We are asked to
take seriously
the achitectural
taste of real
estate speculators,
renting agents and
mortgage brokers!

  Alfred H. Barr
  Founder of MoMA

A R T   D E C O   E R A
P A R T   I I


40 Wall Street
Daily News Building
120 Wall Street
Downtown Athletic Club
Chrysler Building
500 Fifth Avenue
New Yorker Hotel
Essex House
Empire State Building
McGraw-Hill Building I
General Electric Tower

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[H. Craig Severance and Yasuo Matsui]

was built in 1928-1930 for the Bank of the Manhattan Co..

Planning a speculative office tower with the bank as its main tenant, developer George Ohrstrom started to collect the seven parcels of land in September 1928 and in May 1929 the simultaneous work of demolition and foundation-laying, pioneered by the Starrett Brothers construction company and carried out in an astounding three weeks, was underway. The deepest of the sixty caissons for digging the soil reached 30 meters before hitting bedrock.

The building will be best known for its race for the world's tallest building neck to neck with the Chrysler Building. Built simultaneously with the rivalling building, both made design revisions as they were being built to add height, first with a raised spire in the Chrysler Building, countered by a heighened pyramid roof in the 40 Wall St.. Finally, on November 12, 1929, the 70-storey building was topped out with the raised pyramidal top and lantern, the builders being certain that they'd won. But when the Chrysler Building's secretly-raised needle-like vertex, raised three weeks earlier, was finally publicized, 40 Wall was left to hold the second place in skyscraper rankings. (Although according to the Real Estate Weekly, the 282.5 m tall building still holds the title of the "tallest mid-block building".)

After a mere year of record-breaking construction, including 93 days for erecting the whole building's steel frame, the building was officially opened on May 26, 1930, a day before its Midtown rival.

Entered through bronze doors, underneath the sculpture "Oceanus" by Elie Nadelman, the building's interiors were a sumptuous undertaking, including the two storeys high banking hall with its marble decor and murals by Ezra Winter, bank's boardroom as a replica of the Signers' Room in Philadelphia's Independence Hall and wood-panelled exec offices with working fireplaces. In the palatial surroundings, modernity was represented by the 43 high-speed elevators and the round observatory, the highest point in the city, reachable by stairs from the 69th floor.

In 1931, the building received the Downtown League's gold medal for design -- a consolation for Severance as Van Alen was largely scorned for his Chrysler Building design and especially its needle top.

The Depression affected also the 40 Wall -- or the Manhattan Company Building, after its main tenant, the Bank of the Manhattan Co. -- as the building stood half-empty until the end of WW II when it attracted several notable firms as tenants. In the late 1980s, the leaving of the Morgan Guaranty Bank from the building to its new headqurters left a 19,000 m² gap to its rentable space that still affects the economy of the premises. At worst, the building has had only about 10 percent of its office space rented.

The 83,900 m² building was acquired by Ferdinand Marcos in 1982, and although it changed hands twice after that, any plans for renovation (admittedly, quite ambitious too) were discarded as too costly.

Donald Trump bought a 500-year leasehold on the building in 1995 and started a massive, and badly needed, renovation in the building (arch. Der Scutt). Originally intended as a half-commercial, half-residential property, with the lower 35 storeys for offices and the top 35 for apartments, the "new" 40 Wall was after all retained as a commercial-only building. In 2003, Trump put the building on the block, but the highest bids fell short of his expected $400 million price and the building remains in Trump's hands.

Like the Empire State Building, the 40 Wall has also been hit by an aircraft: in May 1946 a Coast Guard transport plane hit the building in fog, killing the five people onboard. (forum)

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[Raymond Hood, André Fouilhoux and John Mead Howells]
was built in 1929-1930 for Joseph Patterson's newspaper Daily News.

The architect, Raymond Hood, was chosen after his success with the Chicago Tribune Building competition in Chicago.

The 37-storey facade is characterized by vertical stripes of windows, with brown brick in the spandrels between the vertically aligned windows, and white brickwork forming the separating vertical piers. Limestone, preferred by Hood, was discarded as a too expensive material. Curiously, the size of the windows -- and thus the width of the window stripes -- was determined by the size of a window that could be effortlessly opened by a single office worker.

