Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Crosswalk in the Sky

This post also appears on Fashion Herald.

West 32nd Street is hectic to say the least. Since it isn't on my daily commute, I usually only go to buy some inexpensive stuff that I "need" at Jacks, eat something amazing in Koreatown, and also to stare at the Gimbels Traverse, sometimes also referred to as the Gimbels Skybridge, a relic of retail history and architecture that focused on aesthetics and function.

Photo: 34SP, A. Kumer

This Art Deco bridge, with its oxidized copper cladding make me happy as I try to navigate the insane pedestrian traffic on 32nd Street. In 1925 the retailer Gimbels bought the Cuyler building at 116 West 32nd Street to use primarily for their administrative offices. Built by the Cuyler Realty Co. in 1911, it sat across the street from the Gimbels flagship store (now Manhattan Mall) at 1275 Broadway. I've posted this picture before, but here is the Cuyler building a year after completion, and thirteen years before the Traverse.

Photo: MCNY

Right after the purchase, Gimbels hired architects Richard Harold (R.H.) Shreve and William Lamb (later to become 2/3 of the Firm Shreve, Lamb & Harmon) to design the three-story passageway with copper cladding to connect the two buildings. (For 34th Street district enthusiasts, this firm also designed the Empire State Building, built in 1930-1931, and 1250 Broadway, built in 1967-1968; in our sister BID, Bryant Park, they designed 500 Fifth Avenue, built in 1931.)

The photo below shows West 32nd Street in 1977, including the traverse, the vertical Willoughby's sign (now Jack's), a vertical Gimbels sign, and at the southwest corner The Donald, now The Continental.

Photo: 1977, Whiskeygonebad flickr

Here it is now from half a block further east.

Photo: 34SP, A. Kumer

Surprisingly, the bridge isn't landmarked. To nominate it (or any other building) for landmark status, fill out this form and send it in to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Other sources:
NYT. "Cuyler Building Sold for $2,000,000 . . . " December 16, 1921
Bowery Boys

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Lost Generation Occupies Some City Green

This post also appears on the Bryant Park blog.

At this time of year, the life-sized bronze Gertrude Stein statue is somewhat buried behind the holiday shops in Bryant Park. She is one of ten made from a cast by friend and sculptor Jo Davidson in Paris, in 1922, and possibly the only one displayed outdoors year-round. Davidson had a long list of commissioned busts, including Charlie Chaplin, Hellen Keller, and Frank Sinatra. Many of them can be seen here. The photo below, taken by friend and surrealist photographer Man Ray, shows Davidson working in his Paris studio, with his subject Gertrude Stein looking on.

Photo: Man Ray, 1922, Getty Museum

Stein was connected to the ex-pat art and literary scene of the times, coining the term "lost generation," later used by Hemingway to refer to that generation of authors: "You are all a lost generation," epigraph, The Sun Also Rises. Though most well-known for her writing and personal relationships, Stein, along with several members of her family, amassed an impressive art  collection, on display at the Grand Palais now until mid-January.Time to use up those miles!

The Bryant Park statue was donated by Dr. Maury Leibovitz, psychologist and art dealer, and unveiled in a small ceremony on November 5, 1992. In addition to the sculpture, Mr. Leibovitz owned an estate formerly belonging to Jo Davidson. Davidson has another Bryant Park connection -- for a time, he worked out of a studio at the Bryant Park Studios, on the corner of 40th Street and Sixth Avenue. So it's fitting that she found a home in the park.

Photo: BPC, Marco Castro

As for the other nine statues, I tracked down a few of them: one at The Met (they also have a beautiful Picasso portrait of her), supposedly one each at The Whitney and The Carnegie Museum of Art, and possibly one at The Smithsonian (it was on view last Spring, but could have been on loan).
Other Sources:
**The Parks Department has a monuments catalog available online. You can read about most every statue you've ever seen in the park system until your eyes bleed.
**Now you can settle all of those arguments about when the Post Modern ends and Contemporary begins with this handy chart.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cornices to Curtain Walls on 32nd Street

When I first started working for the 34th Street Partnership, I was going though photos and found this one showing the corner of West 32nd Street and Sixth Avenue, or, 885 Sixth Ave., taken in March 1992.

Photo: 34SP Archive, March 1992, Norman Mintz

I recognized it as being an early 1900s building, but with a TON of signage hanging off of it and something weird happening with the cornice along the top, almost as if it had been removed? Yep, 'cause here's what it looked like shortly after being built in 1910 -- less signage and intact cornice.

