Good God,
what disorder,
what impetuosity!
What perfection
already, what
What unity in a
molecular state,
clear crystalli-
It is sublime
and atrocious...

  Le Corbusier

A R T   D E C O   E R A
P A R T   I

The skyscraper was beginning to create a style of its own from a combination of European styles like Expressionism, as synthesized in the Style Moderne of interior design. Although still tied to the old visual forms with masonry walls, some works displayed a great deal of originality in their aesthetics.


American Standard
Barclay-Vesey Building
Marriott East Side Hotel
Ritz Tower
Paramount Building
Fred F. French Building
Sherry Netherland Hotel
N.Y. Life Insurance Co.
Hotel Pierre
Beekman Tower
10 E 40th Street
Bank of New York Building
1 Fifth Avenue
Fuller Building
Helmsley Building
Chanin Building
63 Wall Street
Western Union Building
Lincoln Building

Skyscrapers 1925-1945
Images from the Boston College archives.

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[Raymond Hood & André Fouilhoux]

was built in 1923-1924 for the American Radiator Co., a heater manufacturing company.

The 36-storey building had one of the first set-back pyramidal silhouettes in the city, and another influenced by Saarinen's entry on the Chicago Tribune competition.

The program for the building called for a relatively small structure, and to give the structure an enhanced appearance of a tower, Hood set the building back from the neighbouring buildings.

The black brickwork on the facade was chosen to lessen the visual contrast between the walls and the windows and thus give the tower an effect of solidity and massiveness. The Gothic-style pinnacles and the terra-cotta friezes on the edges of the setbacks are coated with gold.

The base is clad in bronze plating and black granite. There are carved allegories, symbolizing the transformation of matter into energy, quite appropriate for a heater company. The entrance lobby is decorated with black marble and mirrors.

In accordance with the line of manufacture of the builder, the building was designed with a display hall for American Radiator's heater products (arch. André Fouilhoux, 1937). After the building was sold to the American Standard Co., the new owner's array of plumbing manufacture got the place of honour.

After having been vacant under Japanese ownership for years, the building was sold to Philip Pilevsky for $15 million in 1998. Three years later, the building had been converted into hotel Bryant Park (arch. David Chipperfield) with 130 rooms and a 70-seat movie theater in the basement. The landmark status of the exterior required especially careful renovation of the facade decor as well as prohibited changes such as bigger guestroom windows.

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(140 West St.)

[McKenzie, Voorhees & Gmelin, Ralph Walker as chief designer]
was built in 1923-1927 for the New York Telephone Company and named after the streets that border it to the north and south.

The 152-meter building is considered to be the first Art Deco skyscraper and its designers were also awarded the Architectural League of New York's gold medal of honor for 1927 for fine expression of the new industrial age.

The form of the building was decided upon after studies of relation between land cost (large ground area) and construction cost (a tall building): a 32-storey design was chosen as the most economical. The massive form with floors of 4,830 m² without any light courts was possible because the telephone installations didn't require natural light. The frame of the building is constructed in steel and concrete, with the sturdy floor plates designed to support the original mechanical switching centers.

Drawing from Saarinen's Chicago Tribune competition entry, the brick-clad building is topped with a short, sturdy tower, with the vertical piers ending on "battlements" on top and with sculptural ornaments on the setbacks. The entrances are decorated with bronze bas-reliefs with a main theme of bells, the symbol of the Bell Telephone Company (image). A neo-Romanesque vaulted arcade with ceiling murals runs the whole length of the Vesey Street side.

The 70 m long lobby extends through the middle of the building from Washington to West Streets, with each entrance having its own address (Washington Street is nowadays closed to motor traffic and paved). The lobby floor is covered with bronze plates depicting the construction of New York's telephone network, and the ceiling has frescoes by Hugo R. B. Newman with the theme of the history of communication, culminating in the then-cutting-edge "candlestick" telephone.

The September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the nearby World Trade Center damaged also this building, causing, along with some external bruising, also more serious damage inside. Beams from the falling buildings tore through the building's structures, and the underground vaults with their tele-equipment were flooded with 38 million liters of water, putting 300,000 phone lines out of order for a week.