The tops of the window stripes are decorated with ornamentated spandrels extending all the way to the top, sloping there inward, splitted by a narrow pier. The "razed" flat top at 145 m influenced a host of future skyscrapers and Hood himself used the form of the building tower as an influence for the forthcoming RCA Building in Rockefeller Center.

In order to free one side of the building for windows, a private way was built through the lot from street to street, burning some high-priced property in the process.

The Daily News Building is probably best known for its lobby, with the giant globe rotating in a well in the middle of the round, black glass-decorated and domed room with terrazzo paving. In addition to the globe (with borders and cities marked, and updated when needed), there are thermometers, wind speed indicators and clocks displaying the time in the main cities of the world. Only when the building was opened, it was found out that the globe rotated in the wrong direction, forcing quick fixing.

In 1957-1960, an extension by Harrison & Abramovitz was built: on the 41st Street side a five-storey wing for the newspaper's printing plant and an 18-storey wing to the east, more than doubling the available space. The office wing is set back from 42nd Street and has a slightly differing facade with its thin, protruding piers and wide spandrels of same colour and brickwork texture, thus updating the vertical stripe theme of the original building with its single-pane, wide-windowed facade. The dark original lobby was, however, expanded and relit as required by the entrance to the extension. Also the original Art Deco decor of the elevator lobby was replaced.

The building was vacated by the New York Daily News in 1994 and called since the News Building. In 2003, SL Green bought the building for $265 million.

Great Buildings Collection entry | images
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[Buchman & Kahn]

was completed in 1930 to the waterfront by the East River as an early example of waterfront high-rise development.

The 33-storey ziggurat-like building with its (near-)symmetrical setbacks is a clear example of the designs that were a direct result of the 1916 zoning resolution. The white brick facing of the building is relatively unornamented, and forms a series of steps of two and three floors to the top.

The five-storey base is of limestone, with fluted red granite on ground floor. A shiny metallic screen of diagonal themes dominates the entrance bay on the Wall Street side. The lobby has decor of rose marble and wall reliefs as well as elevator door ornaments in nickel chrome and a ceiling mural.

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[Starrett & Van Fleck]

was built in 1930 for the Downtown Athletic Club.

Founded in 1926 as a club exclusively for male clients of European descent from the Downtown business and law firms, members of which also the architects were, women were finally allowed into the still-operating club in 1972.

The club left its premises in the Singer Building for a purpose-built home of its own, albeit a vertical one. The plot was acquired in 1927 and, due to its small size, the building has to be a high-rise that had all the health club functions on separate floors.

This 45-storey building has multiple irregular setbacks all the way to the top at 161.5 m (the last setback is in fact just before the top, which is only a narrow stub, housing the water tank), somewhat resembling the Sears Tower in Chicago, designed fourty years later.

The facing of the building is of brown brick with a glazed surface. Above the austere lower floors (except for the decorated entrance), the building follows stylistically the vertical style of Art Deco skyscrapers, with brick piers and window stripes with dark metal spandrels.

The building incorporates a (literally) breathtaking array of sports activities: a golf range on the seventh floor, a basketball court on the eighth, a full-size sports swimming pool on the 12th (illuminated at night only by the underwater lights), a boxing ring on the 18th, as well as other health club-related activities. Originally, there was also a landscaped miniature golf course. The top 15 floors house 111 rooms for hotel-like accommodation.

The Trophy Hall presents the winners of the annual Heisman Trophy (named after the club's first athletic director) award for the best college football player in the USA.

Recently, there have been plans to renovate the building, in the first proposition with a top floor hotel and the club leasing its spaces, later with top floor corporate suites. The first plan was turned down by club members and the latter is affected by the building exterior's landmark status -- the room air-conditioners would affect the exterior unacceptably.

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THE CHRYSLER BUILDING (405 Lexington Avenue)
[William Van Alen]
was built in 1928-1930 for the Walter P. Chrysler car manufacturing company.

William H. Reynolds, a former NY State Senator, leased the western blockfront facing Lexington Avenue in 1911 and converted the existing buildings to a unified office building. During 1927-1928, Van Alen made a succession of designs for Reynolds, first on a 40-storey hotel and, as it finally emerged, a domed 67-storey office building, the tallest in the world. Reynolds, however, had no means to construct the building and subsequently managed to sell the assembled plot to Chrysler in 1928.

