Art Deco architecture of New York City

Art Deco architecture flourished in New York City during the 1920s and 1930s. The style broke with many traditional architectural conventions and was characterized by verticality, ornamentation, and building materials such as plastics, metals, and terra cotta. Art Deco is found in government edifices, commercial projects, and residential buildings in all five boroughs. The architecture of the period was influenced by worldwide decorative arts trends, the rise of mechanization, and New York City's 1916 Zoning Resolution, which favored the setback feature in many buildings.

Examples of Art Deco architecture from across the city. The buildings feature showy metal finishes, polychromatic terra cotta designs, and zigzagging brickwork.
Clockwise from top left: Spire of the Chrysler Building, Manhattan; upper levels of the Park Plaza Apartments, the Bronx; entrance of Madison Gardens apartments, Brooklyn; and the Marine Air Terminal exterior, Queens

The exuberant economy of the Roaring Twenties and commercial speculation spurred a citywide building boom. The size and sophistication of Art Deco ranged from towering skyscrapers to modest middle-class housing and municipal buildings. Colorful, lavishly-decorated skyscrapers came to dominate the skyline of Manhattan before the Great Depression ended their construction. The Depression and changing tastes pushed the style to more subdued applications as it spread in the 1930s, becoming a style of choice for infrastructure projects and modern middle-class apartments in the outer boroughs.

A lull in construction during World War II and the rise of the International Style led to the end of new Art Deco in the city. After falling out of favor and suffering from neglect during the city's downturn in the latter half of the 20th century, the city's Art Deco has been reappraised. Among New York's most treasured and recognizable skyscrapers are the Art Deco Empire State and Chrysler buildings. Art Deco skyscrapers formed the core of the city's skyline for decades and influence modern construction. Many of these buildings are protected by historic preservation laws, while others have been lost to new development or neglect.

Background edit

The Equitable Building's size spurred the passage of zoning laws that affected Art Deco architecture in the city.

American Art Deco has its origins in European arts, especially the style moderne popularized at the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, from which Art Deco draws its name (Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes). While the United States did not officially participate, Americans—including New York City architect Irwin Chanin[1]: 55 —visited the exposition,[2]: 47  and the US government also sent a delegation. Their resulting reports helped spread the style to America.[3]: 6  Other influences included German expressionism, the Austrian Secession, Art Nouveau, cubism, and the ornament of African, Central American, and South American cultures.[1]: 8–9 [4]: 4  American Art Deco architecture would assume different forms across the country, influenced by local culture, laws, and tastes.[2]: 42 

Art Deco came into style just as New York City was being rapidly transformed. An exploding population, flush economic times, cheap credit, and lax zoning combined to encourage a building boom. The real estate market was so frenetic that buildings that had stood for just a few years were regularly torn down for newer construction.[5]: 42  New, larger buildings replaced multiple smaller structures on old lots. The amount of office space in New York City increased by 92% in the late 1920s.[5]: 49–50 

Zoning regulations had major impacts on the design of buildings. The proliferation of ever-larger skyscrapers like the 40-story Equitable Building spurred New York City's passage of the US's first citywide zoning code, the 1916 Zoning Resolution.[6] The regulations, intended to prevent tall buildings from cutting off light and air at street level, required buildings to "set back" from street level depending on the width of the street and the zoned area.[7] After a building rose up and set back to cover 25 percent of the lot, the total height was unrestricted.[5]: 48  The impact of the new regulations did not materialize until later in the decade, as American entry into World War I slowed construction.[7]

Hugh Ferriss' illustration, demonstrating an approach to New York City's setbacks requirements that would come to define the city's Art Deco buildings.

Early buildings built to conform to the new codes did so unimaginatively—the Heckscher Building in Midtown (completed 1921) set back evenly like a stack of boxes as it rose—but more inspired interpretations of the law followed.[7] A major influence on the resulting skyscrapers was Eliel Saarinen's second-place design entry for Chicago's Tribune Tower, considered a new style distinct from earlier Gothic or Classical architecture.[2]: 7–8  Also influential were architect and illustrator Hugh Ferriss' series of speculative architectural illustrations exploring how to make buildings that met the zoning requirements.[4]: 4 [7][8] Ferriss' illustrations envisioned buildings as sculptural forms rather than simple boxes. Architect Talbot Hamlin described Ferriss' work as "a magic wand to set the American city architecture free from its nightmare [...] No longer was the high building apparently built by the mile and cut off to order, but it was composed break upon break, buttress on buttress. The possibilities of poetry entered in."[5]: 48–49 

Precursors to the Art Deco skyscrapers that soon went up across the city were buildings such as Raymond Hood's American Radiator Building (1924), which was neo-Gothic in general style but featured abstract ornament that would characterize Art Deco.[9] Another early transitional building was the Madison Belmont Building at 181 Madison Avenue (1924–1925), which featured traditional ornamentation and organization on upper floors, combined with Art Deco motifs on the lower floors. The Art Deco ironwork was provided by Edgar Brandt, who contributed the entrance gates to the 1925 Paris Exhibition.[3]: 1, 5–6  One of the first Art Deco skyscrapers was the New York Telephone Company Building, built between 1923–1927 and designed by Ralph Thomas Walker. Its muted color and ornament did not fully demonstrate the style that soon flourished across the city, but its massing and verticality were thoroughly modern and broke with established architectural styles.[10][11][4]: 34–5 

