Posts Tagged ‘beaux-arts buildings’

The wildly ornate lobby inside a budget hotel

December 6, 2010

From the outside, the Hotel Wolcott, at 4 East 31st Street, isn’t anything extraordinary.

Sure, this discount hotel has a lovely Beaux-Arts exterior, mostly obscured by scaffolding these days. But so do many other buildings nearby.

Still, if you head past the no-frills entrance and look up at the lobby ceiling . . . wow!

It’s a Louis XVI–style time machine, with an ornate high ceiling, mirrored panels, stained glass, marble pillars, and incredible chandeliers.

All this ornamentation reflects the Hotel Wolcott’s early days as a luxurious residence for the rich in Gilded Age New York.

Built in 1904, guests included Edith Wharton, and the hotel is frequently mentioned in society columns of the era.

It’s not everyone’s style, but the ceiling is incredibly preserved. A copy of the hotel’s brochure from 1904 is available on its website.

A 1940s view outside the Public Library

March 15, 2010

This postcard was mailed in 1943. But a typical day at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street doesn’t look much different in 2010.

Here’s a look at what occupied this corner before 1911, when the building opened.

When New York’s water came from 42nd Street

June 14, 2009

This photo, of what looks like a pretty ordinary day in 1875, captures the corner of  Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Hey, what happened to the main branch of the New York Public Library?

Before that Beaux-Arts gem was built, the city’s first distributing reservoir took up the site. This reservoir held New York City’s first fresh, clean supply of water, which originated in Westchester’s Croton River.


The reservoir, built in 1842, is pretty impressive. Walls 50 feet high and 25 feet thick were topped by a promenade; it could hold 20,000,000 gallons.

Once the Croton River became a dam, the city didn’t need a reservoir on 42nd Street anymore. It was demolished in 1899 to make way for the iconic library building that greets New Yorkers today.

The fleeting fame of a beautiful artists’ model

June 1, 2009

New York City experienced a major building boom in the early years of the 20th century. The New York Public Library main branch, the Manhattan Municipal Building, and the Customs House at Bowling Green, among other Beaux-Arts jewels, were all built just after the turn of the century.

Audreymunson2And all are decorated with statues based on the face and figure of Audrey Munson, the most sought-after artists’ model at the time.

Audrey came to the city from upstate New York in 1906 with her mother after her parents divorced. She was discovered by a photographer while walking down the street and soon found herself posing for prominent sculptors and achieving the kind of fame not unlike what today’s supermodels experience.

Between 1906 and World War I, Audrey was the inspiration for several public sculptures in Manhattan, among them the woman in the fountain across the street from the Plaza Hotel and the figure on the Isidor Straus Memorial in Straus Mark on 106th Street and Broadway. She also inspired dozens of pieces in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

After trying to break in to movies and theater in the late teens, Audrey’s star began falling. Broke and alone, she moved back to her upstate hometown and sold kitchen utensils. In 1922 she tried to commit suicide and was ordered into St. Lawrence State Hospital for the Insane. 

She lived there until 1996, when she died at the age of 104.


Audrey Munson, inspiration for this statue at Straus Park in Morningside Heights.