Posts Tagged ‘Manhattan Municipal Building’

A glorious 1914 tower symbolizes the united city

March 27, 2017

Manhattan in the late 19th century was running out of space—government office space, to be precise.

City Hall, which had been home to New York’s officials and agencies since 1812, was bursting at the seams by the middle of the Gilded Age.

In the 1880s, it was clear that the expanding city of more than one million residents needed bigger quarters if New York’s government was going to grow and function properly.

After 30 years of planning—selecting the site at One Centre Street, holding design contests (McKim, Mead, and White won out), and then constructing the new office tower—the Manhattan Municipal Building opened for business.

Officially a skyscraper at 40 stories high, the building’s design was inspired by the 12th century Giralda Tower in Spain, with its central arch (once open to cars) borrowed from Rome’s Arch of Constantine.

There’s much to love about this triumphant work of architecture: the vaulted entrance with Guastavino ceiling tiles, the bas relief panels, and the gilded copper statue, “Civic Fame” (modeled by Audrey Munson), perched at the top of the central tower.

And amid these and other beautiful features are two hidden symbols of the recently united metropolis.

The united city theme certainly made sense. After all, in the time between the building’s conception and completion, Greater New York was born—an “Imperial City” of five boroughs that doubled Gotham’s population and increased its size sixfold on January 1, 1898.

The first is above the middle section (left), where “there are three tiered drums on top of another, flanked by four smaller pinnacle turrets, symbolizing the four boroughs joined to Manhattan,” states

The second is the crown Civic Fame is holding up with her left hand.

This is a “mural” crown—”a crown with five crenellations as of a city wall, representing the five boroughs of the city,” according to “Also on the crown are dolphins, symbolizing New York’s maritime setting.”

Since 2015, the Manhattan Municipal Building has been renamed the David N. Dinkins Municipal Building.

No disrespect to the former mayor, but like the Queensboro Bridge becoming the Ed Koch Bridge, it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.

[Top photo: MCNY 1913: X2010.28.683; second photo: NYPL; third photo: MCNY 1910: X2010.11.1682; fourth image: unknown; fifth image: MCNY, 1913: 2001.37.1R

Vaulted ceiling loveliness outside a city building

August 12, 2013

Contemporary government buildings have a reputation for functional ugliness.

MunicipalbuildingceilingBut in 1909, when the newly consolidated city of New York needed more office space, city officials seemed to realize that a forward-thinking metropolis should have triumphant architecture.

So they commissioned the McKim, Mead, and White–designed Manhattan Municipal Building at One Centre Street, which was completed in 1914.

One of the building’s loveliest features is outside: the vaulted ceiling at the south arcade.


Here, surrounding the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge-Chambers Street subway station, are beautiful columns and white Gustavino ceiling tiles.

Look up at them for a brief moment, and you might imagine yourself at an Italian palazzo rather than in Lower Manhattan.


The vaulted ceilings are a reminder of the Gustavino-tiled ceilings of the long-shuttered City Hall subway station, all glorious curves and colors and light.

Lower Manhattan on an enchanting night

July 5, 2010

“Looking east from the Woolworth Tower at Night” states the back of this penny postcard.

“The Municipal building looms up large in the foreground, while the rest of the city looks insignificant when seen from this height, and one can only see myriads of lights, throwing their reflection on the water.”

Hmm, so why does the postcard depict the Brooklyn Bridge as abruptly stopping, with no way to get on or off, at City Hall park?

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.