This post is an amalgam (no pun intended given the building materials used in this style of architecture) of several recurring themes in my blog: “WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN,” “SITES LESS TRAVELED” and “INTRIGUING SITES CLOSE TO HOME.”
It doesn’t quite fit one category so I am letting it stand on its own. Before I begin, let me provide a brief Art Deco 101 for those of who might not be familiar with the style:
BACKGROUND AND HISTORY – ART DECO There are several opinions on the origin of this style, and after some research I think this make the most sense: The term Art Deco was coined during the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs Industriels et Modernes, which was held in Paris. This exposition was organized by a group of French artists known as The Societe des Artistes Decorateurs and some of these artists had been involved with a similar style known as Art Nouveau (saw many instances of this architectural style in my visits to Europe and the Baltic States and will talk about it in a later post). However the term Art Deco was not widely used until the 60’s when a retrospective was mounted. Architects and designers around the world adopted this grand style in force during the “Roaring Twenties” and the Great Depression of the ’30’s, and a major impetus for this was the advancement of building materials, particularly metal alloys that were relatively lightweight and easily workable: aluminum, stainless steel and bronze. Also, the Art Deco style was not only about shape – color played a big part in both the exteriors and interiors of private and public buildings. Art Deco ran into relative obscurity during the World War II, no doubt in part to the fact that during a time of severe austerity, the Art Deco style was deemed too gaudy and ostentatious. However, Art Deco had a resurgence in popularity in the 1960’s parallel to the advent of Pop Art, then again in 1980’s as interest in graphic design grew.
An eclectic array of previous art styles contributed to the Art Deco style, going as far back in time to the pyramids of the Aztecs and Egyptians and the ziggurat (temple tower consisting of a lofty pyramid structure built in successive terraced stages) of ancient Babylonia, Assyria and Mesopotamia:
Aspects of Greco-Roman Classicism and Cubism can also be found as well as the highly intense colors of Fauvism. It is interesting to note that while Art Nouveau was created philosophically to create, in response to the Industrial Revolution, a total elevated level of art, or Gesamtkunstwerk for buildings, furniture, textiles, clothes and jewelry, Art Deco was created simply for decorative purposes. As a child, as many children do I was forever looking up when I should have been looking at where I was walking, and my knees and other body parts can attest to the accidental bruises I received as a result. Despite these scars I have continued a fascination with facades and tops of buildings throughout my life and have discovered unique and wonderful structures that serve no utilitarian purpose – they are adornments set simply to please the eye. I am familiar with Art Deco; as a born and bred New Yorker I have spent many a fine afternoon or evening enjoying the magnificence of Radio City Music Hall with as much relish as the planned shows themselves. Or witnessing the opulence of the iconic Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center as well as its equally stunning lobby and outdoor statues. paintings and facades. I am also lucky to have worked in what is IMHO the epitome of Art Deco style, grace and beauty, The Chrysler Building. Somehow waiting for the elevators in The Chrysler Building’s lobby was never tedious. I must sadly admit, however, that as of this date I have never gone to the top of The Empire State Building – although every time i watch either “An Affair to Remember” or “Sleepless in Seattle” I mentally admonish myself that I must go (and I will!). For those of you not fortunate enough to have seen these magnificent buildings in person, here is a quick view:
EMPIRE STATE BUILDING, CHRYSLER BUILDING
RADIO CITY HALL EXTERIOR, FACADE ART AND LOBBY
CHRYSLER BUILDING ELEVATOR LOBBY
ROCKEFELLER CENTER ENTRANCE AND WALL ART
Midtown Manhattan is not the only site for Art Deco treasures and therefore it was a given that I would want to take a tour of the Upper West Side of Manhattan (85th Street – 105th Street) – a personally unexplored area that I seldom have even walked through. There were 14 structures that we visited – each very unique – but for brevity’s sake I will show you my top 5 in this post:
BROADWAY FASHION BLDG: 2315 BROADWAY AND WEST 84TH STREET