Photo: MCNY
Fast forward to the 1990s. The ground floor was occupied by Leo's Famous, a hot dog emporium and coffee shop that was at this location since 1941, and closed in 1997.

Photo: 34SP Archive, March 1992, Norman Mintz

After finding these photos, I thought I'd walk down to look at the building in person. Too late. I started working for the BID in 2008, found the photo in 2009, and by then, the building was torn down to make room for The Continental, a large residential complex, with coincidentally, the same name as a Christopher Walken SNL character. He's done so many good ones.

Curbed documented the construction of  The Continental (also known as Tower 111) quite thoroughly, including a sneak peak at its insides last January. It's central location to transportation hubs, restaurants, and shopping, put residents in the . . . Thick. Of. It. with almost everything the City has to offer in a short walk or subway ride away.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Finding a Bargain under a Bridge

This post also appears on Fashion Herald.

I LOVE dollar stores, especially Jack's. It's chaotic for sure (I have to be in the mood for an adventure), but there are great deals on a huge variety of merchandise. The first Jack's was opened at 16 East 40th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues. In 1994 Jack opened a second store on the first floor of 110 West 32nd Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, and three years later, a closeout retail store called Jack's World, on the 2nd and 3rd floors in the same building. Here is 110 West 32nd Street in 1912 -- it's the middle building with the sexy cornice and Penn Station in the background to the west.

Photo: MCNY
The photo above was taken just after the completion of its neighbor to the west, known then as the Cuyler Building, and later as the Gimbels Administration Building, and even later, as one host to the Gimbels Traverse, or skybridge (more on that later). As for the "Jack's" building -- visible below to the left of the skybridge -- it was probably built in the early 1900s.

Manhattan, West 32nd Street, b/t Sixth Avenue & Seventh

According to  Walter Grutchfield's extremely informative website on New York City wall signs, 14 to 42, the building was occupied by a company called Alliance Press from about 1907 to 1938, and Protective Ventilator Co. from 1910-1916.  In 1916, Willoughby's Camera Stores purchased the building, setting up a much-loved shop on the ground floor. The camera and photography store (one of NYC's oldest) was there until 1994, bringing us full circle to Jack's. Again, 14 to 42 gives a concise history of Willoughby's, so I'm not sure I need to.  I can, via the MCNY photo collection, contribute a Willoughby's window from 1945:

Photo: MCNY

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fall Colors in Black and White

This post also appears (or will soon) on the Bryant Park blog.

Just in time for fall, Bryant Park horticulturists plant Chrysanthemums in the park. Here is a flashback to another time when the flowers made a regular appearance in the gardens.

Leftover from the Robert Moses / 1934 renovation, the tall hedges became a corral for an assortment of Chrysanthemums in October 1943.

A closer view

And a super close-up. As my high school photography teacher Mac (short for McInyre, and he looked like a gold rush prospector w/ a penchant for flannel shirts and a beard) would have complimented the nice film exposure -- not too dark or light, with a wide range of grays.

**All photos: New York City Parks Photo Archive

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Rise and Fall of Penn Station

This post also appears on Fashion Herald, a 34th Street  fashion and retail blog written by Tricia Lewis.

Penn Station, neighbor to the still standing Farley Post Office is mostly remembered as one of New York City's great losses. The photo below shows the station as most choose to remember it -- a beautifully designed structure filled with natural light, that makes train travel look like the best idea ever. For out-of-town travelers new to the city, it was often their first glimpse of New York City.

Penn Station, 1935. Photo:New York Public Library

Before Penn Station was conceived of and built, railroad service terminated in Jersey City on the western side of the Hudson River. From there, passengers boarded a ferry into the city. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company (PRR) put forth several proposals to bring service into the city, including elevated tracks over the Hudson. It was eventually decided to tunnel under it instead, and an initial excavation began on July 21, 1880 to link the new passage with an existing, partially completed tunnel. Unfortunately this effort ended in disaster for several workers who perished when the tunnel collapsed.

The disaster cast a shadow on the project, and it wasn't until twenty years later that PRR President Alexander Cassatt, announced plans to resume the project, tunneling under the Hudson and into the City at West 34th Street.

Architecture firm McKim, Mead & White was chosen to design the station; construction started on May 1, 1904, and was completed in 1910. September 8, 1910 was the official opening day of the station, though full train service didn't begin until November 27, 1910.