The reconstruction of the building, including the painstaking restoration of the eastern entrance bas-reliefs and the lobby ceiling murals (estimated at $2 million and unveiled in early 2004), has been estimated to cost $200 million in all -- the Verizon telecom infrastructure in Downtown will take $1.4 billion to repair in full.

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[Arthur Loomis Harmon]

was completed in 1924 as the Shelton Towers Hotel, then the tallest in the world.

The 34-storey building's exterior follows the zoning regulations with its triple setbacks. Although the 1916 zoning resolution was enforced several years earlier, this building employed perhaps the first proper setback design in NYC.

Each setback and the top are clad in limestone, in contrast to the overall brown facade brickwork. Also the base is of limestone, with neo-Romanesque decor and arches. The decor also includes protruding gargoyles above entrance as well as extensive use of other sculptures.

The hotel was built with 1,200 guestrooms for bachelor residents, but was soon turned into a mixed-use hotel. To cater for occupants' needs, the top housed sporting facilities and roof gardens. Painter Georgia O'Keefe lived in suite 3003, which she also used as her studio, until 1934.

The hotel nowadays incorporates 629 rooms and 17 suites as well as 19 meeting rooms.

In 2005, the Morgan Stanley Real Estate bought the building for $287 million.

The Cityreview entry
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THE RITZ TOWER (109 E 57th St./455 Park Ave.)
[Emery Roth and Carr�re & Hastings]

was built in 1925 fo the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. as the world's first residential hotel skyscraper.

The selection of a hotel-type apartment tower instead of a standard residential building was due to the NYC zoning unambiguously restricting the height of a residential house (only the arrival of the new NY State Multiple Dwelling Law in 1929 changed that). As a "hotel", the 41-storey tower could be built as a residential tower and seemingly as a suite hotel.

The base is of rusticated white limestone with Renaissance themes, whereas the tower has a warm-toned brick facing and somewhat more composed decor. The terraces on the setbacks were a novelty at the time and a later-day example can be seen in the next-door Galleria tower.

The top of the building at 166,5 m is set back with ordinary copper roofs and topped with a series of obelisks.

A prestige address from the beginning and one that ultimately made high-rise dwelling popular, the Ritz incorporates apartments of uncompromised splendour. The largest of the duplex apartments have double-height living rooms and occupy a whole floor.

The Cityreview entry
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[C.W. and George L. Rapp]

was completed in 1926 for the paramount Pictures film company.

The building's setbacks are reminiscent of a "para"mountain and the building top with the stylized, 6-meter glass globe and clock faces is illuminated at night.

The building originally housed the offices for the Paramount Pictures and it incorporated also the new grandiose cinema, the 3,664-seat Paramount Theater, opened on November 19, 1926. Built within the narrow office tower facing Broadway, the theater lobby led to the "backlot" theater's main lobby and the auditorium itself, both right next to the New York Times Building, parallel to the main office building, the back wall of the theater facing W 44th Street.

Entered through a large offset window archway -- featuring a stained glass Paramount hallmark mountain -- the Grand Hall lobby was modeled after the Renaissance style of the Paris Opera, although in larger scale. The lobby interior sported marble columns, massive chandeliers and a grand staircase, as well as several lounges and promenades.

The theater itself had gilded fresco decor by Joseph Aruta, with wall niches for statues in Classical Greek style. The bandstand could be raised and lowered and a Wurlitzer organ was fitted for accompanying the silent cinema. The large elliptical ceiling dome had a promenade with views below at its base, closed within a few years.

The 1927 opening of the Roxy Theater on W 50th Street marked a shifting of interest to this new rival, and there were plans to build a 5,000-seat second Paramount theater across the Broadway, but the Depression ended such plans. Due to the narrowness of the theater, the 1950s conversion into a widescreen cinema required the removal of part of the procscenium arch in front of the stage. The theater was eventually closed in August 1964 and built over with new office floors, occupied by the neighbouring New York Times on 43rd Street. Also the archway was bricked over as office space.

