Posts Tagged ‘Art Nouveau in New York City’

A touch of Art Nouveau on a former Fifth Avenue Gilded Age mansion

June 16, 2022

When Andrew Carnegie decided to build a mansion for himself and his family on Fifth Avenue and 91st Street, he told his architects to construct “the most modest, plainest, and most roomy house in New York,” according to a 1971 Landmarks Preservation Commission report.

The mansion, completed in 1903, did not disappoint the industrialist-turned-philanthropist. At four stories and with 64 rooms surrounded on two sides by gardens, it was certainly roomy.

And while modest and plain are in the eye of the beholder, Carnegie’s Georgian-style house displayed more modesty and restraint than many of the pompous marble and stone castles going up on Fifth Avenue at the time.

But even an elegant mansion built in the style of an English country manor is likely to be influenced by the new design trends coming out of Europe at the turn of the century. The glass and iron canopy over the front entrance, with its curvy shape and floral motifs, seems to be a nod to Art Nouveau.

Though it never made a huge splash in New York City, Art Nouveau design prevailed in many European cities in the early 1900s. Buildings, clothing, and objects were designed with graceful, flowing lines and curlicues that mimicked flower stems, petals, and other forms found in nature.

The canopy is described as “Tiffany-style” by Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel’s The Landmarks of New York, Fifth Edition. Based on early images and the 1910 postcard, above, it appears to be part of the original house Carnegie occupied until his death in 1919. (His wife resided in the home until she passed away in 1946.)

Whether the craftsman who created it was inspired by Art Nouveau or approached it with a different influence, the canopy adds a delightful touch to a Gilded Age mansion that since 1976 has been the home of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, according to The Landmarks of New York.

Very fitting that a world-class design museum occupies a mansion that inside and outside reflects such design and style.

[Third image: MCNY x2011.34.2869]

The lovely Art Nouveau window grille on a Riverside Drive row house

November 15, 2021

There’s a lot of enchantment on Riverside Drive, the rare Manhattan avenue that deviates from the 1811 Commissioners Plan that laid out the mostly undeveloped city based on a pretty rigid street grid.

Rather than running straight up and down, Riverside winds along its namesake park, breaking off into slender carriage roads high above the Hudson River. (We have Central Park co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted, who also conceptualized Riverside Park and what was originally called Riverside Avenue, to thank for this.)

But the surviving row house at number 294 deserves a closer look. More precisely, it’s the beautiful wrought iron grille protecting the wide front parlor window that invites our attention.

Number 294 was originally a four-story, single-family home completed in 1901. It’s a wonderful, mostly untouched example of the Beaux-Arts style that was all the rage among the city’s elite at the turn of the last century.

“The most striking features of the facade of 294 Riverside Drive—the orderly, asymmetrical arrangement, the finely carved limestone detailing, the graceful Ionic portico, the slate mansard roof, the elaborate dormers, and the ornate ironwork—eloquently express the richness embodied in the Beaux-Arts style,” wrote the Landmarks Preservation Commission in a 1991 document, which designated the house, built in 1901, as a city landmark.

That unusual front window grille, however, seems to be the one part of the house that aligns more with the Art Nouveau style, which emerged in Europe in the early 1900s and wasn’t widely adopted in New York City.

Take a look at the the graceful, flowing lines and curlicues that mimic flower stems, petals, and other forms found in nature. This grille is original to the house, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which called it “intricate and naturalistic.” The AIA guide to New York City pays homage to its Art Nouveau beauty, calling it “remarkable.”

Why such a fanciful window grille (below on the house in 1939-1941) became part of the house likely has to do with the man who commissioned number 294 and was its first owner.

William Baumgarten, born in Germany and the son of a master cabinetmaker, was one of the most prominent interior designers in Gilded Age New York City. Baumgarten designed the inside of William Henry Vanderbilt’s Fifth Avenue mansion; along with his firm, Herter Brothers, he was responsible for the interiors of other mansions and luxury hotels.

He and his wife, Clara, occupied the Riverside Drive row house until first William and then his wife passed away. In 1914, their survivors family sold it off. It was soon carved up into apartments, as it remains today. (The photo above has a “for rent” sign on the facade, but I just can’t make out a price.)

Baumgarten was known for his creative genius and talent. He would certainly want to live in a row house mansion (now known as the William and Clara Baumgarten House) of his own that reflected the beautiful design touches of his era.

[Third image: NYC Department of Records and Information Services]

An Art Nouveau clock on a downtown skyscraper

March 1, 2021

The Standard Oil Building at 26 Broadway (officially its address spans 10-30 Broadway) has been part of the downtown skyline for almost a century. At street level, the building follows the 17th century contours of lower Broadway, while the 480-foot tower adheres to the city street grid.

Built to serve as the headquarters for this Rockefeller-run company, the 1928 skyscraper also incorporates Standard Oil’s original building, constructed on the same spot in the 1880s.

But there’s something curious at the building’s second entrance at 28 Broadway: a beautifully designed, possibly Art Nouveau-inspired clock.

What’s the backstory on this unusual clock—a timepiece of Roman numerals as well as tendrils and petals similar to the two stone-carved florals below it?

The 1995 Landmarks Preservation Committee report notes the clock briefly: “The two secondary entrances in the Broadway facade are interposed on large arched window openings, both of which are in pedimented door surrounds with clocks mounted above,” the report states.

The other Broadway entrance, at 24 Broadway, opened into a jewelry store, per the LPC report. Today it’s a branch of the New York Film Academy and is topped by a smaller clock with Roman numerals that lacks the decoration of the clock at number 28 (see it here).

Could the clock in question have come from the original building—or perhaps it has some significance to Standard Oil? Or maybe it’s just a stunningly designed naturalistic timepiece that added a nice contrast with this dignified corporate headquarters.