The early stages of construction, photo: Library of Congress

Penn Station in 1910 looking southwest. Photo: Detroit Publishing Co., Library of Congress

Known for their Beaux-Arts style, McKim, Mead & White placed Doric columns along the eastern facade, crowning them with twenty-two eagles. The form used for the eagles was sculpted by Adolph A. Weinman.

The station had high vaulted glass ceilings that let in natural light and lent a refinery to the terminal, almost as if it was a museum devoted to transportation, rather than just a terminal. This feature of the building also likened it to another architectural jewel that burned down years before, the Crystal Palace exhibition hall, built mostly of glass and steel and erected in Bryant Park in 1853.

Like all good architecture photos, this one is entirely without people.
Penn Station interior, 1910. Photo: Shorpy's

With the increasing practice of traveling by car in the 1950s, the railroad industry began to suffer financially. The station and air rights were eventually sold and plans for the new Penn Station and Madison Square Garden were announced in 1962. In exchange for optioning out the air rights over Penn Station, the PRR was permitted a new station underneath the future site of MSG at no cost to the railroad company and a 25% stake in the new MSG sports complex. Destruction began on October 28, 1963. The following photos are housed at the Museum of the City of New York, and were taken by one of my favorite living photographers, and I'm lucky to say, a friend, Aaron Rose.

The demolition of Penn Station, 1964-1965. Photo: MCNY, Aaron Rose

The demolition of Penn Station, 1964-1965. Photo: MCNY, Aaron Rose
The public outcry against the destruction of Penn Station was significant, though not enough to save the building. It did however, help solidify and unify architectural preservation efforts, and led to founding of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) in 1965. 

Additional sources:
The Late, Great Penn Station by Lorraine Diehl (My favorite book on Penn Station.)
Forgotten NY has a lot of digestible facts and pictures
Library of Congress digital photo archive

Monday, October 3, 2011

Alexander Calder Brightens up Some Midtown Green

This post also appears on the Bryant Park blog.

It won't be long now until we have something fun and colorful dominating the lawn, but back in 1993, Alexander Calder's Big Crinkly did the trick. Following in the footsteps of earlier public art exhibits in the park, including Mel Chin in 1981, and George Rickey in 1986, Bryant Park Corporation (then, Bryant Park Restoration Corporation) installed a very colorful Alexander Calder mobile on the lawn in 1993.

Photo: BPC

It was only one year after the iconic bistro chairs and were added to the park, and the lawn is looking lush.This photo taken before photoshop and scanned from a slide, shows a very green lawn.

Photo: BPC

According to the Times, the sculpture was then owned by art collector Andre Emmerich, who was exhibiting it at a 150 acre sculpture park in Duchess County NY called Top Gallant.

To see more of Calder's work, visit the Calder Foundation website, or go to the open air museum Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, NY. I highly recommend going there. The have a few Calders in their permanent collection, including the one pictured below, and it's a very nice escape from the city. 

Photo: A. Kumer

If outdoor sculpture gardens are your passion, check out this detailed listing by region and state.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

September Dedication

This post also appears on the Bryant Park blog.

Seventy-seven years ago today Bryant Park re-opened after an aggressive redesign and renovation led by NYC Parks Commissioner Robert Moses.

Lifted straight from an older post, which has several in-process construction photos: "Assisted by consulting architect Aymar Embury II, and landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke, Moses transformed the grounds of Bryant Park from a Victorian greensward to a French Classical landscape very similar to today’s design."

Here are a few photos from the dedication ceremony held on September 14, 1934. First, the ceremony. It almost looks as if no one is there listening to Robert Moses, and the fountain water is very still.

But it was well attended. Everyone is clustered behind the fountain, recently moved from its prior location at the other end of the park, just behind the library.

A bird's eye of the lawn, including the hedges, Bryant Park Place along the left on 40th Street, and the Union Dime Savings Bank building at the corner of 40th and Sixth Avenue.

**All Photos, copyright: New York City Parks Photo Archive

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sideshow Corner: Life's Wonders on Display

I have to give proper credit for the title of this post to author Stacy Carlson and her book Among the Wonderful. Carlson's book is a well-researched fictional account of early 1900s sideshows in NYC, specifically Barnum's Living Wonders. Buy and review it.