In 2001 the World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, another short-lived high-profile entertainment entity in Times Square, made a $7.9 million recreation to the entrance arch and marquee that led to the theater, converted into a WWF store and an underground WWF theme restaurant, closed in 2003. The new arch structure used concrete instead of the original limestone and featured light titles and the WWF logo. The 13 m wide marquee doubled as a bandstand and featured on its face pioneering LED signage that arced over the entrance. (As a historic sidenote, the gala for unfurling the sign marquee was cancelled due to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the WTC and a replacement design of an animated American flag was programmed overnight and opened on the 12th.)

The Cinema Treasures entry
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[Sloan & Robertson and H. Douglas Ives]

was built in 1926-1927 as a namesake office building by the developer Fred F. French.

Following his better-known development, the luxurious Tudor City (1925-1928), bordering on First Avenue, at the time the largest housing development in Mid-Manhattan, this building replaced the former's historic style with the new, soaring aesthetic of Art Deco, albeit with a twist of influence from the beginnings of the human civilization.

The 38-storey building rises from a three-storey base clad in limestone and decorated bronze paneling. The austere, vertically accentuated facade of orange brick is enhanced by terra-cotta decor on the setbacks. The narrow, east-west slab of tower rises uninterrupted for 17 floors on the Fifth Avenue side all the way to the triplex penthouse above the last setback, topped by a watertank housing at 131 m with large, colourful rectangular panels depicting allegorical themes. On the eastern portion of the plot, the building rises as a wing with a series of setbacks.

The 10-elevator banks (with bas-relief bronze elevator doors) rise from the middle of the base, and, due to the location of the tower, occupy the eastern end of the slab.

The arched entrance is highly decorated with embossed bronze motifs, the marble lobby has gold trimmings and ceiling decor following the pattern of Babylonian influence that runs through the whole building.

The building underwent a restoration and modernization program after MetLife acquired it in the 1980s. In 2002, the building was acquired for $258 million by a group led by the Jeffrey Feil Group, including the Malkin family and the Nakash brothers (Jordache Enterprises). In 2006, the building went for sale, with an expected sales price of $200 to $250 million.

The Cityreview entry
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[Schulze & Weaver and Buchman & Kahn]

was completed in 1927 as the then-tallest apartment hotel in the world for Louis Sherry and Lucius Boomer.

Louis Sherry was an established provider of high-range confectionery items and catering on both sides of the Atlantic -- including the connecting transatlantic liners. The company eventually expanded into apartment hotel business with this pronounced 38-storey tower.

Facing Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, the ground floor presents the facing Grand Army Plaza with a slew of luxury retail and restaurant spaces. Outside the entrance stands a sidewalk clock.

Above the four-story, travertine-clad base, the building rises as a plot-sized dark brown brick mass until set back and turned into a tower; above the 24th floor, each floor has only one apartment. The spirelike top with French Chateau influences houses the water tower, topped by a perched observation balcony at 173.5 m.

The small lobby has sculpture panels salvaged from the demolished Vanderbilt mansion located nearby at 58th Street. The small-ish restaurant at the back of the lobby was given high ceilings to make it appear larger than it was; more than on public catering, the Prohibition-era hotel relied on selling the guests bootlegged liquor in the privacy of their rooms. (As a sign of changed times, the basement was converted in the 1970s into a nightclub, in which function the space it still serves.)

The 165 apartments of the building were converted into a co-op in 1954.

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[Cass Gilbert]

was built in 1927-1928 for the New York Life Insurance Company.

The building was erected on the site occupied earlier by the Union�Depot�of�the�New�York�and�Harlem�Railroad (before the railway terminal was moved to the Grand Central Depot in 1871, on the site of the present Terminal at 42nd Street), reconverted to house successively the Gilmore's�Garden, the Hippodrome and, in 1879, the first Madison Square Garden. The second Madison Square Garden was a new building on the same site by arch. Stanford White, completed in 1892.

In 1916, the NY Life acquired the site and the Garden. One of the preliminary designs was to dominate over the nearby Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. Tower, with a similar Venetian bell tower design. The neo-Gothic final design of 40 storeys (including the six-storey spire) is clad in white limestone and occupies the whole block. The building is strongly set back from the four-storey base to the tower, topped at 187.5 m with an octagonal pyramidal roof of gilded roof tiles.

