t a household name, but his backstory will sound familiar. Born in Ukraine in 1892, he immigrated to New York City in the early 1900s, according to Artnet. He took classes at the National Academy of Design, studying with Leon Kroll, a painter and lithographer who often depicted the industry of Manhattan from the city’s bridges and rivers.

“Through Brooklyn Bridge Cables,” 1938

After traveling in Europe, Lozowick returned to New York in 1926 and worked as an illustrator for the leftist social reform periodical, New Masses. Influenced by Bauhaus and precisionist artists, he was also producing his own photorealistic, sometimes Art Deco style works—many of which heralded “the power of men and machines,” as the National Gallery of Art put it.

“Backyards of Broadway,” 1926

Lozowick spoke about this theme in 1947. “From the innumerable choices which our complex and tradition-laden civilization presents to the artist, I have chosen one which seems to suit my training and temperament,” he said in a publication called 100 Contemporary American Jewish Painters and Sculptors (via the Metropolitan Museum of Art website).

“Third Avenue,” 1929

“I might characterize it thus: Industry harnessed by Man for the Benefit of Mankind,” he continued.

Rather than isolation or alienation, there’s a sense of optimism in Lozowick’s wondrous, finely drawn images. His urbanscapes of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, many of which feature Manhattan, are dynamic and active. Might and power seem to be in the air.

“Slum Clearance,” 1939

Lozowick gives us a majestic city from soaring vantage points—the Brooklyn Bridge and the Third Avenue El—as well as forgotten pockets and corners under elevated tracks and along Manhattan’s industrial edges, where the new and old New York sometimes collide.

Though his focus is on how machines transformed the look and feel of the city, Lozowick doesn’t lose sight of the humanity driving the trucks and trains, powering the factories, and building the skyscrapers.

“57th Street,” 1929

“Following the advent of the Great Depression, Lozowick increasingly incorporated figures of laborers into his compositions—focusing less on the utopic promise of the machine and more on its impact on and relationship to the worker,” stated Emma Acker in a writeup about Cult of the Machine: Precisionism and American Art, a 2018 exhibit in San Francisco and Dallas that included Lozowick’s work.

“Traffic,” 1930

Of all the images in this post, only “Third Avenue” includes no human form. But humanity is there; someone is at the controls of the train.

A Herald Square faded ad for a haberdashery takes you to the 1920s

February 28, 2022

When Weber & Heilbroner moved into the Marbridge Building at 34th Street and Sixth Avenue in 1923, this men’s clothing company had already established itself as a leading haberdashery—with stores throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle earlier that year.

Could this enormous faded ad looming over Sixth Avenue for the Marbridge store date back that far?

It’s hard to believe, but it certainly is appropriately faded and has an old-timey feel, with the words under the company name reading “Stein-Bloch Clothes in the New York Manner.” (Stein-Bloch was a manufacturer of men’s suits and coats.)

Weber & Heilbroner stores shut down for good in the 1970s, but this glorious ad in Herald Square refuses to let New York forget the men’s hats, suits, and overcoats they were known for through the 20th century.

Ephemeral New York explores the servants of the Gilded Age in a new podcast

February 21, 2022

Gilded Age new rich and old money families had one thing in common: they all employed an army of servants to clean their mansions, mind their children, prepare their meals, drive their carriages, and take care of any other task members of elite society deemed necessary. But who were these butlers, chambermaids, laundresses, cooks, valets, and coachmen—and what was life like for them?

In a new episode of the history podcast The Gilded Gentleman, host Carl Raymond (writer, editor, and social and cultural historian) has invited me to take a look at the roles and responsibilities of domestic staff in grand mansions and more modest homes. We’ll explore what servants did—and who they really were. The episode pays tribute to the “invisible magicians” without whom the dinners, balls, and daily workings of households of the Gilded Age would never have been possible. 

The episode debuts on Tuesday, February 22. You can download it and subscribe to The Gilded Gentleman on Apple or your favorite podcast player. The Gilded Gentleman podcast is produced by The Bowery Boys.

[Photo: MCNY 1900, MNY204627]

What went on at the Gilded Age ‘Patriarchs balls’ for New York society

February 21, 2022

If the 19th century Gilded Age was still with us, New York society would right now be bracing for the end of the annual winter social season.