As the nearby Lincoln and Chanin Buildings neared completion, Walter P. Chrysler bought the land lease and teamed up with Van Alen for the design and construction of an office skyscraper. Van Alen was, essentially, given a blank cheque to come up with a design to fit the car magnate's ambition.

With the demolition work complete by October 1928, the foundations were begun six months later, with the frame completed another six months from that. However, here was to be a final surprise.

Architect Van Alen and H. Craig Severance, the architect of the Bank of Manhattan's building at 40 Wall Street, had been former partners but were now ardent rivals -- both wanted to build the tallest building in the world. Only after Severance had finished the structural work on his building by a winning margin of less than one meter, Van Alen revealed his winning card on October 23, 1929, just one day before the stock market made its first plunge. To hide the last design revision to a needle-like top, the pieces for the 27-ton vertex were hoisted to the 65th floor, assembled inside the spire and, with the help of a derrick, raised that day in just one and a half hours to add another 37.5 m to the building's height, exceeding the Eiffel Tower, the tallest in the world for over forty years.

With its spire at 319 meters, this was the tallest building in the world for less than a year until the rapidly ascending Empire State Building caught up. Inside the observatory deck of the building, Walter Chrysler's first handmade set of tools from his days as a travelling locomotive mechanic was encased in glass. Despite a story about the tools being removed when the Empire State Building exceeded Chrysler's height was false, Chrysler nevertheless quickly distanced himself from his pet project.

The building was officially opened on May 27, 1930 and Van Alen was already in trouble. He was accused of taking bribes from contractors and, worst of all, Chrysler refused to pay his full, percentage-based, fee. Van Alen hadn't made it any easier for himself by not making any written contract with Chrysler for the design commission -- only after a lengthy court battle he managed to obtain sufficient compensation. Although Van Alen would later reach immortality with his creation, he had lost his good reputation as an architect and never worked on a notable commission again. Moreover, for the time being, the building was being scorned by the architecture critics, who saw it merely as an oversized advertisement for Chrysler with little architectural merit.

The building is clad in white brick and dark gray brickwork is used as horizontal decoration to enhance the window rows. The eccentric crescent-shaped steps of the spire (spire scaffolding) are made of stainless steel (or rather, similar Nirosta chrome-nickel steel) as a stylized sunburst motif, and underneath it steel gargoyles, depicting American eagles (image), stare over the city. Sculptures modelled after Chrysler automobile radiator caps (image) decorate the lower setbacks, along with ornaments of car wheels.

The (notionally, at least) three storeys high, upwards tapering entrance lobby has a triangular form, with entrances from three sides, Lexington Avenue, 42nd and 43rd Streets. The lobby is lavishly decorated with Red Moroccan marble walls, sienna-coloured travertine floor and onyx, blue marble and steel in Art Deco compositions. The ceiling mural, the largest in the world at its completion, was painted by Edward Trumbull and praises the modern-day technical progress -- and of course the building itself and its builders at work. The lobby was refurbished in 1978 by JCS Design Assocs. and Joseph Pell Lombardi.

A street-level showroom for the Chrysler line of automobiles was redesigned in 1936 by Reinhard & Hofmeister.

All of the building's 32 elevators are lined in a different pattern of wooden panelling; eight varieties of wood from all over the world were used in the elevator decor. The doors are of a fantastic design that perhaps better than anything indicates the great influence of ancient Egyptian designs on the birth of Art Deco -- the burst of Deco's themes and the uncovering of the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922 being a good coincidence, or more... (image)

Inside the metal pyramid, on the building's top floors, a duplex luxury apartment with triangular windows was built for Walter Chrysler's use, completed with a walk-in fireplace. During the Prohibition, the fashionable Art Deco-style Cloud Club at the top of the building, on floors 65 and 66, was an exclusive male club with a jazzy atmosphere for the social elite. A large mural on the club wall depicted the city as seen from the clouds. On the 71st floor, an observatory deck -- living its heyday from August 1930 until the opening of Empire State's observatory eight months later -- sported a ceiling mural depicting night sky. The club and the observatory deck have been closed for decades and all the interior decor there has been recently removed in preparation of the space's lease for new tenants.