The bottom 15 floors, the two lowest setbacks, of the building were reserved for the insurance company itself, and the space above was high-revenue space for rent.

The main entrance is through bronze doors, to a grand lobby with vaulted and coffered ceilings. The lobby is illuminated by 18 large hanging lamps. There's a connection from the lobby to the 28th St. subway station.

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THE HOTEL PIERRE (795 Fifth Ave.)
[Schulze & Weaver]
was built in 1928-1929 for the chef Charles Pierre Casalasco as a European style luxury hotel in New York City.

Financially backed by Otto Kahn, E. F. Hutton and Walter P. Chrysler, the hotel was opened in 1930. After Pierre's bankruptcy due to the Depression in 1932, J. Paul Getty bought the property in 1938 and sold a portion of the suites to private owners as the hotel continued its business. Of the 714 hotel rooms, several have been combined into larger suites, the hotel having now 201 guest rooms and 76 co-ops. Even today many of the suites are in use of permanent residents.

The 44-storey neo-Renaissance tower is set back from Fifth Avenue and topped with an octagonal copper roof at the height of 160 m. The duplex penthouse houses an octagonal ballroom of a capacity of nearly 300, with all-around views and open-air terraces in the corners, although the space is no longer in its original use.

The main entrance of revolving doors is from 61st Street, although there is also a canopied entrance from Fifth Avenue to the restaurant Café Pierre and the mahogany-lined, staff-operated hotel elevators. The lavishly decorated lobby has a floor of Italian marble and the round tearoom Rotunda has a mural by Edward Melcarth. The guest rooms range in size from from 26 to 120 m² of the Presidential Suite.

At the foot of the building is the Metropolitan Club (1893) by McKim, Mead & White. The plans to build a revenue-bringing apartment tower utilizing the club's air rights next to the hotel were abandoned. Due to being built in an area with residential zoning, the base of the hotel was forbidden to have any street retail functions.

In 1986 the Four Seasons hotel chain bought the management of the luxury hotel, which had been formed into a co-op in 1959.

As for notable guests, the celebrity magicians Siegfried and Roy once brought with them two tigers that peed on the rug...

The Cityreview entry
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THE BEEKMAN TOWER (3 Mitchell Place)
[John Mead Howells]

was built in 1927-1928 as the Panhellenic Tower, an apartment hotel for female college graduates.

The 28-storey orange brick tower rises as a simplified shaft with deep-set, brick-spandreled columns of windows. The corners are chamfered and also have similar window openings. With its massing, chamfers and the handling of the top, the building resembles the American Standard Building by Hood (with whom, of course, Howells would further refine the theme of vertical fenestration and building topping while working on the influential Daily News Building).

To the east of the main tower rises a similarly-clad 10-storey annex (built in 1928-1929), separated by a three-storey wing.

The decor of the building is by René Chambellan, who also made the notable decor on the contemporary Chanin Building. The lobby has striking Art Deco decor of strong color contrasts.

At the present, the building is used as a suite hotel. The top floor restaurant, Top of the Tower (), offers generous views over Midtown (image).

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[Ludlow & Peabody]

was built in 1928 to Murray Hill district near the New York Public Library, with the 212.5 m height dominating its immediate surroundings.

Built on a through-block site previously occupied by the Union League Club -- which decided to stay to occupy also the new tower -- this tower shaft above the 10-storey base is set-back only on the sides facing the street. There are 48 storeys and the building is clad in brown stonework and topped with a copper hip roof.

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[Benjamin Wistar Morris III]

was built in 1927-1929 for the Bank of New York.

The second bank in the independent United States and the first in NYC, the Bank of New York and Trust Company was founded in 1784. The bank occupied the same plot for two hundred years, from 1798 to 1998.

The 32-storey building is clad in limestone and features multiple setbacks that double as open-air terraces as well as Colonial style elements, such as the flanking thatched-roofed setbacks and the top in the form of a small temple, crowned with a copper eagle at 156.5 m. The three-storey base is clad in rusticated limestone.

The 29,700 m² of space within the building has been modernized and remodelled, whereas the original banking halls on the first and second floors have retained their historic styling. The first two floors are connected by an elliptical entrance lobby and all three have ample marble decor. The interior features murals were made by J. Monroe Hewlett in 1929, depicting commercial and banking themes.

