Walks in New York and elsewhere

My comments on buildings, shops, restaurants that catch my eye as I wander around New York City and other places.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

Monday, August 29, 2005

Starting at 12th Avenue...

It seems fitting that the Circle Line tour boat leaves from a pier at the foot of 42nd Street.

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Free Image Hosting at <a href=Look uptown at 12th Avenue to see the Intrepid (a floating sea-air museum on a de-commissioned naval vessel) and maybe catch a glimpse of any ocean-going ships that may be in port.

On the uptown side of the street is the massive Chinese consulate and just behind, its residential tower.

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The building went up in 2002, designed by Lin + Associates, on the site of an 8-story former factory. It is one of several very tall residential buildings that have recently been constructed, or are under construction on the far west side. The area used to be low-rise, mixed use.

Across the street from the Chinese consulate is One River Place, on the s.w. corner of 42nd and 12th, perhaps even larger. It was developed by Larry Silverstein, designed by Costas Kondylis & Partners.

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It will be joined by a second, similar tower following the completion of the clean-up of the brownfield directly to the east.

There are several other construction sites in the immediate vicinity, west of 9th Avenue.

42nd Street River to River

Going west to east, as opposed to the the east to west direction of the 57th Street walk --

Say "Forty-Second Street" to most out-of-towners, and Times Square comes to mind, and to those who haven't kept up with developments over the past 10-15 years, perhaps an aura of sleaze and danger that is no longer part of the experience the way it used to be when the area was known to some as "The Deuce."

But, 42nd Street is far more than shorthand for popular entertainment. Some of the finest buildings in the city are to be found lining this fabled street: the New York Public Library's signature building, the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Terminal are only the most well-known.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Between 10th Avenue and 12th Avenue

Between 10th and 11th, it gets more industrial.
A peculiar little building at 515 W. 57th sells serious audio equipment.

Across the street, CBS holds sway, with its broadcast and production center taking up the south side of the block.

On the north side of the block, the long black glass building (re-cladding of an older building by Der Scutt) is the home of International Flavors and Fragrances, the people who make your dishwasher detergent smell the way it does.

On the n.w. corner is one of the remaining auto dealerships, BMW.

Between 11th and 12th:
On the s.w. corner is the Tasos Cafe, a standard coffee shop so close to New Jersey that there's Taylor Pork Roll on the menu.

The n.w. corner (actually half the block) has a big, bulky blue glass apartment building, of all things in this neighborhood, nearly finished

East of an Infiniti dealer and a Nissan dealer some construction work has begun on a site owned by the Department of Sanitation.

On the s.w. corner of 12th Street is the location of signmaker ArtKraft Strauss.

Beyond a large vacant lot on the north side of the block, it is impossible to miss the magnificent original power station for the IRT, located on 59th Street. The exterior was designed by Stanford White in 1904. It is not a designated landmark, although a number of the original subway stations designed by Heins & LaFarge are. The building is now used by Con Ed.

Finally, at the far western end of 57th Street, the Hudson River and New Jersey beyond.

Between 8th Avenue and 10th Avenue

Crossing 8th Avenue, look to the right to see a bit of the Time-Warner Center, housing some very upscale restaurants: Per Se, Masa and Cafe Gray.

The Time-Warner Center was designed by Skidmore, Owings, Merrill (SOM). The design took years to accomplish and represents a compromise between the desires of the developer for bulk and those of the public, which, for some reason, didn't want a building that would block sunlight from reaching Central Park. There was a memorable demonstration involving massed black umbrellas that illustrated the impact of the shadow of the proposed building.

On the n.w. corner of 57th and 8th is a newish, very tall blue glass apartment building. Blue glass is enjoying some particular popularity lately. In the future, it will be possible to date these buildings quite precisely because of it.

On the s.w. corner, a singular building is going up. This is the new tower designed by Sir Norman Foster for the 6-story base of an unbuilt tower of the Hearst Building, which was designed by Joseph Urban, 1927-28. It is not possible to see the base at the moment, because of construction, but a large sign shows a rendering of it with the new tower above.

