Monday, 18 May 2015

New York art deco part one

What better way to start a short break in New York than with a walk to see some its most famous art deco buildings? We are staying in midtown, on Madison Avenue, and just a few blocks away, on 5th Avenue, is the most famous of them all, the Empire State Building (architect William F Lamb). Above is our first sight of it, from the junction of West 33rd St and Madison Avenue. 

It was opened in 1931 and immediately took over from the Chrysler Building as the tallest in the world - it was built by a General Motors executive, John Rascob, with that aim in mind. It was not to lose that title for over 40 years. The exterior is remarkably free of decoration and so the building still looks quite modern. The entrance and lower storeys do have some discreet decoration however.

We didn't go up to the viewing platform on the 86th floor, having done that on our short visit in 2010, but we did have a quick look at the opulent and self-referential foyer.

Now up 5th Avenue and along West 40th St with the impressive New York Public Library on the corner to see the former American Radiator building (now the Bryant Park Hotel) facing the delightful Bryant Park. This grey brick skyscraper (Raymond Hood, 1924) has exuberant gold decoration on the lower storeys and at the very top. Here is the main entrance.

 And here are the upper storeys viewed from the opposite corner of the park. 

In that opposite corner is the rather wonderful Bank of America Tower. It was designed by COOKFOX Architects and has been advertised to be one of the most efficient and ecologically friendly buildings in the world. It is the fourth highest in New York.

The park covers two blocks so we headed along 42nd St to the junction with Broadway in search of our next target, the Brill Building, at 1619 Broadway. It was built in 1931 as the Alan E. Lefcourt Building and was designed by Victor Bark Jr. We battled our way through the crowds and assorted cartoon characters and superheroes to find this smallish white building, currently undergoing some building work. The facade is enlivened by beautiful panels.

We wandered into the foyer and were thrilled by the original 1930s decorative scheme.

Rather than retrace our steps, we walked along West 48th St and literally stumbled on the massive Rockefeller Center, which had been on the plan for a second art deco walk. Construction of the 14 buildings that make up the Center began on May 17, 1930, and the buildings were completed and opened in 1939. The principal architect was Raymond Hood.

We were especially taken by three of the entrances. 

The tableau of rather androgynous figures is just wonderful.

We reached 5th Avenue and headed south, soon stumbling on another building targeted for another day, the gold-facaded Fred F French Building (1927, designed by H Douglas Ives for Sloan & Robertson) at 551 5th Avenue (at 45th Street). This was quite impressive from the outside, with winged griffins the dominant motif ...

 ...  but inside the foyer there was an absolute riot of decoration, which put the lovely Brill Building in the shade.

As we walked away, we looked up to see if there was anything going on at the top level and were thrilled to find the middle stepped section embellished by a beautiful design in red, green and gold.

Conditions: grey, cool.

Distance: about 3 miles.

Rating: five stars.

Part two is planned for the day after tomorrow.


Here, for symmetry's sake, is the Empire State building at night.

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