Common elements edit

The buildings that would later be described as Art Deco shared common elements. The setback laws resulted in sculptural buildings with long, uninterrupted piers rising between columns of windows and decorated spandrels.[4]: 4 [12]: 70  These choices were made to emphasize the height of the buildings,[2]: 37  a choice mimicked even on much shorter buildings built across town. New York's architects were at the forefront of using new materials, including synthetics like Bakelite and Formica plastics, as well as Nirosta, a corrosion-resistant steel alloy that made exterior metal on skyscrapers more feasible.[4]: 5 [2]: 68  Where stainless steel was too expensive to use, aluminum's declining price and lighter weight made it a common choice for interior and exterior usage.[13]: 26  Other favored materials were multicolored terra cotta, limestone, and glass brick.[4]: 5 [14]: 92–3  Even when traditional building materials were used—marble, wood, brick, bronze—they were combined in novel ways, intending to shock and delight.[14]: 92 

Detail of the French Building's upper floors, showing beehives, bees, griffins, and a sunburst[15]: 79 

Architectural historian Rosemarie Haag Bletter described the most pronounced element of Art Deco as its use of "sumptuous ornament".[2]: 37  The most dynamic elements were reserved for entrances and at the tops of buildings, with multiple materials combined to form dazzling colors or rich textures. Sometimes the buildings were shaded—using darker-colored materials at the base, and then gradually lightening towards the top—to increase the building's visibility.[2]: 37 [14]: 84  Art Deco buildings in the city were also richly appointed inside and out with reliefs, mosaics, murals, and other art.[1]: 1–8  Allegorical depictions—such as beehives of industry on the French Building, personifications of virtues at Rockefeller Center, or figures portraying industry and the arts at the International Magazine Building—were common decorative elements.[1]: 47, 72  The entries and lobbies of these skyscrapers often drew direct influence from the painted sets and stages of theaters, with framing like hanging curtains.[2]: 10  Elaborate ironwork blended with decorative frosted or etched glass.[14]: 105 

Art Deco in New York became intrinsically linked with commercial architecture. Its focus on rich ornamentation appealed to commercial patrons who wanted an "acceptable" modern style. These developers in turn gave architects a permissive mandate to create in the style, as long as the end result was not too shocking.[2]: 40–43  The buildings rose to the height where the cost of added space equalized with the commercial value of that space.[2]: 13  The emerging style was contemporaneously called the "vertical style", "skyscraper style", or simply "modern", with the characteristic look of setback buildings leading to them being called "wedding cake" buildings.[4]: vi, 4 [12]: 79 [16]: 164  Architect Ely Jacques Kahn commented in 1926 on the emerging style that his brethren were creating with their buildings:

[It] is so characteristic of New York that it would be more logical, by far, to call it a New York Style. [...] Decoration becomes a far more precious thing than a collection of dead leaves, swags, bull's heads and cartouches. It becomes a means of enriching the surface with a play of light and shade, voices and solids. [Today's ornamental forms] respond to the bulk and simplicity of the skyscraper itself.[4]: 27 

Entrance to 70 Pine Street, featuring geometric aluminum spandrels and a limestone model of the building

The demand for modern buildings was such that even architectural firms known for more restrained and classical designs adopted the new style. Cross & Cross's main practice was for discreet townhomes and banks, but in the late 1920s they produced modern skyscrapers such as the RCA Victor Building. The 50-story skyscraper turned Gothic tracery into stylized lightning bolts.[17] Another conservative firm that moved to modernistic designs was Walker & Gillette, whose best-known Art Deco building in New York is the Fuller Building.[4]: 32  Buildings already being constructed were sometimes appended with Art Deco flourishes; the Paramount Building (1926) had an Art Deco clock tower appended to a Beaux-Arts base.[2]: 22B  These buildings were constructed either as headquarters for established and emerging companies, or else speculative projects where the money would be drawn from renting out the space in the new building.