The tower

Rendering showing the base

This was to have been Foster's first structure in NYC, but Asprey hired him to design a new window for its store in the Trump Tower at Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th street. That job has been complete, to good effect.

The rest of the block between 8th and 9th is lined mostly with apartment buildings from various periods. The south side of the street is taken up by the Parc Vendome buildings.

The Parc Vendome was the site of a proposed Metropolitan Opera House. If it had been built, the high-culture strip of 57th Street would have extended to 9th Avenue. The new opera house was finally built as part of Lincoln Center, decades after it was first proposed.

The back of the Hudson Hotel (oh-so-trendy a very few years ago) is at 353 West 57th. A little garden connects two parts of the hotel, above eye level.
The Hudson is a redesign by Philippe Starck of the Henry Hudson hotel, in which Channel 13 (PBS) had its offices for many years. The entrance to the Henry Hudson was on 57th. The current incarnation is entered from 58th.

On the s.e. corner is a little plaza where there is a Greenmarket on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Between 9th and 10th:
On the s.w. corner of 57th and 9th is a boarded-up rather derelict building that, despite its neglected appearance is a newly-designated landmark, just waiting to be turned into expensive residences by a developer with just a little bit of vision.
The brickwork is extraordinary for New York, with some very fine corbelling. It was built in 1880-1881, the design attributed to Theophilus G. Smith. It is the oldest apartment building in the area. There used to a pretty good Jewish-style deli on the ground floor.

On the north side of the street is the lavishly ornamented (with terra cotta) Church of All Nations, originally the Catholic Apostolic Church, designed by Francis Kimball, 1885-86.

On the south side is Trinity Presbyterian Church. In the basement of what was probably the rectory is

In contrast to Hudson Hotel is

Here's a row of brownstone-front houses left from 1883. Brownstone was such a ubiquitous facade material in New York that row houses here are often referred to as "brownstones" regardless of material. There used to be block after block of nothing but these before apartment living became the norm. This row has been altered by the removal of some of the columned porches for the installation of fire escapes when the buildings were converted for use as multiple dwellings.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

From 7th Avenue to 8th Avenue

After crossing 7th Avenue, look over your shoulder to catch a glimpse of Alwyn Court, a designated landmark on the southeast corner of 58th Street and 7th Avenue. It was designed by Harde & Short to suggest Francis I (with lots of terra cotta salamanders) and built in 1907. Originally, each apartment took up either a half or whole floor, the rooms having a view of an interior courtyard. The apartments have since been sub-divided. An outpost of Petrossian, a French purveyor of caviar and smoked fish is located in this building, as well as a quiet, grown-up, in not exciting, restaurant by the same name.

On the southwest corner of 57th and 7th, at 200, is another designated landmark studio building, designed by Cass Gilbert, 1916-17. Gilbert designed this after he completed the Woolworth Building.
The windows are the thing on all studio buildings, of course, but in this one,l they are especially striking. The style recalls French Gothic.

Across the street is designated landmark, The Osborne, by James E. Ware, 1885, an early apartment building in one of the earliest apartment building districts and still one of the city's best, in my opinion, in a melding of Romanesque and Renaissance Revival. Traditional American building style names are quite fanciful and sometimes relate only superficially to the styles from which they were derived.
I was not able to take a picture of the lobby, and that's too bad. This building has always been popular with musicians.

Just west of The Osborne is the Art Students League, a French Renaissance confection designed by Henry Hardenbergh and built in 1892, for the American Fine Arts Society, the Society of American Artists and the Architectural League. It is a designated landmark. Judging from the art in the windows, a conservative, traditional kind of art is taught here.

At 221, the Hard Rock cafe still sports a pink Cadillac canopy, but isn't it going to be moving to Times Square?

The Morton Williams Associated Supermarket to the west has free wi-fi at the tables in the window and Hero jam 2 for $5.

I almost forgot the Brooklyn Diner, another Shelly Fireman restaurant.

Also on the south side, is Lee's Art Shop in a building that is not designated. I'm sure that it received careful consideration and was probably rejected because it has undergone too much alteration.
It was the clubhouse for the American Society of Civil Engineers and later, a Schrafft's restaurant. It was built in 1897, designed by Cyrus Eidlitz and expanded a few years later by the same architect.