Though Barnum gets a LOT of credit for reinventing and promoting the Sideshow, it was Samuel W. Gumpertz who brought it to Coney Island in the early 1900s. The images below, all from Pisark, a Coney Island historian associated with the Coney Island History Project, are mostly of Coney Island Wonders.

Lionel the Lion Faced Man, or, Stephan Bibrowski, a Polish native who moved to the States in the early 1900s to perform with Barnum & Bailey's Circus. By the 1920s he was a Coney Island regular. I'm almost positive his image has been used as a heavy metal album cover several times over, but can't find any proof.

Jean-Jaques Libbera, "The Double-Bodied Man." Jean and his brother (attached at Jean's mid-section) Jaques were born in Rome and entertained throughout the 1920s. Jean eventually married and had four children.

 Eddie Masher, a "Living Skeleton" with an advertised weight of 38 pounds at five-foot, seven-inches tall.

Violet and Daisy Hilton, "English Siamese Twins" and " The Hilton Sisters." These Hilton sisters are much more endearing and interesting than the other famous set. After Violet and Daisy made their last public performance in the 1960s, the sisters worked in a grocery store. They died of Hong Kong flu in 1969.

I have identical twin cousins. This is a birthday card waiting to happen.

Like the Lion Faced Man above, I thought I'd seen these ladies on an album cover, but nope, the angsty soundtrack of my youth had this cover:

Still a really good album, btw. I recently heard it again and am now tempted to buy it for the third time. My first and second copies were played to death.

Other fun things:
*A list of historic Coney Island performers
*Current CI performers (think albino snakes, fire, and fishnets)
*Legitimize your purchase of a bowler hat and/or corset, and learn to swallow swords, charm snakes, and eat fire.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Relic of Early Modernism in Midtown Manhattan

This post also appears on Fashion Herald.

Recently, I went shopping with co-worker and 34th Street fashion guru Tricia, and she noticed the new Steve Madden store, along with a few guys talking in front of it who did not look like tourists, casual passersby, or purchasers of the 5-inch heels Madden is known for. (That last one is an unfair assumption. I have for sure seen many a gent rock a heel way better than I can in this city.) We accosted them, and after explaining what we do for the district, found out that one was the architect for the store. He dragged us into the street saying that we were right this minute across from one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. This one -- 22 West 34th Street.

Photo: A. Kumer, 34SP
I had noticed the building before, but never thought much past why is there would so much wall and so little window. Also, it's backed up against the Empire State Building on 34th Street, so it isn't as if there's nothing else to look at around there. He had such a glow in his eyes as he described the unusual modernness of this design for the time it was built, that I can only imagine he sees it like this instead.

Photo: NYPL digital collection

Designed by architecture firm De Young, Moscowitz & Rosenberg, and built in 1934, it's known in my trusty AIA Guide to New York City, and the above photo, as the Spear & Company building. Originally established in Pittsburgh in 1843, Spear's was a furniture store known for selling knockoffs of modern-style pieces. In addition to a whole lot of facade wall, the building was equipped with air conditioning, indirect lighting, and an auditorium, and cost about $300,000 to build.

In a 1938 New Yorker Skyline column, Lewis Mumford (also cited in Christopher Gray's 1995 Streetscape column) accused the building's designers of practicing fake functional with that small bank of windows facing east, and covered by the Spear's sign, which was yellow neon on a blue background.

By the early 1990s, many of the windows were painted over, Spears was long gone, and signage on the building looked like this:

Photo: N. Mintz, 34SP

A few years later, and a lot of work on behalf of the 34th Street Partnership, the wall sign is gone, though there is still a remnant of a vertical sign and masked windows.

Photo: 34SP
Now thankfully, (scroll all the way up for a refresher), the windows are unobstructed by vertical signage and paint. Mumford would be at least a bit more pleased.

Additional citation:
The Architectural Guidebook to New York City, by Francis Morrone and James Isla, p. 140

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

One for the Ladies: The Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain

This post also appears on the Bryant Park blog.

One of the park's oldest and most beautiful monuments is also the first public city monument dedicated to a woman -- the Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain. Designed by architect, landscape designer, and painter Charles Adams Platt, the fountain was originally intended for Corlear's Hook Park in the Lower East Side -- where Shaw Lowell had done the majority of her work -- but was instead erected in Bryant park on the east side, near the William Cullen Bryant monument, and behind the New York Public Library.