Empire State Building Entrance decoration

The design of speculative buildings was chiefly driven by maximizing rentable space, whereas corporate buildings served as advertisements for the corporations themselves—spending money not for direct financial gain, but what architect Timothy L. Pflueger termed "special architectural appeal".[18]: 162–163  Even with these corporate projects, however, the owners often lent space to smaller businesses and treated them as real estate investments.[18]: 162–163  The look of the buildings often echoed the business conducted there; the RCA Victor Building's wave motifs represent the power of radio, while the Chrysler Building had ornamental touches of radiators and hubcaps representing the automobile company.[4]: 5  The McGraw-Hill Building,[1]: 61  New Yorker Hotel, and Daily News Building feature their names in prominent signage or embedded into the facade. Because the true shape of the building was often hard to grasp for a street-level observer, many skyscrapers featured miniature versions of themselves as part of their ground-level decoration.[19]: 37 [4]: 22 [20]

In the Financial District and downtown Manhattan, the skyline was quickly transformed by the proliferation of Art Deco high-rises.[4]: 6  The New York Telephone Company Building was decorated with motifs derived from Aztec designs, and the lobby featured a vaulting ceiling with frescoes detailing the history of communication.[1]: 111  Other notable Art Deco skyscrapers in downtown include the Irving Trust Company Building (1929–1931), designed with a "curtain" exterior and Hildreth Meiere-produced mosaics in the interior;[1]: 99–102  120 Wall Street (1929–1930), with a wedding-cake form and a red granite and limestone base;[21]: 71  and the City Bank-Farmers Trust Building (1930–1931), featuring abstract heads along the facade looking down at street level, and bronzed doors featuring transportation methods.[1]: 106–109  The final skyscraper built before World War II in the Financial District was 70 Pine Street, completed in 1932.[1]: 102  It featured unique double-deck elevators servicing two lobby floors, designed to maximize the profitable space of the small plot.[4]: 21–22 [20]

In comparison to downtown, which already had skyscrapers dating to the previous century and fewer available plots, Midtown Manhattan was only just beginning to develop its skyline as Art Deco became popular. Its business district was booming after the construction of Grand Central Terminal and the undergrounding of train tracks opening up new plots for development. 42nd Street became Midtown's major Art Deco thoroughfare, hosting some of the city's most famous skyscrapers.[4]: 75  One of the earliest was the Chanin Building (1927–1929), headquarters for the Chanin Construction Company. It featured buttresses evocative of miniature skyscrapers on the exterior, along with abstract floral reliefs on the lower floors. Inside, the lobby included bronze grills that laud the economic opportunity of the city.[4]: 84–5 

New York's architects were caught in a furious race for the title of tallest building in the world, and several Art Deco buildings vied for the title. By the end of 1930 more than 11 building plans had more than 60 floors; among them were the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, both of which increased in height from earlier drafts.[22] In competition with 40 Wall Street for the title of the tallest building, architect William Van Alen secretly constructed the Chrysler Building's 185-foot (56 m) steel spire within the building itself, hoisting it and securing it into position in a single day, claiming the title of the tallest building.[4]: 82  The triumph was short-lived; a month later former governor and businessman Al Smith updated the plans for the Empire State Building,[23] adding more stories and a 200-foot spire of its own.[24][25]

The Empire State Building towers above the city's skyline in 1937. The unoccupied and unlit floors are visible.[5]: 62 

The Chrysler Building's spire went up just one day before the October 1929 Wall Street Crash that triggered the economic turmoil of the Great Depression. The immediate impact of the Depression was a reduction in building of all kinds; one architectural firm went from 17 filed plans for buildings up to 30 stories in 1929 to just three plans in 1930, the tallest being four stories.[26] The scope of some existing construction was also downsized; the Metropolitan Life Company intended to capture the title for tallest building with the Metropolitan Life North Building, but construction stopped during the downturn and never resumed, leaving it an "enormous stump" of 31 stories instead of the planned hundred.[4]: 56–7  In the shadow of the deepening Depression, the Metropolitan Opera abandoned its plans to move to a new three-block complex financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr. Rockefeller decided to proceed with the construction of Rockefeller Center, hiring three different architectural firms. The architects envisioned a plan for buildings arranged on several axes, clad in the same materials. At the center was 30 Rockefeller Plaza.[4]: 111–12  The Rockefellers earmarked $150,000 ($2,736,000 adjusted for inflation) for art in the plaza alone, filling the space with paintings, reliefs, and sculptural forms.[1]: 16  The decorative features focus on the achievements of humankind, mythology, and stories of education and commerce.[1]: 18, 33 

Art Deco in the city edit

Commercial edit

The heyday of Art Deco skyscrapers was effectively ended by the Great Depression, but Art Deco had proliferated outwards across the city in myriad forms.[4]: 7  Art Deco proved a popular style for an expanding range of modern commercial edifices that proliferated during the period—department stores, news offices, and transportation.[27][2][4]: 7 : 24  The initial prevailing wisdom was that the real estate market would quickly recover.[28] To tide landowners over until economic conditions improved, many built "taxpayers" on their lots—single or two-story buildings. Despite being intended as temporary, many of these buildings remained for decades afterward.[29] One such Art Deco taxpayer was the East River Savings Bank on 22 Cortlandt Street, which replaced a fifteen-story building from the 1890s. The New York Times dubbed the lot "the most valuable piece of New York real estate for a taxpayer in the city."[4]: 32  Despite being a more modest building, the structure is appointed with polished stone eagles, interior marble, and at one time featured a 3,000-square-foot (280 m2) mural of the East River.[4]: 32  Completed speculative buildings faced issues in the difficult economy—the Empire State Building took more in as a tourist attraction than from tenants, and office buildings across Midtown were pressured by the Rockefeller Center's aggressive courting of tenants.[5]: 58 