The bank left the building for the 1 Wall Street in 1997.

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[Helmle, Corbett & Harrison and Sugarman & Berger, Harvey Wiley Corbett as chief designer]

was built in 1927-1929 as the NYC Master Institute Building.

Developer Joseph G. Siegel acquired the plot in 1926 from the charity organization Sailors' Snug Harbor and set to build one of the first apartment skyscrapers in the city.

The 27-storey has the typical setbacks of the time, used as terraces, ending in the chimney, extending as a short tower. The corners are chamfered and also have window openings, following the minimalistic style of Beekman Tower.

Vertical bands of darker brick are used to create a false illusion of three-dimensionality in the vertical bands between the window stripes -- a feature originating from Corbett's Bush Tower in Midtown. A restoration in 2005 reinstated the original shade of facade brick, lost in a previous restoration.

The base is clad in limestone and the Classical lobby is lined in oak panelling as well as sporting fluted Doric columns. There is also a restaurant and nightclub, accessible from 8th Street.

To the south of the building are the low-rise buildings of the early 19th-century "The Row". These red brick residence buildings face Washington Square and once had prominent residents, such as the mayor of New York City.

In its original form, the building acted as an apartment hotel with single room units and a common restaurant for dining. In 1986 the building was renovated and converted into a cooperative residential building with 184 units. The 19th floor luxury apartment of 242 m² has three bedrooms and bathrooms and a dining hall, along with extensive decor.

The restaurant, One Fifth Avenue, is still operational and restored to its original form.

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[Walker & Gillette]

was built in 1928-1929 as an office tower for the Fuller Construction Co., the leading construction firm during the Depression years, which previously occupied the Flatiron Building.

The 40-storey building occupies a prominent plot at the intersection of Madison Avenue and 57th Street. The building indeed brought the status of "galleryland" to the 57th Street, followed (despite the later shift of galleries to SoHo) as late as in the 1980s by the 135 East 57th Street with its art gallery spaces.

Rising from a set-back base, the limestone shaft is topped by a black and white stepped pyramid top, decorared with triangle themes in a gilded facing. The ex-Fuller Co. headquarters in the upper floors have single balconies on three sides.

The 6-storey base differs in appearance from the upper facade with the trimmed black granite facing and windows reminiscent of Art Nouveau. The entrance is through a tall, three-storey portal with a sculptural clock by Edie Nadelman, depicting construction workers and the city skyline.

The lobby floor has decorative themes in form of medallions representing buildings built by the Fuller Company. Following the theme, decorated bronze-panelled elevator doors depict different building trades.

The Cityreview entry
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[Warren & Wetmore]
was built in 1929 as the headquarters for the New York Central Railroad Co.

The New York Central was founded by Cornelius Vanderbilt, who has also given his name to the Avenue starting from the Lincoln Building and passing the Grand Central block to the 47th Street, west of the headquarters.

This 35-storey building straddles Park Avenue, as a visual termination point of the street. A decade earlier, a similar high-rise termination point was also planned to the southern end of the mid-avenue block, over Grand Central Terminal (Warren & Wetmore and Reed & Stem, 1913 - (link)), but not until the 1960s, when the concrete-clad MetLife Building (originally the Pan Am Building) rose over the N.Y. Central Building, was a high-rise built to the southern end of the block. (Five years later, the Penn Central tried to use the aforementioned Reed & Stem's high-rise plan over the terminal to support a newborn development, without success.)

Before the electrification of the New York Central Railroad in 1912-1913, the neighbourhood north of Grand Central Terminal was one of open-air railway yards and tracks used by steam locomotives. The electrification and subsequent covering of the yards enabled the continuation of Park Avenue to the north and the construction of new buildings (with curious foundations) to the area, among them this one.

The middle part of the building, flanked by 15-storey wings on the sides, rises as a tower to the pilastered top and the pyramidal roof, topped by a copper-clad lantern at 172.5 m. At night the roof and lantern are illuminated.