Broadway slices in here and at the s.e. corner of the intersection, 224 West 57th St., are two adjoining buildings designed by Francis H. Kimball, 1909, that were originally built for the automobile industry, which was centered on this part of Broadway.

If you look to the right as you cross Broadway, you can catch a glimpse of 240 Central Park South (a designated landmark apartment building in a simplifed art moderne or functionalist style, notable for its massing), the Trump building that houses Jean-Georges and the highly-controversial building at 2 Columbus Circle that will be the home of the American Crafts Museum, now known as the Museum for Arts and Design. The landmarks commission has unequivocally stated that it will not consider designating 2 Columbus Circle, over very vociferous objections from some preservationists. The Dahesh Museum wanted to buy the building and restore it, but the better politically-connected (and more well-established) Crafts Museum got the nod, even though it is planning a major renovation that will obliterate many of the building's characteristic features. The building was originally designed by Edward Durell Stone to house Huntington Hartford's art collection. The interior is very luxuriously appointed, but has been allowed to deteriorate over the years.

At the n.w. corner of 57th and Broadway, where a Bank of America branch and Daffy's are now, was Coliseum books, relocated on 42nd Street between 5th and 6th in a much smaller space. It remains, in its new digs, one of the few general interest independent bookstores still standing.

From 6th Avenue to 7th Avenue

The street signs still say "Avenue of the Americas" but not even tourists call it anything but 6th Avenue.

This stretch has eight New York City-designated individual landmarks...and they are not the only interesting buildings on the strip. Beginning with the last decade of the 19th century, these two blocks (it would have been three blocks, but we will get to that a little later) became associated with cultural, primarily musical, pursuits. Some of the sites are still in existence.

On the south side of the street is Shelly's New York, in a building that was built in 1937-38 to house a Horn & Hardart Automat. At one point, the current incarnation had a sign in red neon proclaiming "since 1937." Yes, the building has been there since 1937, but the tourists who patronize the restaurant were supposed to infer that the restaurant had been there that long, too. The sign came down in response to various complaints. Old-time NY-ers will remember that some time between the Automat days and the present-day restaurant, the building held Marboro books, a vast emporium selling remainders at the very deepest discounts.

Across the street, on the north side, at 107 W. 57th, was the Ritz, for used fur coats. The one-story building has been there for 63 years, although you can tell by the markings and the window patterns on the adjacent buildings that a taller building had been on the site earlier. (The earlier bulding was a 5-story clubhouse for the Freundshaft Society.) The Ritz building originally contained two stores, one a lingerie shop and the other a music store. The name of the latter, "Orpheum," can be read on the terrazzo floor of the entrance. Inside the store, there is a balcony rail in the form of an oversize music stand. The building is scheduled to be torn down for a taller building.

Next door to the Ritz, at 109-111 is Steinway Hall, a designated landmark designed by Warren and Wetmore and built in 1924-25. There is a recital hall inside. The building has a deeply concave window that allows the viewer to look inside without the annoyance of reflections. In the basement is a sea of pianos, often being played by a talented musician.

The Gothic revival ground floor of Calvary Baptist Church is deceptive.

Here's the rest of the building.

Angelo's Coal Oven Pizza at 117, is surprisingly good for this area. It claims an impressive pedigree.

Across the street is the Director's Guild of America, with its own movie theater.

At 118 W. 57th is the Parker Meridien Hotel, noted most notably on food boards as the site of the Burger Joint. The little restaurant is fun, one time, as theater, but is ultimately disappointing for food. It's tucked away at the 56th Street end of the lobby, marked only by a neon hamburger. You can keep walking all the way through to 56th Street.

Coin collector's heaven may be Stack's Rare Coins, at 123 W. 57th.

130 and 140 West 57th are two similar studio buildings, designated landmarks. A plaque says they were built in 1907 as co-ops for artists, designed by Pollard & Steinman. 140 has undergone a nice restoration, with metal anthemia (a classical ornament) running across the tops of the windows. Its neighbor still suffers from an overly large window, put in before designation. Childe Hassam and William Dean Howells lived in 130.