As the 1930s progressed, the rental market began to improve, and the pace of construction increased.[30] The buildings that went up in this period tended to be more reserved, with grayer, more austere versions of Art Deco; Bletter suggests that this change was due to the influence of mechanization, and the lush, colorful look of the earlier style now appearing "frivolous".[2]: 69–71  Terra cotta decoration was replaced with smoother, rounded surfaces, and metal-clad streamlining influenced by vehicular designs.[2]: 69–71  Throughout the Art Deco period, brick was the most common building material for ordinary buildings, but even here bricklayers created geometric designs by alternating the color of brick or the coursing.[14]: 115 

Art Deco was a popular choice for the movie theaters and stages being built at the time, an apropos choice given that Art Deco itself found influence in design from films, including German Expressionist works such as Fritz Lang's Metropolis.[2]: 64–66  Art Deco theaters in the city included the Ziegfeld Theater, an explicit example of the building-as-set metaphor, with the facade including a proscenium to mirror the one indoors.[2]: 19  As the Roaring Twenties ended, so too did the era of the large movie palace, and smaller Art Deco theaters like the Metro Theater on the Upper West Side and the RKO Midway Theater in Ridgewood, Queens served more modest audiences.[4]: 164, 232 

As the city developed northward, Manhattan's most prestigious department and retail stores moved to Midtown.[4]: 121  Along Fifth Avenue, the rise of the Empire State and other Art Deco buildings corresponded with the street's transformation from a "millionaire's mile" of wealthy residences to middle-class commercial business.[5]: 43–44  The Tiffany & Co. flagship store at 727 Fifth Avenue, built 1940, was designed to feature luxurious amenities including central air conditioning.[1]: 37  Its exterior features stainless steel window frames paired with marble and limestone, intended to connect the building to Classical architecture.[31]: 210  At 59th Street, Bloomingdale's expanded to encompass an entire city block in 1930, with the new addition featuring a black and gold facade festooned with decorative metal grilles.[4]: 122–3  Additional notable Art Deco department stores across the city include the Sears Roebuck & Company Department Store in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and the Montgomery Ward Department Store in Jamaica, Queens.[32][4]: 237 

Other major Art Deco commercial buildings in the city included a number of hotels, including the Waldorf Astoria. The original building with that name had been demolished to make way for the Empire State Building, and the new building drew influence from it, designed more like a skyscraper than a traditional hotel. Architects Schultz & Weaver designed twin limestone and brick towers, and included a suite for the president and a private rail line from Grand Central.[1]: 41 [4]: 109  Apartment hotels flourished in this period as a way of enjoying luxurious living without the expense of maintaining a private home. The Essex House was at the time of its construction one of the city's largest apartment hotels. It features gilded frozen fountain motifs and floral patterns rising above its main entrance. Further uptown, the Carlyle Hotel combined two buildings (one an apartment house, the other the hotel) and drew influence from Westminster Cathedral, albeit with modern Art Deco touches; the facade is broken up with beige terra cotta stripes inscribed with geometric V's and plant forms.[4]: 130, 173–4 

Residential edit

View of the new elevated Flushing subway line down Queens Boulevard in 1920: the arrival of the subway spurred a housing construction boom in the area.

Alongside the commercial boom of the 1920s, New York experienced a huge increase in residential construction; 20 percent of all new housing built in the US in that decade was built in New York.[18]: 254 [33]: 300–303  Apartment buildings grew from 39 percent of construction in 1919 to 77 percent in 1926.[18]: 254  The Art Deco era paralleled New Yorkers' shift away from tenement-style housing (multifamily homes with shared facilities) and row houses, towards apartment buildings (single-family rooms with separate bathrooms). Developers began building apartments targeting the middle class.[18]: 252–253  Urban Art Deco was a way of appealing to prospective renters and keep them in the city, rather than the suburbs.[34]: 23  The growth of the subway drove new Art Deco architecture as well. Developers built new speculative housing in the undeveloped areas the new subway lines reached,[35] and New York's population diffused outward.[18]: 204  The great majority of these new apartments throughout the boroughs topped out at six stories, because building seven stories or taller required more expensive fireproof materials.[34]: 23  The downturn in the housing market of the 1930s encouraged New Dealers to focus on nonprofit and limited-profit housing to renew blighted parts of the city or expand beyond its current limits.[18]: 121–122  Examples of these limited-profit housing initiatives can be found throughout the boroughs, especially in Sunnyside, Queens. To save money, the middle-class Art Deco often used "cast stone" (concrete) instead of expensive carved stone, reusing molds to repeat designs and shapes.[19]: 24 

