Posts Tagged ‘West 57th Street’

Two mystery gargoyles on a 57th Street building

June 27, 2021

When you walk along New York City streets, you never know who is looking down at you. And on a busy corner at West 57th Street and Broadway, you’re getting the evil eye from two mysterious grotesques.

These stone figures are affixed to what was once the main entrance for the Argonaut Building—a terra cotta beauty with Gothic touches that opened in 1909.

Back then, the building was the showroom for the Peerless Motor Car Company, a long-defunct carriage and car manufacturer that vacated the premises in the 1910s.

This stretch of Broadway near Columbus Circle was known as Automobile Row, thanks to all the car showrooms that popped up there in the early 20th century.

After Peerless (above, in a 1909 ad) left, General Motors took it over. Eventually the building was renovated and converted to office use. The Hearst company bought it and based many of their consumer magazines here through the 2000s.

When it was important to have a presence in this car-showroom neighborhood, Peerless made sure they occupied prime real estate.

But they also designed the building to fit into the corner, which explains why it has the Gothic look of the Broadway Tabernacle Church, which held court on Broadway and 56th Street (above photo, likely from the 1940s).

But back to the grotesques. Spooky and sly, laughing or crying out, they’re either holding up the building or hiding under it with sinister intentions. Shrouded in what looks like robes and slip-on shoes, they’ve been with the building since the beginning…and are apparently here to stay.

[Third image: New-York Tribune, December 12, 1909; fourth image: NYPL Digital Collection]

Wooden phone booths hiding on 57th Street

June 24, 2011

The Art Students League has been offering art classes and exhibits in a landmark building on West 57th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue since 1892.

Of course, these twin phone booths just inside the entrance probably aren’t quite that old.

But the details—wooden stools, glass doors, and fan switches (hey, it probably got hot quickly in a wooden booth, especially if you were having a tempestuous argument with the door shut tight)—have got to be midcentury.

The phones themselves? Hmm, maybe 1990? The phone books to the left look pretty ancient as well.

More charming relics from the pre-cell phone era can be found here.

When Carnegie Hall almost met the wrecking ball

March 21, 2011

Imagine this at 57th Street and Seventh Avenue: a blood-red, 44-story skyscraper set back from the corner and surrounded by two sunken  plazas.

Sound gruesome? In the 1950s, such a building was proposed to replace Carnegie Hall, the city’s premier music hall and then the home of the New York Philharmonic.

Unfortunately, Carnegie Hall, funded by Andrew Carnegie and opened in 1891, was bleeding cash.

So developers offered to buy the site and raze the hall (above in a NYPL photo from around 1910). An architect’s rendering of the skyscraper ran in a 1957 issue of Life magazine, and a demolition date had been set for March 31, 1960.

“Although many wanted to save the Hall, and many committees to help rescue it were formed, it was only at the eleventh hour that the Committee to Save Carnegie Hall, headed by [violinist] Isaac Stern, was able to stop the impending demolition,” states carnegiehall.org.

[Young ballerinas holding court on West 57th Street, trying to raise funds]

The city purchased the hall for $5 million; a nonprofit organization, headed by Stern, was chartered to run day-to-day operations.

And entertainers from Lenny Bruce to the Beatles to Judy Garland were able to perform there, along with classical greats like Pavarotti and Yo-Yo Ma.