Posts Tagged ‘Art Deco New York City’

Art Deco mystery nudes on a Park Avenue apartment house

May 1, 2023

There’s a lot to admire about 940 Park Avenue, a limestone and brick prewar beauty at the corner of East 81st Street described as having “refined, slender lines” in a 1925 announcement of the building in the Real Estate Record and Builders Guide.

That description sounds feminine, and perhaps not coincidentally, a series of brass female nudes grace the ironwork at the building entrance.

One figure extends her arms in a brass circle against a second-floor iron juliet balcony. Three other brass nudes appear above the front door, seemingly playing music.

Specifically what they represent (the three graces, possibly, like these similar figures on East 57th Street?) and why they were placed there by architects George and Edward Blum remains a mystery.

But these symmetrical, streamlined Art Deco emblems appear to celebrate humanity and creativity. How lovely for residents to view them every day as they enter the building!

A Yorkville tenement with mystery architectural details

December 12, 2022

The side streets of Yorkville are mostly old-school tenement blocks, and I’m a fan of these iconic Gotham residences. But it’s easy to walk past row upon row of these early 1900s walkups and not see the subtle design differences among them.

But sometimes you pass one that stands out. That’s the case with this five-floor low-rise at York Avenue and 75th Street.

If you view the York Avenue front, it looks like an ordinary tenement that lost its cornice but retains the evenly spaced rectangular windows and old-school fire escape characteristic of New York City tenements.

On the 75th Street side, however, are architectural details that appear almost Art Deco: geometric shapes with grooves between them and checkerboard-like ornamentation under some windows.

Perhaps 1409 York Avenue is an old-school tenement built at the turn of the century and then remodeled in the prewar decades to fit a more Moderne style. Or it’s a 1920s or 1930s building designed as kind of a cross between a tenement and a more contemporary style.

Building databases I’ve been looking pin the date it was built as 1910, which doesn’t seem right. In any case, it’s interesting to look at and wonder.

A metalwork dreamscape at a 1929 Gracie Square co-op

June 7, 2021

Ever since the far eastern end of 84th Street was rebranded Gracie Square in 1929 (after Archibald Gracie, whose summer home is now the mayor’s residence four blocks north), this one-block stretch alongside Carl Schurz Park has (mostly) been lined with tall, elegant apartment houses.

These buildings, off East End Avenue overlooking the East River, radiate a stuffy kind of luxury. But something very imaginative makes 7 Gracie Square stands out from its more staid neighbors.

It’s the magnificent metalwork on the front doors and window grilles—featuring a bestiary dreamscape of elephants, gazelles, plants, leaves, and curlicue, wave-like motifs that looks like snails or shells.

Of course the doors are the creation of an artist: a painter and muralist named Arthur W. Crisp. After relocating to New York City from his native Canada in the early 1900s, Crisp studied at the Art Students League and shared a studio on 34th Street.

Unlike most people working in creative fields, Crisp had some money by the late 1920s. He bought property on the future Gracie Square and commissioned a builder and architect to construct an apartment house, wrote Christopher Gray in a 2011 Streetscapes column in the New York Times.

“Crisp retained George B. Post & Sons, along with Rosario Candela, and they designed a tepid Art Deco facade of red brick, with vertical runs of brick set at an angle,” stated Gray.

Why Crisp decided to decorate the doorway entrance in various types of metal—and what inspired his vision to make this “tepid” building so unique—remains a mystery.

Perhaps it had to do with the fact that Crisp lived in one of the building’s maisonettes, according to Gray. He left behind his last name, which he playfully embedded in one of the iron window grilles to the left of the front doors (below).

Crisp didn’t stay long at 7 Gracie Square. In 1935, the building went bankrupt, Gray wrote, and at some point Crisp relocated to Charlton Street.

The building went co-op in 1945—and the dreamy, fanciful doors still greet residents, catching the eye of the occasional passerby when the sun hits the metal and creates a powerful gleam.