In Manhattan, Art Deco apartments sprouted up across the borough. On the Upper East Side, Raymond Hood and John Mead Howells were commissioned to build a small apartment building in 1927 by the owner of the Daily News. Its ten floors features silver window spandrels with geometric designs and zigzags, and was awarded a medal by the American Institute of Architects for demonstrating a pioneering form of the new modern architectural style.[4]: 171–2  One of the only known Art Deco townhouses was built nearby on East 80th Street as a residence for the banker Lionello Perera. Its modest brick facade is broken up by different patterns, with geometric stone bands separating stories and a decorative metal entrance. The residence was later owned by Art Deco collector Barbra Streisand, making it her largest piece.[4]: 172–173 

Skyline of Central Park West, showing a number of Art Deco buildings, including the twin-towered El Dorado

Across town, some of the first large apartment buildings to receive influence from the Art Deco office buildings and skyscrapers downtown were the sister buildings The Majestic and The Century.[36] Together with The El Dorado, designed by Margon & Holder in association with Emery Roth, these twin-towered apartments transformed Central Park West's skyline.[4]: 139, 150  Roth generally avoided modernistic designs in his output (The San Remo and The Beresford in the same area were Italianate in style) but he contributed further Art Deco apartments in this part of town, including the Ardsley at 320 Central Park West. Towards the end of the 1930s more streamline moderne designs such as The Normandy (Roth again) and 10 West 74th Street (H. Herbert Lilien) had more subdued brick and horizontal speed lines.[4]: 146, 158  In northern Manhattan, Washington Heights filled with more modest Art Deco apartments, featuring amenities such as sunken living rooms, casement windows, and elevators.[4]: 183–4 

In Brooklyn, apartments and homes in the 1920s and 30s filled the previously sparsely-populated land from the island's terminal moraine down to the southern shore.[33]: 303  Art Deco apartments and commercial buildings changed the character of new or developing neighborhoods.[4]: 213  Ocean Avenue and stretches of Kings Highway filled with a number of Art Deco apartment houses, such as 832 Ocean Avenue, built in 1931 by prolific Brooklyn architects Navy & Kavovitt. Clad in yellow brick, piers capped with cast stone emphasize verticality and evoke the skyscrapers in Manhattan.[4]: 216–7  In Brighton Beach, the old hotels and racetracks of the area gave way to Art Deco apartments, including 711 Brightwater Court (1934), appointed with riotously-colored terra cotta in jungle and geometric patterns.[4]: 224 

An Art Deco apartment building on the Grand Concourse, built 1937

The densest concentration of Art Deco buildings in New York is in the west Bronx centered along the Grand Concourse, with roughly 300 buildings constructed between 1935 and 1941.[37]: 60 [4]: 195  Many of the buildings share styles and architects with the apartment houses across the river in Washington Heights.[4]: 181  One of the first, and grandest, Art Deco apartments along the Concourse was the Park Plaza Apartments, completed 1931. Intended to rise ten stories before being damaged by fire during construction, the final building is eight stories and decorated with bright polychromatic terra cotta. Park Plaza was the first Bronx Deco apartments by Horace Ginsbern & Associates, who helped change the face of the borough.[38] These buildings featured Deco hallmarks of geometric patterns and colored brick, with indirectly lit public interiors floored with tile, framed with metal, and capped by mosaic ceilings. Private interiors featured sunken living rooms, wrap-around windows in the corners, and ample closet space; inside and out these apartments were designed to appeal to the fashion-conscious, "new money" middle class.[18]: 261–263 [37]: 61–64  Compared to the famous architects of Manhattan who often studied at prestigious schools, many of the architects of the Art Deco in the outer boroughs were Jewish, studied at local art schools, and were forgotten in a generation.[37]: 64–66 

Public works edit

The pace of public works spending increased after World War I, and especially during the Depression.[19]: 38  Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia saw the Depression as an opportunity to remake the city,[18]: 316–317  and spearheaded a bevy of public works projects. The city benefited greatly from Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal Works Progress Administration program, established to provide relief. In 1935 and 1936, the city alone received one-seventh of all WPA funds.[39] The money went to projects such as a network of public pools across the city, with Crotona Park in the Bronx and Tompkinsville Pool in Staten Island being built with Art Deco flourishes.[40]

The entranceway to the Brooklyn Public Library's Central Library

Art Deco's influence affected many aspects of New York's public works during this period; by the late 1930s, most Art Deco buildings were municipal projects, not commercial ones.[2]: 71  The Health Building at 125 Worth Street (c. 1932–1935) has metal grillwork and health-related designs around the entrances, designed by German craftsman Oscar Bruno Bach, who produced custom metalwork for the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings.[41] Other Art Deco sanitation buildings include the Tallman Island Water Pollution Control Plant in Queens and the Manhattan Grit Chamber in East Harlem.[42][43][44] Art Deco libraries from the period include the Central Library of the Brooklyn Public Library. Though construction began in 1911, by 1930 it was still incomplete. The Library hired new architects in 1935 that hewed to the original footprint, but discarded the Greco-Roman elements for a modern look. The resulting facade is sparsely ornamented, with the main decoration being 50-foot (15 m) pylons illustrating the arts and sciences with gilded images, flanking entry doors surrounded by gilded bronze reliefs of figures from American literature.[4]: 221–2 

