Posts Tagged ‘Art Deco New York’

The sea motifs of the East Side co-op River House

August 20, 2018

River House, the white-glove Art Deco co-op built in 1931 at the eastern end of 52nd Street, has a lot going for it.

There’s the appealing prewar design, rare privacy behind an iron fence and long driveway, and airy apartments with many rooms.

And of course, the biggest selling point might be the extraordinary views of the East River and beyond for the wealthy and famous who live there.

But you don’t have to be a shareholder to be enchanted by the co-op, built on the site of a former cigar factory.

That’s because anyone can walk down 52nd Street past First Avenue and see the whimsical sea motifs built across the facade on along doorways.

Seahorses are abundant on the building (and have actually been found in New York’s waters, amazingly). Two gilded seahorses decorate the entrance to what might have been the River Club, the co-op’s exclusive club overlooking the water.

Anchors decorate the facade too. They’re the perfect symbols for this luxury dwelling, which once boasted that residents could dock their yachts behind the building, so they had easy access to depart the city via the East River.

The creation of the FDR Drive a decade later unfortunately put an end to this perk.

Even this fountain built into the side of the building along the driveway appears to be designed like a shell. And is that Neptune or Poseidon, gods of the sea, guarding it?

[Top photo: MCNY 1931,]

This mosaic in the Waldorf Astoria will be missed

February 27, 2017

waldorfpostcardWhen it opened on Park Avenue in 1931, the Waldorf Astoria was the most incredible hotel New York had ever seen: 2,200 rooms, several restaurants and ballrooms, even a private railway platform.

In a few days, this dowager hotel will close up shop for a long renovation designed to turn it into a residence of mostly condos, not by-the-night rooms.

There’s a lot that will be missed, like the Art Deco ambiance and the bronze lobby clock with a gilded Lady Liberty on top.

But perhaps the most impressive feature no one will see for a couple of years at least is the 18-foot mosaic that’s welcomed visitors since 1939.


Titled “Wheel of Life” and made with 148,000 hand-cut marble tiles from all around the world, the mosaic depicts life from birth until death. It’s the work of French artist Louis Rigal.


“Wheel of Life,” which is currently in the running for landmark status, isn’t your ordinary hotel lobby curiosity. It tells a story and has something to say about innocence, struggle, love and the rest of the human existence.


Imagine all the millions of visitors who walked over it and perhaps really looked at it over the decades. See it in full on video here.

The zodiac symbols on a Bryant Park office tower

April 3, 2013

ZodiacbuildingjulyaugseptZodiacsignsfebmarchThe soaring temple of commerce at 11 West 42nd Street has been casting a shadow over Bryant Park since 1927.

Now home to NYU’s Midtown campus, the building features 32 floors and an ornate lobby (shown off in this slideshow).

Yet perhaps its quirkiest detail is on the facade: the 12 very detailed zodiac signs carved into the stone entrance, with the corresponding months listed beneath each one.

Eleven West 42nd Street has a few other distinctions. Above the zodiac signs are carved figures representing various professions—a likely nod to the building’s use as a modern office tower.


And on a more bittersweet note, the ground floor was the last home of Coliseum Books, one of New York’s premier independent bookstores until it went out of business in 2007.

Does this Midtown statue look like Mussolini?

January 12, 2012

Recognize this guy? It’s the Art Deco bronze statue of Atlas, the mythological Titan who held up the heavens.

He stands guard outside Rockefeller Center on Fifth Avenue, across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

When the statue was unveiled in 1937, some New Yorkers thought they recognized a different face: Benito Mussolini, the Italian fascist dictator.

Naturally this didn’t go over well in the late 1930s. An outcry ensued, and a protest was held.

“The artists, Lee Lawrie and Rene Chambellan, insisted no such tribute was made, and the issue was eventually forgotten,” wrote Brad Dunn and Daniel Hood in New York: The Unknown City.

Mussolini’s wasn’t the only visage some onlookers saw in the statue. “Others claimed the work resembled Christ when viewed from certain angles,” reports The Great Depression in America: A Cultural Encyclopedia, Volume 2.

[top photo from]