Evenings in the boxes at the Academy of Music, French dinners at Delmonico’s, costume balls at Knickerbocker mansions—each week between November and the arrival of Lent offered an intoxicating mix of social events for Gotham’s old-money “uppertens” (aka, the richest 10,000 people in the city).

But there was one type of ball that owes its existence to the clubby exclusiveness fostered during this late 19th century era of consumption and corruption: the Patriarchs Balls.

A ticket to a Patriarchs Ball in 1892

Patriarchs Balls grew out of a group called the Society of the Patriarchs, formed in 1872 by Ward McAllister (below)—the Southern-born social arbiter who became Caroline Astor’s sidekick and gatekeeper as she put her imprint on Gilded Age society.

The Patriarch Balls, given several times in a social season at Delmonico’s, had a specific purpose. “Both Astor and McAllister lamented the ‘fragmentation’ of society and hoped to alleviate it by creating a circle of elite New Yorkers at the top of the city’s social hierarchy,” wrote Sven Beckert in his 2003 book, The Monied Metropolis.

Ward McAllister

“For that purpose they appointed 25 ‘patriarchs’—among them Eugene E. Livingston, Royal Phelps, and William C. Schermerhorn—who each could invite five women and four men to the balls and dinners organized by Caroline Astor.”

Those guests who “passed the scrutiny of the Patriarchs gained admission to the Four Hundred, a figure equal to the number of guests who could fit comfortably into [Caroline Astor’s] ballroom, where an annual ball was held on the third Monday in January,” stated William Grimes, author of Appetite City.

Delmonico’s menu for an 1897 Patriarchs Ball

What actually happened at a Patriarchs Ball? Based on the breathless coverage in the many New York newspapers of the Gilded Age, the events sound a lot like any other ball.

“At 11:30 the guests began to arrive, and dancing was begun at once,” wrote the New York Times on February 14, 1888—the last Patriarchs Ball of the social season. “Round dances only were in order in the large ballroom.” Two orchestras provided the music, and the hall and stairway were decorated with vines and palms. Roses, lilies, and tulips filled Delmonico’s dining rooms.

Coverage of a Patriarchs Ball, 1881 New York Times

“At 12:30 supper was served, and was unusually elaborate,” the Times reported. “Terrapin and truffled capons were among the delicacies.”

Patriarchs Balls continued into the 1890s. But as the division between old money and new rich dissolved and a brutal recession hit the city in 1893, the appetite regular New Yorkers had for this kind of frivolity began to wane.

Patriarchs Ball ticket, 1896

The New York Times covered their last Patriarchs Ball in 1896. In 1897, they simply reported in a small article that one Patriarch, a banker named James Kernochan, was run over on his way to a ball that year “by either a vehicle or a car somewhere on 42nd Street.” (Mr. Kernochan, of 824 Fifth Avenue, was left unconscious.)

McAllister’s fall from grace also contributed to the demise of the Patriarchs. After he published something of a tell-all in 1890, and then spoke to the press about exactly who, supposedly, was part of The Four Hundred, Mrs. Astor and her circle shunned him.

[Top image: Alamy; second image: MCNY 83.20.2; third image: LOC; fourth image: NYPL Menu Collection; fifth image: New York Times headline 1881; sixth image: MCNY 40.108.134]

Clearing Gilded Age Fifth Avenue of its shacks and shantytowns

February 14, 2022

Fifth Avenue has been New York’s most exclusive thoroughfare almost since the first section of the avenue, between Waverly Place and 13th Street, was laid out in 1824.

Shacks at Fifth Avenue and 89th Street, by Ralph Blakelock in 1868

It’s easy to see why. Fifth Avenue was ideal in terms of privacy and comfort; it’s as far as possible from the industry of the Hudson and East Rivers and removed enough from the retail that crept up Broadway as the decades progressed.

Fifth Avenue also lacked a streetcar line or elevated train, so the slender avenue wasn’t clogged with traffic and crowds of strangers.