Art Deco is also represented in the city's transportation and mass transit networks. The Independent Subway System (IND) subway lines have stations designed from the late 1920s on. Squire J. Vickers, who designed hundreds of stops for the city's subways, designed Art Deco edifices for stops such as the 181st Street station in Washington Heights, the Fourth Avenue station in Park Slope, the York Street station in Dumbo, and IND substations like that on West 53rd Street in Midtown.[4]: 117, 220  Other major Art Deco projects included the New York Municipal Airport, of which Marine Air Terminal remains,[45] and the ventilation tunnels and portals of the Lincoln Tunnel, which opened in 1937 and connect New Jersey and Manhattan.[46]

The first Art Deco school in the city was Public School 98 in the Bronx, one of the first new schools built to establish a separate junior high school program in the city.[47] Public School 98 was joined by Joan of Arc High School on the Upper West Side, one of the first buildings designed by Eric Kebbon, school buildings superintendent on the New York Board of Education who ultimately designed more than 100 schools for the city. The High School was designed more like a skyscraper than a traditional school building, with long brick piers rising up to accommodate two thousand students. The triple-height entranceway contains an inscription of the school's name and symbols from the story of Joan of Arc.[4]: 162–3  Other schools include Samuel Gompers Industrial High School in the Bronx, and the former Public School 48 in Queens.[48][49]

Religious structures edit

The Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist, now the Hebrew Tabernacle of Washington Heights

Few religious buildings in the Art Deco style were built in New York City; artist Don Vlack wrote that the architects may have felt confined to more traditional styles given their conservative congregations.[14]: 128  The Church of the Heavenly Rest and St. Luke's Lutheran Church have Art Deco elements to their more traditional, neo-Gothic elements,[50] while the Society for the Advancement of Judaism blends modern elements with traditional Jewish motifs rather than geometric forms, with some calling the result "Modern Semetic".[4]: 149  The Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist (now a synagogue) is a rare example of Christian Science Art Deco anywhere in the country,[4]: 185  while the Rego Park Synagogue provides a late example of an Art Deco synagogue.[51] Other buildings include the Trinity Baptist Church and Temple Emanu-El of New York, both in the Upper East Side.[14]: 110, 128 

Decline and legacy edit

A 1932 Museum of Modern Art architecture exhibit introduced the International Style to New Yorkers.[5]: 77  Where Art Deco favored ornamentation, International Style favored undecorated facades; Bletter summed up International Style as "less is more", and Art Deco as "more than enough."[2]: 41–42, 71–73  International Style buildings, with their emphasis on airy glass and the horizontal,[18]: 180  were now modern and exciting, while Art Deco became seen as outmoded and linked to the tough times of the Depression.[4]: 7–8  The International Style and modernism replaced Art Deco as it fell out of favor during and after World War II;[5]: 77 [52] many smaller commercial buildings remodeled to fit the newest tastes.[14]: 131 

Art Deco's role as the first international style, and its importance, were largely forgotten for decades.[2]: 4  Art Deco was not reappraised and formally named and categorized until the 1960s.[4]: 7–8  Writing in 1975, Cervin Robinson noted that by the standard of direct stylistic influence, Art Deco had virtually no impact on contemporary buildings—but by its impact on the character of New York itself, Art Deco "helped crystallize our image of Gotham."[2]: 4  The style has inspired 21st-century construction in the city using Deco design details or building materials.[53][54]

The downturn in New York City's fortunes in the latter half of the 20th century caused the damage and loss of many Art Deco buildings.[37]: 61  Smaller commercial buildings and theaters were often completely lost, while by the 1970s few Deco skyscrapers still had intact lobbies.[14]: 2  Horace Ginsbern's Noonan Plaza Apartments on the Grand Concourse suffered from heavy vandalism, with skylights ripped from frames to sell for scrap metal. It was eventually restored in the 1980s thanks to the efforts of Ginsbern's son and a new owner.[4]: 203 [55] The desirability of Art Deco objects has led buildings to be stripped of their ornamentation to be resold piecemeal.[19]: 9 

The modern historical preservation movement in New York City was sparked by the loss of the old Penn Station in the 1960s, leading to the empowering of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to protect historic buildings.[56] Don Vlack considered the fact that no Art Deco buildings had been landmarked by 1974 an example of the lingering bias against the style.[14]: 2  Some of the first Art Deco buildings protected were the Chrysler Building and Chanin Building in 1978. Some building owners fought some or all of the designation; General Electric successfully fought the interior landmark designation for the RCA Victory Building,[57] and Radio City Music Hall's interiors were landmarked only after a contentious battle with the Music Hall's owners, who wished to demolish it. The Landmarks Commission received more than 100,000 signatures urging the landmark status.[58][59]

