Posts Tagged ‘Cornell Ironworks New York City’

Stop and admire the Chelsea Hotel’s beautiful iron balconies

November 14, 2022

There’s a lot to love about the Chelsea Hotel: the Queen Anne (or Victorian Gothic?) style, its backstory as a failed early cooperative apartment house, the enchanting main staircase and lobby fireplace, and its cultural relevance as a home for artists, writers, and free thinkers throughout the 20th century.

But there’s one feature I can’t get past: the magnificent floral-ornamented iron balconies gracing the circa-1883 building—seven rows of delicate leaves and flowers spread across the hotel’s red brick facade.

The floral motifs bring the beauty and softness of the natural world to the harsh brick and mortar cityscape of West 23rd Street.

The balconies “lend an atmosphere of charm to this high brick facade,” as the 1966 report designating the Chelsea a historic landmark put it.

What I didn’t realize after so many years of admiring the balconies is that they were made by Cornell Ironworks—whose name I’d often seen on manhole covers and cast iron buildings across Manhattan.

The company’s roots go back to 1828. But in the late 19th century, Cornell became “one of the largest manufacturing operations in New York City, employing 1,200 at its peak,” noted a historical timeline from dasma.com. “In the 1880s, the firm provide[d] circular stairs and ironwork for the Brooklyn Bridge and the iron base and stairways for the Statue of Liberty.”

Cornell also supplied the cast iron for many of the great department stores of Gilded Age New York City, from the A.T. Stewart store on 10th Street and Broadway to the Arnold, Constable Dry Goods establishment on Fifth Avenue and 19th Street, according to Walter Grutchfield.

The Chelsea Hotel has undergone lots of big changes over the past decade or so. Recently I took a walk through the new, spiffed up lobby and public rooms. While many of the art and architectural distinctions of the interior remain, the space lacks the intentional shabbiness and artistic colony feel of the pre-renovation hotel.

But you don’t need to go inside the Chelsea Hotel to enjoy its magic. Just stand outside on 23rd Street and look at the iron balconies—works of art created by a storied city manufacturer for a hotel clientele that appreciated artistic magic.