A Fifth Avenue shantytown, cross street not known

As the 19th century went on and the Gilded Age was in full swing, a Fifth Avenue address became even more sought after. Old money New Yorkers and new rich titans of industry built their mansions on what was dubbed ‘Millionaire’s Row’—from Fifth Avenue in the 50s to the stretch along Central Park in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

The rows of brownstone mansions and marble chateaus arrived by the early 1900s, and images of these massive houses have come to symbolize the wealth made during the Gilded Age.

Mansions of the old and new rich lining upper Fifth Avenue; that’s Mrs. Astor’s house on the corner of 65th Street in 1895

But what became of the shacks and shanties that formerly lined Fifth Avenue, especially the upper end, before it became a millionaire colony?

Fifth Avenue above 59th Street “at one time…was invaded by more than five thousand ‘wastrels,’ and was known as ‘Shantytown,’ and its queer inhabitants as ‘squatters,'” stated Fifth Avenue Old and New, a book published in 1924 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the avenue.

Fifth Avenue shacks, 1895

Not all of the shanties were residential. A New York Times article from 1901 that focused on the eventual mansion Andrew Carnegie was building on Upper Fifth Avenue referenced the “relics” of another era, when this section of Fifth was an undeveloped road.

“This upper section of the avenue shows many strange contrasts, for alongside the palaces of millionaires are to be found old-fashioned roadhouses and buildings that are little more than shanties, relics of the former days of the avenue when it was a road,” the Times wrote.

Headline in the New York Times, 1905

A squalid shack next door to Carnegie’s stunning mansion at Fifth and 91st Street was the subject of another Times article in 1905.

“Within a stone’s throw of Andrew Carnegie’s mansion, the marble-colonnaded twin residence of G. L. and C. W. McAlpin, and the somewhat less pretentious home of Carl Schurz stands a gabled shanty within 20 feet of Fifth Avenue of such scant dimensions and poverty-stricken appearance that it would be despised among the hovels that house some of the poorest of the city’s residents.”

The Times goes on to describe the family of 5 kids headed by an Irish father who works as a stevedore (and their dog, an “ugly-tempered canine brute”). “The space of the dwelling that serves as home for those six human beings and the beast is probably something like 20 by 12 feet, divided into two rooms.”

Illustration from “Fifth Avenue Old and New” by Henry Collins Brown via Columbia University Digital Collections

What happened to this family, and other owners and inhabitants elbowed out of upper Fifth Avenue? There’s no follow up, but it’s safe to say their rickety homes, built on land they didn’t own, were condemned once the lot was sold and construction was to begin on another mansion.

“The owners of the land are simply awaiting purchasers at fancy figures, and meanwhile do not care what sort of building remains on the land,” the 1901 Times piece states.

Fifth Avenue wasn’t the only millionaire mile in New York City with shantytowns. Riverside Drive, lined with Queen Anne and Beaux Arts mansions in the early 1900s, was also dotted by shanties and squatter shacks.

[Top image: Corbis; second image: MCNY, MNY227520; third image: Wikipedia; fourth image: MCNY, MNY219239; fifth image: New York Times; sixth image: Fifth Avenue Old and New via Columbia University Digital Collections]

The final days of a 44th Street Gilded Age gambling house

February 7, 2022

Places like Canfield’s were the flip side of the Gilded Age—the not-so-secret gambling houses, brothels, and music halls that paid police and politicians to look the other way in the Tenderloin and other unsavory neighborhoods.

But the beginning of the Progressive Era caught up with Canfield’s in 1902, according to a New-York Tribune article. That year, detectives under the direction of District Attorney William Travers Jerome raided this gambling den at 5 East 44th Street and found “roulette tables, poker tables, and other gambling paraphernalia behind a secret panel in the wall,” per the Tribune.

Proprietor Richard Canfield paid a fine and sold the business. It might have been another forgotten vice spot in New York City’s backstory if social realist artist Everett Shinn, who had a knack for depicting the underside and underdogs of New York, had not immortalized it in this slushy scene in 1912.

“Here we are presented with another drab scene of urban life in New York City,” stated theculturetrip.com, in a 2016 commentary. “It’s winter, and by the looks of the couple hurrying away under an umbrella, it’s quite cold outside. A horse, carriage, and driver wait in front of the gambling house, and both figures look rather unhappy to be out in the quiet, snow and ice-covered streets.”