Some Art Deco buildings were demolished before they were eligible for protection. For example, Donald Trump demolished the 12-story Bonwit Teller building at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in 1980; the limestone reliefs Trump had promised to the Metropolitan Museum of Art were instead jackhammered and destroyed.[60] Other Art Deco losses, such as the New Market Building in the South Street Seaport, were surrounded by landmarked districts but were not old enough to be initially included, and had landmarked status later denied.[61] To avoid landmark status, landowners will sometimes rush to demolish the building or deface the facade.[62] Given that interiors and exteriors of buildings are landmarked separately, even landmarked buildings can see their unique Deco features lost—such as the McGraw-Hill Building, whose unique streamlined metal and enamel lobby was destroyed in a 2021 renovation.[63]

Groups such as the Art Deco Society of New York (ADSNY) produce talks and tours about the city's architecture,[64] as well as advocating for the preservation of the city's remaining Deco.[65] New York City Landmarks Commission veteran Anthony W. Robins wrote that decades after the rise and fall of Art Deco, the style "survives and flourishes" in New York. The once-daring buildings have become city historic landmarks,[4]: 8  and new building projects draw influence from the style.[66]

Landmarked buildings edit

Below is a partial listing of city-landmarked Art Deco buildings within New York City. Items marked with a dagger (†) are also (or alternatively) listed on the National Register of Historic Places, those with a double dagger (‡) have landmarked interiors, and those with a section sign (§) are National Historic Landmarks.