[MCNY X2010.7.2.8894]

The “Fish House” is the Bronx’s Art Deco jewel

January 29, 2018

It looks like it belongs in Miami Beach, not the Bronx.

But what’s been dubbed the “Fish House” or the “Fish Building” for the colorful aquatic-themed mural on the facade is on the Grand Concourse, not far from Yankee Stadium.

It’s one of dozens of Art Deco and Art Moderne apartment residences built on the Bronx’s most famous thoroughfare in the 1930s.

Why a fish facade in the Bronx? It’s unclear why architects Horace Ginsburn and Marvin Fine had the glittering mural made when they designed the building in 1937—or if it wasn’t their doing, who did have it installed.

The Grand Concourse—originally the Grand Boulevard and Concourse—supposedly started out as New York’s answer to the Champs Elysees, a majestic road of wide sidewalks, rows of trees, and contemporary architecture.

By the 1930s, it may have been clear that the Champs Elysees comparison wasn’t panning out, so perhaps the designers decided to have a little fun.

In any case, the inspiration for the fish mural is just one of the many mysteries behind New York City’s most iconic buildings. It’s a delightful bit of tropical undersea life with iridescent angel fish, amoebas, and sea anemone in the middle of an often overcast, grimy city.

The interior lobby is an explosion of Art Deco magnificence as well.

[Top photo: New York Times; fourth photo: MCNY 2014.3.2.1006]

A lonely Bronx monument to a World War I battle

January 22, 2018

The Bronx Supreme Court Building is an enormous Art Deco totem of justice—a limestone and copper fortress with a magnificent terrace featuring marble figures representing law, victory, and sacrifice.

But off to a corner on the terrace near the Grand Concourse and in sight of Yankee Stadium is a humble monument commemorating a century-old battle.

It’s a keystone marking a crucial episode during the Great War—the July 1918 battle of Chateau Thierry. In this French village northeast of Paris, American forces helped the French beat back the German offensive.

The keystone “is from an arch of the old bridge at Chateau Thierry, gloriously and successfully defended by American troops,” the plaque on the granite base reads.

The monument looks like many other modest, mostly forgotten memorials around the city. But there’s a story behind how it ended up here, and it has more to do with the threat of World War II than honoring bravery in World War I.

“In 1938, the French government feared the intentions of Nazi Germany and gave the keystone as a gift to the United States in an attempt to gain American sympathy,” writes Lloyd Ultan and Shelley Olsen in The Bronx: The Ultimate Guide to New York’s Beautiful Borough.

“Using the auspices of a New York City American Legion post, this was ultimately decided to be the site of the gift. It was installed with parade, pomp, and ceremony in 1940, but by that time, World War II had begun and the French Republic was in great jeopardy.”

But why the Bronx? Perhaps it had to do with the World War I hospital and Army training camp then located farther north in the borough, on the site of today’s Montefiore Medical Center.

The hospital and camp was called Chateau Thierry, after the famous battle, according to Northwest Bronx by Bill Twomey and Thomas X. Casey.

Interestingly, there’s also the Chateau Thierry apartments on Union Street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn—built in 1923.

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.

“Sixth Avenue North From 47th Street”

October 26, 2010

The old and new city collide in this 1936 dreamy depiction of two girls at the edge of the Sixth Avenue El by John J. Soble.

“Filled in the foreground with dark tenement buildings, rooftop life, and elevated train tracks, the painting gives way in the distance to Rockefeller Center’s soaring masses, rising from the older skyline,” reads the caption under the painting in New York: An Illustrated History.

“The Glow of the City,” 1929

July 21, 2010

Australian-born artist Martin Lewis casts a magical glow on an otherwise gritty city scene of laundry, fire escapes, and tenements. 

That’s the Chanin Building, an Art Deco skyscraper on 42nd Street, the woman is gazing at dreamily.

It’s just one of Lewis’ many drypoint etchings that capture New York street life in the 1920s and 1930s.