The present owner of the building, Jerry Speyer, (who also co-owns Rockefeller Center, as well as several other notable high-rises) bought the building, together with the neighbouring Chrysler Building East, for an estimated amount of $220 million in 1997 -- with additional $100 million worth of repairs waiting in the building.

The Cityreview entry | Building The Chrysler Building: The Social Construction of the Skyscraper
Great Buildings Collection entry
images | images

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[Shreve, Lamb & Harmon]

was completed in 1930 to the prominent plot at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.

Designed by the architects of the Empire State Building and constructed concurrently nine blocks uptown, it also had a theme of recessed tower facade. The 60-storey building rises as a tower on the back of the plot, over the setback base with asymmetrical setbacks relating to the neighbouring buildings (and separated by an alley from the neighbouring Salmon Tower (York & Sawyer, 1927) immediately to the west) and the center part forming a light court.

On the opposing, 43th Street side, a theme of triple narrow vertical windows rises unbroken all the way to the top, creating a strong sense of verticality.

The facing is of buff-brick with terra-cotta detailling and spandrels on the vertical window stripes are of dark stone. The four-storey limestone base has black, metal-faced spandrels.

The flat top at 212.5 m is illuminated at night and houses a 260 m² penthouse and a rooftop cooling tower. The originally installed water tower also sported the prominent numbers "500".

About 170 tenants occupy the 56,370 m² building and in 1996 it was bought by private Mexican investors for $94.5 million.

The Cityreview entry
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THE NEW YORKER HOTEL (481 Eighth Ave.)
[Sugarman & Berger]

was completed in 1930 as a mid-to-high-range hotel in the Midtown Garment District.

The largest and tallest hotel in NYC at the time of its opening, the 43-storey New Yorker is the quintessential example of the setback style of the Art Deco era. Opened on January 2, 1930 after the expenditure of $22.5 million, it originally incorporated 2,500 rooms, a lavish lobby and two large ballrooms that featured the crest of both the performers and attenders. Other services included the world's largest barber shop and kitchen facilities for 155 cooks and chefs.

Above a three-storey limestone base, a set-back tower of brown brick rises with the distinctive vertical light courts splitting the facades. 23 elevators service the building, with one for direct entrance to the North Ballroom from the 35th Street entrance. Moreover, one was built to connect the hotel to the tunnels from the subway and the nearby old Pennsylvania Station. To meet the requirements of power generation for the activities, a separate powerplant was incorporated within the basement, including also an early air-conditioning unit.

Due to lower and lower revenues, the hotel was finally closed in April 1972, to be acquired in 1976 by Rev. Moon's World Unification Church.

On June 1st, 1994, the New Yorker Hotel Management Co., Inc. returned the building to hotel use by opening it with 178 renovated rooms. After that, the number of the refurbished rooms increased steadily, with the current number of 932 rooms and 82 suites reached by the end of the 1990s. The top three floors house 70 large tower suites and on the top is the panoramic Sky Lounge. Since 2000 the New Yorker has been a part of the Ramada hotel chain.

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THE ESSEX HOUSE (160 Central Park South)
[Frank Grad]

was built in 1930 as the Park Tower, a hotel with a view over Central Park.

Immediately recognizable by its original rooftop sign -- one of the few left in the city -- the building is clad in brown brick and faces Central Park with large guestroom windows and decorated setbacks.

The 43-storey building incorporates today 606 hotel rooms as well as 148 condo apartments. The hotel's illustrious past has featured numerous famous performer guests, such as Ingrid Bergman and Igor Stravinsky. Modern fixtures include the restaurant Alain Ducasse.

Entered under a new Art Deco-style black and gold canopy, the lobby has a checker-patterned white marble floor and walls of veined black marble, bordered by deep brown wood-clad pilasters. The coffered ceiling has gilded trimmings. The lobby extends through the block as a corridor flanked by the elevator banks.

New York City and Tokyo have been sister cities since 1960 and, as a concrete indication of the importance of NYC for the Japan Air Lines, JAL bought the Essex House in 1984 and made it the flagship of its Nikko hotel chain after a $130 million renovation. In 1999 the building was sold to the Strategic Hotel Capital for $176 million, the owner of, for example, the Marriott East Side Hotel. Starwood operated 105 rooms in the building as a St. Regis.