[Third image: MCNY x2011.34.1129]

An Upper West Side Art Nouveau–like subway sign

June 19, 2017

You don’t have to be a typeface nerd to appreciate loveliness the letters and numerals affixed to plaques and signs in the city’s earliest subway stations.

My favorite is the “96” at the Broadway and 96th Street station. Opened in 1904 as part of the original IRT line, it looks like the numerals were created by hand, not a printing press.

Thanks to the rosettes, green coloring, and what look like two tulips framing the numerals, this plaque across from the platform also looks like a rare examples of the naturalistic Art Nouveau design style—which swept Europe in the early 20th century but didn’t make much of an impression in New York, save for some building facades.

13 stories of Art Nouveau beauty in Manhattan

March 13, 2017

The magnificent boulevards of Prague and Vienna are resplendent with Art Nouveau building facades, lobbies, and public transit entrances.

But the sinuous lines and naturalistic curves characteristic of this artistic style never caught on in turn-of-the-century New York, where architects seemed to prefer the stately Beaux Arts or more romantic Gothic Revival fashion.

It’s this rarity of Art Nouveau in Gotham that makes the 13-story edifice at 20 Vesey Street so spectacular.

Completed in 1907, this is the former headquarters for the New York Evening Post—the precursor to today’s New York Post, founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton.

The building is across the street from the graveyard behind St. Paul’s Chapel off Broadway, a wonderful place to look up and linger.

Architect Robert D. Kohn designed the limestone structure with three rows of wavy windows and crowned it with a copper roof.

At the 10th floor, Kohn added a playful touch for a media company: four figures meant to represent the “Four Periods of Publicity“: the spoken word, the written word, the printed word, and the newspaper.

Note the “EP” insignia decorating the iron railings that link the four figures.

The Evening Post moved out in 1930, and today 20 Vesey is known as the Garrison Building, which houses a fairly typical mix of businesses behind its European-like facade.

Art Nouveau–inspired buildings are scattered in different pockets of New York, such as this former department store on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street.

Plans for an Art Nouveau hotel around the corner on Church Street drawn up in 1908 by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, unfortunately, never panned out.

[Third photo, 1910, MCNY x2010.7.1.887]

Art Nouveau beauty on a Fifth Avenue building

April 24, 2014

Baltmanfifthaveentrance3In 1906, distinguished fine goods store B. Altman & Company opened this Italian Renaissance palazzo–inspired store on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street.

The new store helped transform “middle” Fifth Avenue from an elegant street of small shops and mansions to a commercial boulevard fronted by several department stores.

 B. Altman went out of business in 1989. Yet the lovely flagship building still stands, taken over by CUNY’s Graduate Center.

BAltmanfifthaveentrance2

The Fifth Avenue facade is stunning: the columns, the bays, and especially the “curving, Art Nouveau style metal and glass canopy, supported by elaborate wrought-metal brackets” above each entrance, in the words of the CUNY Graduate Center website.

Baltmanfifthaveentrance4These ornate entrances are essentially unchanged. “The B. Altman & Company building remains an exemplar of American neo-Renaissance commercial design, and a landmark in the cultural history of New York,” the CUNY site notes.

It’s a little slice of old New York beauty amid the express buses and Empire State Building crowds and throngs of shoppers.

The Brooklyn Museum’s hit art exhibit in 1921

July 15, 2011

Alphonse Mucha’s Art Nouveau style became hugely popular in New York and Europe around the turn of the century, thanks in part to his theatrical posters of top actress Sarah Bernhardt.

Czech-born Mucha even lived in the city for a few years, his 1904 arrival trumpeted by the Daily News, which called him “the greatest decorative artist in the world.”

So when the Brooklyn Museum staged a retrospective of Mucha’s drawings, paintings, and posters in early 1921, about 60,000 New Yorkers packed the museum in January and February to see it.

The success of the exhibit may have had to do with the fact that it was free.

“Alphonse Mucha opted to allow free entry rather than charging each visitor fifty cents,” states the website of the Musuem of Art Nouveau and Art Deco in Spain.

“At the time money collected for admission went to the artist, and for Mucha it would have amounted to a very substantial sum.”

The ladies looking out over lower Broadway

October 13, 2010

It kind of looks like they’re entombed in propped-up coffins and are about to be laid to rest, doesn’t it?

Whatever the backstory, these ladies now stand guard on the facade of the 12-story Broadway-Franklin Building.

Constructed in 1907 as an office tower, the building is also referred to as Collect Pond House Apartments, after the 18th century pond-turned-stinkhole that once existed across nearby Lafayette Street.

The enchanting angel of East 14th Street

July 19, 2010

It’s hard to see her among the decorative elements at the top of this tenement building on the north side of the street, especially when you’re hurrying by on a sunny summer afternoon.

But here she’s been for probably over a century now, making gritty East 14th Street around Second Avenue a little bit lovelier.

The futuristic hotel never built in New York

May 25, 2010

Architect Antoni Gaudi designed fantastical, colorful, Art Nouveau-style buildings and churches in his native Spain in the late 19th century. 

There’s nothing like them here in New York. But if Gaudi had his way, there would be—a hotel, topped by a giant star, he intended to build on Church Street.

 

Plans were drawn up in 1908. At 1,250 feet, the proposed Hotel Attraction would have been the tallest building in the city.

It never went up, of course, and the sketches were mostly forgotten for decades after Gaudi’s death in 1926.

Now, a group of Spanish artists are reportedly entering Gaudi’s design in the World Trade Center memorial design competition.

The crazy thing is, ground zero is exactly where Gaudi had intended the Hotel Attraction to go up—102 years ago.

At right, Gaudi’s 1908 sketches for the hotel