Window too big.

Properly restored window.

Next comes a an enormous black glass building, the Metropolitan Tower (we're supposed to be impressed) with a Starbucks and Body Shop as retail tenants. Ho-hum.

Even more depressing is the husk of the Russian Tea Room.
This design is what is left of restaurateur Warner LeRoy's disaster. After the restaurant failed completely following his death, the building was supposed to become some kind of sport museum -- golf? tennis? I don't remember -- for which it was totally unsuitable. The original restaurant occupied two floors of a five-story house, similar to those across the street. It was always Christmas at the RTR and a celebrity hangout. The food was an afterthought.

Carnegie Hall Tower, Cesar Pelli, 1986-90, is another tall building wedged in between the Russian Tea Room and Carnegie Hall proper. Somehow, it avoids being oppressive on the street.
On the north side of the street is the (former) Chalif Normal School of Dancing, G.A. and H. Boehm, 1916, now Columbia Artists Management. This building was constructed to house a school that taught teachers how to teach dancing. It, too, is an NYC-designated landmark.
All the ornament on the building relates to music and dance.

Carnegie Hall, another designated landmark related to music, on the southeast corner of 57th and 7th, was designed by William B. Tuthill in 1889-91, and the original studio wing by Henry J. Hardenbergh a few years later. The building has undergone a fabulous restoration by James Stewart Polshek and Partners that can't be fully appreciated at the moment because of scaffolding that is up for some minor facade work. It's hard to believe, but this building was one of the first, perhaps the very first, to have some kind of primitive air-cooling system.

It's hard to believe that this beloved hall came close to demolition 40 years ago.

Between 5th Avenue and 6th Avenue

Two other tenants in the Crown Building are Smythson of Bond Street and Bulgari Jewelers.
At 6 West 57th Street is a Club Monaco. Elegant retail establishments are to our backs, now, as confirmed by the presence of a Sharper Image where Henri Bendel used to be (or was Bendel's where Brookstone used to be?) Bendel's may have been in both. Do not confuse the original with the store of the same name now around the corner on Fifth Avenue, altogether a lesser entity.
And try to remember look up occasionally. There are sometimes interesting occupants on the upper floors.

A few steps west and you're in front of Mackenzie-Childs, purveyor of over-the-top accessories and hostess gifts much appreciated by many, I'm told.

24 West 57th Street still has some galleries, as do some of the other buildings on this block. Usually there is a sign stating the names of any galleries inside. Across the street, at 29 W. 57th, is the vaguely gothic Chickering Hall, Cross & Cross, 1924, which is really an office building and never held a concert space. There used to be a showroom for Chickering pianos (no longer manfactured.) At the top of the building is a faded representation of the French Legion d'Honneur medal won by the company in 1867.

Next to Chickering is the quiet and calm Rizzoli bookstore. The interesting building that Rizzoli is in was designed by Randolph H. Almiroty, in 1919. There have been alterations, I'm sure, but without a trip to the Buildings Department (which I'm not going to do for this project) I can't tell exactly what or when. There must have been a truck blocking the building the day I passed by. Here's a picture on the store's website: http://www.rizzoliusa.com/bookstore.html

Here's what remains of a Beaux-Arts style house from the end of the 19th century, rather elegant quarters for the American Health Bar restaurant on the lower floors.

Nearby on the north side of the street is a store (one of many in this neighborhood) selling "antiques." Who buys these? No one whose eye has been trained by the windows of the stores to the east will be fooled by this.

At 40 West 57th, you can use a passageway to walk through to 56th Street, passing the newest incarnation of Nobu and an interesting piece of sculpture on the way. The Marlborough art gallery is in this building, and it is likely that the sculpture was done by one of its artists. It has the look of a Botero, but I didn't see a signature.

There is some elegant tailoring available on this block. Here's Fioravanti and others in one building. Yes, that's a MacDonald's on the ground floor. If that doesn't suit, right across the street there's Mangia, an upscale cafeteria and sandwich bar, with good cookies.

On the southwest corner is the red-awninged brasserie, Rue 57

and a Staples across the street.