Built in the early 1930’s this building was at the time quite forward-looking with an all glass exterior, “skyscraper” styled vertical lines and metallic squiggle art decorations between the glass. In addition, take a look at the rounded corners – up to this time, buildings were squared off allowing only a one-face at a time view. This rounded corner style became one of the iconic examples of Art Deco structure:
NORMANDY APARTMENTS 140 RIVERSIDE DRIVE AND WEST 86TH STREET
Built in 1938, this landmark building’s flashy entrance looked more like a theater kiosk than the front door of an exclusive apartment building:
MIDTOWN THEATER (AKA METRO THEATER): 2624 BROADWAY AND WEST 99TH STREET
I have included this theater which is 60 blocks from Times Square as it was supposed to bring the cache of the true downtown uptown. Alas, this idea was not successful and the theater now is derelict, still bravely maintaining a trace of its Art Deco beauty with its patterned tin ceiling and tradition Art Deco wall art – if you note, very similar to that of Radio City (not an accident):
MASTERS APARTMENTS: 310-312 RIVERSIDE DRIVE AND WEST 103RD STREET
The Master Building is an Art Deco landmark cooperative apartment building and as the tallest building on Riverside Drive at 28 stories, it has sweeping views in all directions – The Hudson River, The George Washington Bridge, Midtown Manhattans, Northern New Jersey and the bridges of The East River and Long Island Sound. Designed by Harvey Wiley Corbett, the building’s corner surround windows are reputed to be the first in Manhattan. multicolored brick designs and red wrought iron casement window enclosures add to this eye-catching edifice.
The Master Building was originally conceived as an apartment hotel atop three floors containing a cultural center and the Roerich museum, which displayed over 1,000 of the works of Russian-born Nicholas Roerich, a prolific artist, mystic, philosopher, explorer, scientist, author, educator, lecturer and Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Ma ny of the original apartment dwellers were disciples. Dedicated to Roerich’s utopian vision of art and culture uplifting and unifying human consciousness, ultimately leading to world peace, the building’s Master Institute of United Arts contained schools of architecture, painting, sculpture, interior design and music and dance, plus galleries, theaters, conference rooms, exhibition halls, a dining room and two libraries. The museum is now housed in a brownstone on West 107th Street, and concerts and poetry readings are held there on occasion:
FORMER HORN & HARDART AUTOMAT: 2710 BROADWAY AND WEST 104TH STREET
You can read my full post on the glory days of this amazing group of fast food vending machine restaurants in the link provided at the top of this page, but here is a quick read from that post:
“Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart opened their first Automat in Philadelphia in 1902 and it was an instant success, leading to other Automats being opened in New York, and they remained in business until 1991. Built in Art-Deco style with huge rectangular halls filled with lacquered tables, these restaurants, although emulating an assembly line, were actually a highly entertaining place to eat. “Nickel throwers” – women in glass booths – would dispense 5-cent pieces to customers in exchange for paper money and larger coins which the patrons would then slip into slots next to glass compartments filled with a wide variety of food – sandwiches, salads, deserts and more. There was a chrome-plated knob on the other side of each compartment, that when twisted, opened the adjacent compartment so that the diner could scoop up his selection. There was another section for hot foods and beautifully ornate spigots that delivered delicious coffee or hot chocolate. The Automat had a strict fresh food policy and any food that was not consumed at the end of day was removed (albeit to be sold at a “day-old shop”) and new batches of food were inserted. A large staff of workers worked invisibly behind the wall of compartments to insure that during the day nothing ran out”.
The Art Deco detailing of these restaurants were incredibly cool and obtaining your food was so much fun for kids and adults alike:
It was a great disappointment, therefore to get to the site of a still standing HORN & HARDART building and to see once again, a great beauty gone derelict. There have been many discussions and battles over the years to try to restore this building – but as of now it is SAD SIGHT:
I don’t want to end this post on a sad note, so I will include a few pictures of the gorgeous Art Deco furniture, wall sconces, borders and artwork from the interior lobby of the Master Apartments – courtesy of a friendly doorman:
in closing, be assured that I will continue to tempt fate by continuing to look upwards – hoping that my new discoveries will assuage any future pratfalls.