While Fairmont Hotels was in talks about acquiring the hotel for Marriott's use in the early 2005, eventually it was taken for $440 million by the royal family of Dubai, along with the 230 Park Avenue. Almost all of the condos remained outside the scope of the deal. The new owner's hotel operator, Jumeirah Hospitality & Leisure, will be undertaking $50 million worth of improvements starting in 2006, including the conversion of some of the hotel rooms into condominiums.

The Cityreview entry
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[Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, William F. Lamb as chief designer]
was built in 1930-1931 as a speculative office building that evolved into the world's premier skyscraper for decades.

The building was the brain-child of John J. Raskob, the vice-precident of General Motors, who wanted this new building to exceed the height of the rival car manufacturer's Chrysler Building, still under construction when the plans were released on August 29, 1929. The program given to the architects called for a tight schedule of completion one and a half years after the start of the project.

The site had previously housed the "twin hotel" of Waldorf-Astoria (Waldorf Hotel 1893, Astoria Hotel 1897, both by arch. Henry J. Hardenbergh), both built by the Astor family and eventually connected by a wide hall. In May 1929, the hotel closed its doors after hotel memento had been auctioned off in a last ballroom dinner. The hotel Waldorf-Astoria relocated farther uptown and the site was turned over to a consortium intent on constructing the tallest building in the world.

The demolition of the hotel was begun in November 1929 (16,000 truckloads of debris), pouring of the 210 foundation piers in March 1930, work on the steel framework on April 7, 1930, topping out on November 21, 1930 and the building was completed on April 11, 1931. The title of world's tallest had been passed from the Chrysler Building on September 19, 1930, at the completion of the 85th floor steelwork.

A neckbreaking speed of construction that saw four and a half storeys rise in a week was made possible by effective logistics combined with a skilled and organized workforce. The steel for the frame (three times the amount within either the Chrysler or 40 Wall buildings) was manufactured in Pittsburgh and transported immediately to New York, so that often the parts were installed only three days after coming off the roller. The workforce of the construction site, in the overall command of the Starrett Brothers construction company, peaked at 3,439 workers, five of whom died during the course of construction. Because of the reduced costs during the Depression, the construction eventually cost only $24.7 million instead of the estimated 43.

The official opening took place on May 1, 1931 when President Herbert Hoover switched on the building's lights from the White House in Washington, D.C.. The same year, the architects received gold medals for their building from the Architectural League, AIA and the Fifth Avenue Association.

Topped with a sheathed tower, explained as a mooring mast for airships at the time of its construction (and although the prevailing winds alone would have deemed its use as such ridiculous, the Navy played along in providing assistance with the mast design), the 102-storey Empire State Building became immediately a landmark and a symbol for NYC and depression-gripped America. At 381 m (449 m after the addition of the TV mast in 1951 -- after antenna modifications in the early 1990s, 443.5 m), the building was the tallest in the world until the 1 World Trade Center tower rose higher 40 years later. (Shreve, Lamb & Harmon in fact made proposals for an extension of the building to 455 meters after the WTC took over.)

The building is clad in Indiana limestone and granite, with the mullions lined in shiny aluminium. There are in all 6,500 windows, with spandrels sandblasted to blend their tone to that of the windows, visually creating the vertical striping on the facade. The windows and spandrels are also flush with the limestone facing, an aesthetic and economic decision.

Because of the Depression, in the beginning it was difficult to get the building's office space rented (a problem it has suffered from until recently) and the building thus got the nickname "Empty State Building"; by the opening day, only a quarter of the total office space had been rented. In fact, the building created no profit until 1948 and in the meantime Raskob had to even use his personal fortune to keep up with mortgage payments.

The high entrance lobby is lined in marble imported from Europe and sports an imposing silhouette image of the building itself in an aluminium relief. There are 73 elevators, and anyone wanting to take the stairs to the top have to negotiate 1,860 steps.

The top is illuminated with floodlights on certain public holidays and other notable occasions. The top was first lit in 1964 for the New York World's Fair and colour lights were first used during the 1976 National Democratic Convention -- an important PR occasion for a city still in the throes of its gravest fiscal crisis. Today's different colour patterns mark notable dates and festivities (some of the patterns used).