The Lowell fountain seen here in it's first location at the east end of the park, just behind the NYPL, 1922. Photo: NYC Transit Museum

This pink granite fountain, with a 32-foot diameter base, and 13-foot diameter upper basin mounted on a classical pedestal was dedicated on May 21, 1912. As part of the 1934 Moses renovation of the park it was moved to its present location, at the west side of the park, near Sixth Avenue.

Bryant Park, seen from the elevated Sixth Avenue train facing east, 1936. Postcard: BPC

Josephine Shaw Lowell's life was devoted to helping those in need. (Oh, the digital age -- you can even "like" her on facebook!) Shortly after she married Charles Russel Shaw, she joined her husband on the front lines of the American Civil War in Virginia, tending to sick and wounded soldiers, and later, was the first woman appointed a Commissioner to the New York State Board of Charities.

The Shaw Lowell fountain, the day of Bryant Park's re-opening after the Moses renovation, September 14, 1934. Photo: New York City Parks Photo Archive
Embedded in the bluestone at the fountain's base, is a commemorative plaque.

Photo: Jacob Bielecki, BPC

Ninety-nine years after its dedication, the Josephine Shaw Lowell fountain continues to amaze and inspire New Yorkers (watch carefully at the 1:30 mark), local news stations, and numerous park visitors, especially during colder months when the fountain is winterized and looks like this. In warmer moths it also serves as an ad hoc wishing well. Ever wonder what happens with the coins?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

100 Years of NYC Newsstands

They haven't changed as much as you'd think. Let's take a look. . . .

Early 1900s - Heins and LaFarge-designed subway stations for the elevated lines

 1913 - "News From Other Cities"

1937 - Eighth Avenue newsstand, photo by Arthur Rothstein, Library of Congress

1960 - street piles

1989 - open

1989 - closed

1991 - Porn curtain along the top . . .

For more, check out Rachel Barrett's 2008 NYC newsstand project. And, if this inspires you to become a newsstand operator, the process starts here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bryant Park Place

This post also appears on the Bryant Park blog.

A few months ago the Landmarks Preservation Commission added the Engineers' Club building, now known as co-op residence Bryant Park Place, at 32 West 40th Street, to their list of New York City landmarks. In very good company, this Beaux-Arts clubhouse is flanked on either side by the Radiator Building, built in 1924, and the Scientific American Building, completed in 1925.
West 40th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, 1935

The Engineers' Club was formed in 1888 to unify a profession growing in significance and numbers throughout the city. By the early 1900s, the club outgrew it's former location at Fifth Avenue and 35th Street, and club member Andrew Carnegie made an initial donation of $1 million to erect a new building.

Engineers' Club on West 35th Street and Fifth Avenue, 1897

Shortly after, he raised the amount to $1.5 million, to facilitate the construction of the Engineering Societies' Building, one block over on West 39th Street. The two buildings would connect on the ground floor, and have entrances on both 39th and 40th Streets.

Six well-known architects were invited to submit plans, and were each paid $1,000 for their submissions, whether they won or not. The small firm Whitfield & King beat out a few much larger firms, among them Carrère & Hastings, and won the contest to design and build the Engineers' Clubhouse on 40th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Another firm, Hale & Rogers, was chosen to design and build the Engineers' Societies Building on 39th Street. (Incidentally, Cargenie's wife, Louise Whitfield Carnegie was the sister of winning architect.) The firm also built the Carnegie building in Troy, NY.

The Engineers' Club, now, Bryant Park Place, at 32 West 40th Street, 1905

This 12-story Renaissance Revival clubhouse was completed in 1907, and was thought to be one of the most luxurious buildings of it's kind. Notable club members included Nikola Tesla (In 1917, a dinner was held in the adjoining building at 33 West 39th Street, in his honor after receiving the Edison Medal), Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, and H.H. Westinghouse. The building featured public and social spaces, as well as 66 sleeping rooms. Tesla was very fond of pigeons, and often fed them in adjacent Bryant Park on a favorite bench near the corner of Sixth Avenue and 40th Street.

Dining room at the Engineers' Club, 1910

The Engineers' Club sold the building to developer David Eshagin in 1979, and it was converted into a co-op in 1983. Both buildings were added to the National Registrar of Historic Places on August 30, 2007.

** All photos are from the MCNY digital collection.

Primary sources cited:
Landmark's Preservation Commission document, March 22, 2011
Landmark's Preservation Commission press release. March 22, 2011
NYT Streetscapes column, 1995