Borough Address Name Constructed Landmark Date Reference Registry ID
Bronx 1005 Jerome Avenue Park Plaza Apartments 1929–1931 1981 [67]: 329  NYCL #1077
Bronx 1619 Boston Road Herman Ridder Junior High School 1929–1931 1990 [67]: 326–327  NYCL #1628
Bronx 105–149 West 168th Street Noonan Plaza Apartments 1931 2010 [68] NYCL #2400
Bronx 455 Southern Boulevard Samuel Gompers Industrial High School 1931–1932 2023 [48] NYCL #2666
Bronx West 205th Street Concourse Yard Bldgs. 1933 2006 (NRHP) [69] NRHP #06000013
Bronx 1700 Fulton Avenue Crotona Play Center 1934–1936 2007 [67]: 327  NYCL #2232
Brooklyn Grand Army Plaza Central Library (Brooklyn Public Library) 1911–1940 1997 [67]: 258  NYCL #1963
Brooklyn 47–61 Greenpoint Avenue Eberhard Faber Pencil Factory 1923–1924 2007 [67]: 217–218  NYCL #2264 (Historic District)
Brooklyn 450 Fulton Street A.I. Namm & Son Department Store 1924–25; 1928–29 2005 [67]: 239  NYCL #2170
Brooklyn 97–105 Willoughby Street Former New York Telephone Company Headquarters 1929–1930 2004 [67]: 238  NYCL #2144
Brooklyn 185 Montague Street National Title Guaranty Company Building 1929–1930 2017 [70] NYCL #2587
Brooklyn 580 and 582–584 Myrtle Avenue M. H. Renken Dairy Company Office Building and Engine Room Building 1932 2015 [71] NYCL #2519
Brooklyn 2307 Beverley Road Sears Roebuck & Company Department Store 1932–1940 2012 [32] NYCL #2469
Brooklyn 4200 Fifth Avenue Sunset Park Play Center 1936 2007 [67]: 252  NYCL #2242 (exterior),
NYCL #2243 (interior)
Manhattan 140 West Street New York Telephone Company Building † ‡ 1923–1927 1991 (NYC)
2009 (NRHP)
[72][11] NRHP #09000257,
NYCL #1745 (exterior),
NYCL #1746 (interior)
Manhattan 420 Lexington Avenue Graybar Building 1925–1927 2016 [73] NYCL #2554
Manhattan 551 Fifth Avenue Fred F. French Building † ‡ 1926–1927 1986 (NYC)
2004 (NRHP)
[67]: 105  NRHP #03001514,
NYCL #1415 (exterior),
NYCL #1416 (exterior)
Manhattan 2 Park Avenue 2 Park Avenue 1926–1928 2006 [67]: 84  NYCL #2186
Manhattan 122 East 42nd Street Chanin Building 1927–1929 1978 [67]: 107–109  NYCL #993
Manhattan 593-599 Madison Avenue Fuller Building 1928–1929 1986 (NYC) [74] NYCL #1460 (exterior)
NYCL #1461 (interior)
Manhattan 310-312 Riverside Drive Master Building 1928–1929 1989 (NYC)
2016 (NRHP)
[67] NRHP #16000036, NYCL #1661
Manhattan 511 Lexington Avenue Hotel Lexington 1928–1929 2016 [75] NYCL #2559
Manhattan 405 Lexington Avenue Chrysler Building § 1928–1930 1978 [67]: 109 [76] NYCL #992
Manhattan 120–130 West 14th Street The Salvation Army National and Territorial Headquarters 1929 2017 [77] NYCL #2565
Manhattan 20 West Street Downtown Athletic Club 1929–1930 1999 [67]: 10  NYCL #2075
Manhattan 350 Fifth Avenue Empire State Building § 1929–1931 1981 (NYC)
1986 (NHL)
[67]: 81 [76] NYCL #2000
Manhattan 570 Lexington Avenue General Electric Building 1929–1931 1985 (NYC)
2004 (NRHP)
[67]: 119  NRHP #03001515,
NYCL #1412
Manhattan 300 Central Park West Eldorado Apartments 1929–1931 1985 [78] NYCL #1521
Manhattan 301 Park Avenue Waldorf Astoria New York 1929–1931 1993 / ‡2017 [67]: 118–119  NYCL #1812 (exterior),
NYCL #2591 (interior)
Manhattan 32 6th Avenue The Long Lines Building 1911–1932 1990 [67]: 118–119  NYCL #1747 (exterior),
NYCL #1748 (interior)
Manhattan 630 Ninth Avenue Film Center Building † ‡ 1928–1929 1982 (NYC)
1984 (NRHP)
[79] NYCL #1220
Manhattan 60 Hudson Street The Western Union Building 1928–1930 1990 [67]: 118–119  NYCL #1749 (exterior),
NYCL #1750 (interior)
Manhattan 220 East 42nd Street Daily News Building 1928–1930 1981 (NYC) [80] NYCL #1049
Manhattan 33-43 West 61st Street Kent Automatic Parking Garage 1929–1930 1983 (NYC) [81] NYCL #1239
Manhattan 1 Wall Street Irving Trust Company Building 1929–1931 2001 [67]: 11–12  NYCL #2029
Manhattan 500–506 Fifth Avenue 500 Fifth Avenue 1929–1931 2010 [82] NYCL #2427
Manhattan 228 East Broadway Bialystoker Center and Home for the Aged 1929–1931 2013 [83] NYCL #2529
Manhattan 2701–2714 Broadway Horn & Hardart Automat Cafeteria Building 1930 2006 [67]: 151  NYCL #2192
Manhattan 330 West 42nd Street McGraw-Hill Building § 1930–1931 1979 (NYC)
1989 (NHL)
[67]: 88–89  NYCL #1050
Manhattan 115 Central Park West The Majestic 1930–1931 1988 [84] NYCL #1518
Manhattan 1619 Broadway Brill Building 1930–1931 2010 [85] NYCL #2387
Manhattan 86 Trinity Place New York Curb Exchange § 1930–1931 1978 (NHL)
2012 (NYC)
[86][76] NYCL #2515
Manhattan 608 Fifth Avenue Goelet (Swiss Center) Building 1930–1932 1992 [67]: 111  NYCL #1810 (exterior),
NYCL #1811 (interior)
Manhattan 70 Pine Street Cities Service Building 1930–1932 2011 [87] NYCL #2411
Manhattan 25 Central Park West The Century 1931 1985 [88] NYCL #1517
Manhattan 22 East 40th Street (273–277 Madison Avenue) 275 Madison Avenue Building 1931 2009 [3] NYCL #2286
Manhattan 1260 6th Avenue Radio City Music Hall 1932 1978 [67]: 114  NYCL #995
Manhattan Between 5th and 6th Aves, between 48th and 51st Sts Rockefeller Center § 1932–1933 (RCA/GE Building) 1985 (NYC)
1987 (NHL)
[67]: 111–114 [76] NYCL #1446
Manhattan 2624-2626 Broadway Midtown Theater 1932–1933 1989 [67]: 150  NYCL #1710
Manhattan 2366 Fifth Avenue 369th Regiment Armory 1933 1985 (NYC)
1993 (NRHP)
[67]: 207  NRHP #93001537, NYCL #1390
Queens 90-04 161st Street Suffolk Title and Guarantee Company Building (Former) 1929 2001 [67]: 314  NYCL #2088
Queens 162-24 Jamaica Avenue Former J. Kurtz & Sons Store Building 1931 1981 [89] NYCL #1132
Queens 90-33 160th Street La Casina 1933 1990 (NRHP)
1996 (NYC)
[67]: 312–314  NRHP #89002259,
NYCL #1940
Queens 24-02 To 24–36 19th Street Astoria Park Pool and Play Center 1936 2006 [67]: 293  NYCL #2196
Queens 155-02 108th Avenue Public School 48 (now P75Q, The Robert E. Peary School) 1936 2020 [49] NYCL #2646
Queens 146-21 Jamaica Avenue Jamaica Savings Bank (Sutphin Boulevard) 1938–1939 2010 [90] NYCL #2393
Queens 107-55 Queens Boulevard Ridgewood Savings Bank (Forest Hills) 1939 2000 [67]: 314  NYCL #2066
Queens La Guardia Airport (Terminal A) Marine Air Terminal 1939–40 1980 [67]: 296  NYCL #1110
Staten Island 6 Victory Boulevard Lyons Pool Recreation Center 1934–1936 2008 [91] NYCL #2234
Staten Island 168 New Dorp Lane Lane Theater (interior) ‡ 1937–1938 1988 [67]: 382  NYCL #1696

See also edit

References edit

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Further reading edit

External links edit