Posts Tagged ‘1920s New York City’

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.

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‘Inertia and desolation’ of Sunday in New York in the 1920s

July 5, 2021

Like so many paintings by Edward Hopper, “Sunday,” completed in 1926, is shrouded in mystery. Who is this lone man sitting on the curb, and what’s the significance of the row of empty storefronts he’s turned his back on?

The scene may be ambiguous, but the sense of isolation and disconnection conjured by the image will feel familiar for New Yorkers in the 1920s and the 2020s as well.

“Sunday depicts a spare street scene,” explains the Phillips Collection, which owns the painting. “In the foreground, a solitary, middle-aged man sits on a sunlit curb, smoking a cigar. Behind him is a row of old wooden buildings, their darkened and shaded windows suggesting stores, perhaps closed for the weekend or permanently.”

Though it’s impossible to know, this scene might be in Greenwich Village, near where Hopper lived and painted for most of his life on the Washington Square North.

“Oblivious to the viewer’s gaze, the man seems remote and passive,” the Phillips Collection continues. “His relationship to the nearby buildings is uncertain. Who is he? Is he waiting for the stores to open? When will that occur? Sunlight plays across the forms, but curiously, it lacks warmth. Devoid of energy and drama, Sunday is ambiguous in its story but potent in its impression of inertia and desolation.”

“Sunday” shouldn’t be confused with “Early Sunday Morning,” a better-known Hopper painting of a row of two-story buildings thought to be on Bleecker Street. That painting has a similar haunting, solitary feel. The same unbroken line of low-rises he depicts still exist today.

Going for a swim at Madison Square Garden

August 9, 2014

Imagine if every summer, the interior of the current Madison Square Garden was transformed into an enormous swimming pool, with diving platforms, seats for spectators, and a 25-foot waterfall.

Madison Square Garden as a Swimming Pool

Pretty cool, right? A pool like this actually did exist during the summer of 1921—host to swim competitions and diving shows, and open to the general public too.

The pool was the idea of boxing promoter Tex Rickard, who leased the Garden, then on Madison Avenue and 26th Street, for a series of Friday night fights.


“In addition to a full slate of boxing matches, Rickard’s plan for the Garden included remodeling the structure, adding seating capacity (bringing it to 13,000 seats), and turning the giant amphitheater into the world’s largest indoor swimming pool during the summer months,” states Tex Rickard: Boxing’s Greatest Promoter.

MadisonsquaregardenIIUnfortunately the pool didn’t last much longer. Rickard gave up his promoter’s license after being accused of improper behavior with a couple of teenage girls.

That didn’t end his career though. He helped finance the creation of a new Madison Square Garden on 50th Street and Eighth Avenue, which opened in 1925.

The circa-1890 arena, designed by Stanford White, with the new pool (above) was demolished.

The glowing embers of a Bryant Park skyscraper

August 12, 2013

AmericanradiatorbldgIt’s only fitting that the black-brick tower at 40 West 40th Street looks kind of like it’s topped by a blazing furnace.

This circa-1924 gothic-Art Deco beauty served as the headquarters for the American Radiator Company, a heater manufacturer.

Georgiaokeeferadiatorbldg“When the American Radiator Building was designed, automobile radiators were black boxes often capped with bright header tanks and fittings crafted of solid brass,” states The Architecture Traveler.

The radiator effect was really dazzling at night, when “glowing windows burned in the black facade and the crown was lit up, an attention-grabbing metaphor for the headquarters of a company that specialized in home heating,” adds Eric Nash’s Manhattan Skyscrapers.

SteamheatfigurepipeGeorgia O’Keeffe was taken by the glow of the building after sunset—she painted “Radiator Building—Night, New York” from her window at the Shelton Hotel in 1927 (above right).

The many figures on the third floor facade—a pipe fitter, a man pouring water into a box—”refer to great moments in the history of steam heat,” says Nash.

Today the building houses the Bryant Park Hotel—a very different tenant in a very different New York City.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iridescent city of 1919

March 16, 2011

Author, Lost Generation spokesman, and 1920s Jazz Age icon F. Scott Fitzgerald was once just like millions of New Yorkers before and after him: a struggling writer trying to make his mark.

In a posthumous essay collection called My Lost City, he chronicled his move here in 1919—renting a room, working at an ad agency, and waiting for Zelda Sayre to leave Alabama and marry him:

“New York had all the irridescence of the beginning of the world. The returning troops marched up Fifth Avenue and girls were instinctively drawn east and north towards them—this was the greatest nation and there was gala in the air.

“As I hovered ghost-like in the Plaza Red Room of a Saturday afternoon, or went to lush and liquid garden parties in the East Sixties or tippled with Princetonians in the Biltmore Bar, I was haunted always by my other life—my drab room in the Bronx, my square foot of the subway, my fixation upon the day’s letter from Alabama—would it come and what would it say?—my shabby suits, my poverty, and love. . . .”

“One by one my great dreams of New York became tainted. . . . I wandered through the town of 127th Street, resenting its vibrant life; or else I bought cheap theatre seats at Gray’s drugstore and tried to lose myself for a few hours in my old passion for Broadway. I was a failure—mediocre at advertising work and unable to get started as a writer. Hating the city, I got roaring, weeping drunk on my last penny and went home….”

Of course, Zelda did marry him, and together they defined the excesses of Jazz Age New York.

Any struggling writer or artist can probably relate to what he’s getting at: The awe of being in New York, socializing at all the right places but still feeling like an outsider, pining for success and worrying that the city will defeat you.

A midtown luxury hotel’s slightly sordid past

May 9, 2009

The Hotel Manger proclaims itself “the wonder hotel of New York—a modern marble palace” in this late 1920s postcard. And with amenities such as “circulating ice water,” it must have been quite a luxe place to hang your hat.


It was also a luxe place to commit suicide via jumping from one of its 20 stories.

A 1927 New York Times article chronicles one suicide: “When the woman came to the hotel she was assigned to Room 1239. About 10 o’clock guests on the second floor heard a thud, and the woman’s body was seen on the top of an extension that runs over the main entrance to the hotel.”

It wasn’t just a suicide magnet; The Manger also got in trouble with the feds for reportedly serving alcohol during Prohibition. A raid resulted in the arrest of several bellboys, waiters, and two bootleggers, as well as the padlocking of the building.

Perhaps that’s why the hotel was sold in 1931 and reopened as the Hotel Taft. The Taft catered to a Broadway tourist crowd, fell on hard times in the 1970s, and shut down in 1985. It’s now the Michelangelo.