Leased already in 1931 for the exclusive TV transmission use of RCA's NBC, the "new deal" of June 1950 replaced the original 20.5 m tall television mast with a 66-meter installation. It originally incorporated five TV and three FM radio station antennas, by 1953 relocating transmitters from atop such buildings as the Chrysler Building (WCBS-TV) and the Daily News Building (WPIX). The WJZ-TV had already earlier relocated from the top of Hotel Pierre. In the late 1960s, as the WTC towers were being constructed, a lawsuit by the ESB broadcaster stations led to the Port Authority, WTC developer, paying part of the bill for relocating these antennas to the top of the 1 WTC tower.

After 9/11, the building received a flow of broadcasters that had used the 1 WTC mast -- in 2003, all the office floors from the 77th up were already in use of the broadcasters. As of May 2003, 11 television and 22 FM radio stations broadcast from the building. (The Condé Nast Building and the future tower on the WTC site will displace most of these; the latter will, according to a preliminary agreement, feature 22 transmission antennas.)

A testimony of the building's structural strength is the fact that when in July 1945 a twin-engined bomber crashed on the 79th floor of the building, killing fourteen people, the damage to the building was confined to the outer wall as well as fires inside, although one engine ripped right through the whole building.

A total of 70 million people have visited the viewing platforms at 86th and 102nd floors, at a rate of 35,000 a day.

Empire State Building official site
The City Review Empire State essay
Great Buildings Collection entry
a pictoral tour in Empire State Building | images

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[Raymond Hood with Godley & Fouilhoux]

was built in 1930-1931 for the McGraw-Hill publishing company.

The building was located to the hitherto overlooked area of West Midtown at Ninth Avenue in order to make the land values there rise, along with McGraw-Hill's preference to be in an industrial neighbourhood.

Hood, the chief architect in the team that was then building Rockefeller Center, combined in the "Jolly Green Giant" his vision of future's colourful buildings, Art Deco-ration and plain modernism, derived partly from Lönberg Holm's Chicago Tribune competition entry.

The entrance sports dynamic Art Deco decor, whereas the 35-storey facade itself is non-ornamented, with glazed tiling (blue-green coloured terra-cotta brick that grades in hue as the building rises) between horizontal stripes of large, green metal-framed windows, giving an unprecedented amount of light. The more decorative top of the building, with the name of the company displayed in large Art Deco letters, is again less strict.

The use of horizontal bands of windows -- and disposing of the traditional masonry walls in favour of totally using the advantages of steel frame -- was dictated by the need to secure as much natural light as possible. The form of the building also follows the usage of its interior, with the lower floors housing the company's printing plant, with office floors occupying the tower above and executive floors at the top.

The lobby of the building is decorated with opaque Carrera glass and stainless steel.

After McGraw-Hill relocated to the namesake building in Rockefeller Center Extension at Sixth Avenue, this building has served as the headquarters for the Group Health Insurance Company.

Great Buildings Collection entry

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[Cross & Cross]

was built in 1929-1931 for the RCA Victor radio company as their headquarters.

Due to the location in the same block with St. Bartholomew's Church, the 50-storey building had to be designed to fit with its neo-Romanesque neighbour. This was achieved partly by the use of colours and facade materials.

The base is of rose-coloured granite, while the set-back mass above and the tower shaft are clad in glazed tan brick.

The undoubtedly most striking feature of this 195 m tall building is its, indeed, flamboyant top, a curious mixture of Gothic spires in limestone and brickwork with wavy, filigree style decoration and lightning bolt motifs, depicting the electricity of radio transmission waves sent by the Radio Corporation of America. At night this "crown" of the building is illuminated from within, making the top look like a giant torch.

The entrance lobby has a vaulted ceiling of aluminium plating with sunburst motifs and walls of light pink marble. The lamp fixtures are of aquamarine-colored glass.

General Electric bought the building when RCA built a new skyscraper in nearby Rockefeller Center in 1933. Curiously, when RCA sold their new building in 1988, the buyer was again General Electric... In 1993 the building was donated to Columbia University because its small floor size couldn't produce enough rent income for an economically viable ownership.

The Cityreview entry
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lo-go © e t dankwa 27 June 2014