At the base of the tower, there are two large portals on either side of the lobby to provide access for traffic from Park Avenue through the building (with 90-degree turns inside the building to take the roadways clear of the Terminal furher south), to the elevated platforms past Met Life and Grand Central Terminal, and to Park Avenue South via the Pershing Viaduct (built in 1919) (image). Similarly, pedestrian traffic is led through in two tunnels with connections to retail space. On the cornice above the portals sits an ornate clock, flanked by two lying bronze statues.

The entrance lobby has lavish white travertine and marble decor complete with mirrors and chandeliers as well as cast-iron ornamental themes at elevator bank entrances. The elevator car ceilings are painted to represent clouded skies.

The 141,200 m² building was owned by the Helmsley-Spear Management until August 1998, when the developers Max Capital purchased it for $253 million, although the deal was made only under the condition that the building would officially remain as a Helmsley namesake.

In 2002, most of the gold paint gilding that was applied to decorative brass and stone surfaces in the 1979 refurbishing was removed in a restoration. The $50 million effort also added air-conditioning to the lobby and renovated the pedestrian tunnels as well as the 46th Street entrance.

The building was bought in 2005 for $705 million by the royal family of Dubai, along with the Essex House.

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[Sloan & Robertson]

was built in 1927-1929 as an office building for Irwin S. Chanin, one of the most notable developers in the city.

The construction site at the corner of Lexington Ave. and 42nd St., housed a brick warehouse built after the Civil War draft riots and thus fortified to withstand cannon fire, a fact that made the demolition work more complicated than normally.

The 56-storey, 207.5 m tall Art Deco building is typically set back from the limestone base. The top of the buff-brick tower sports elegant buttressing decor that is enhanced by illumination at night. The corners of the unornamented tower have protruding fins. At the lower end of the building, bas-reliefs of terra-cotta depicting animals and leaf themes run the whole length of lower facade.

The lobby was designed by Jacques Delamarre to celebrate the "self-made" success of Irwin Chanin. The floor and screens are made of gilded bronze, with modernist decor motifs of workers and transports by the sculptor René Chambellan. Also the elevator doors and mailboxes are elaborately decorated.

The top housed Chanin's sumptuously decorated private offices as well as a private cinema theater on the 50th floor, along with a viewing roof, neither of which is accessible anymore. Also a bus depot with a rotating turntable on the ground floor has been converted to other uses.

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[Delano and Aldrich and Yasuo Matsui]

was built in 1929 for the Brown Brothers, Harriman & Company bank to a triangular block next to the City Bank Farmers Trust Building, the apex facing the corner of Wall and Pearl Streets.

The 35-storey building rises in a series of setbacks to the top at 123 meters with its ornamental cargoyle and oculus decor and a row of Gothic crest teeth atop the hip roof. There are coins adorning the lower building facade.

The building has been slated for a residential conversion.

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[Voorhees, Gmelin & Walker]

was built in 1928-1930 for the Western Union Telegraph Company.

This brick ziggurat has decoration motifs influenced by contemporary European Expressionism. The massive building housed both Western Union offices and tele-wireless equipment.

The entrance lobby is reminiscent of a hall church with the large windows, made of smaller, diamond-shaped pieces, above the entrances. The lobby walls are of orange brickwork and the ceiling is faced with glazed tiles.

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[J. E. R. Carpenter]

was completed in 1930 as a neo-Gothic tower at the south end of Vanderbilt Avenue, near Grand Central Terminal (link).

At the time of the completion of this east-west-aligned slab, the developers claimed that never before had an office building benefited from "so much fresh air, or so much bright light."

Above a cream-coloured, Renaissance-influenced base and setbacks, the most notable feature of the 53-storey, 205.5 m tall brown stone exterior are the pointed, Gothic-style windows near the top.

The lobby has light brown-toned marble decor and an intricate coffered ceiling complete with chandeliers. The lobby also contains Daniel Chester French's bronze model for the statue in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., obtained in 1954.

Completed in 2005, a $85 million renovation updated the building systems, like replacement of the 4,000 windows with new double-pane glasses and combining smaller office spaces into larger units. Other improvements were the new library and conference center, high-speed internet access and updated elevators with TV screens.

Official building site
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lo-go © e t dankwa 29 June 2010