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

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Between Lexington and Third

There are only three buildings on this entire block. The south side is occupied in its entirety (and through to 41st Street) by the stainless steel-clad, landmarked Socony-Mobil building, designed by Harrison & Abramowitz, completed in 1956.

I've always found it amusing that the curve of a typical NYC street phone echoes the curve over the entrance to the building across the street from it, as if it had been designed for that specific

On the north side of the street is the Chrysler Building, an interior (lobby) and exterior landmark, designed by William Van Alen and built in 1930. A peek inside at the multi-colored marble and stainless steel lobby is a must. A pair of binoculars is needed to truly appreciate the wealth of automotive ornament that graces the tower. It comes as a surprise to read the contemporary architectural criticism of the building, which was less than enthusiastic.
This is my favorite NYC skyscraper.

Cooper Union, the art, architecture and engineering school located on Astor Place, owns the ground under the building; the rent it collects pays for the tuition of its students.

This is the re-worked (1998) Chrysler Building extension. It is attributed to Philip Johnson.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Eastward to Lexington Avenue

Park Avenue is elevated at this point to skirt Grand Central Terminal. The beautiful overpass, known as the Park Avenue Viaduct, was designed by Warren & Wetmore, and is a designed NYC landmark. There is a restaurant underneath with an outdoor cafe, weather permitting.

Cipriani has a magnificent catering space in the banking hall of the Bowery Bank building, designed by York & Sawyer, and built in two stages in 1921-23 and 1931-33. The building is described in New York City Landmarks as Italian Romanesque-inspired and inspired it is, in its proportions and wealth of detail.

Next, on the south side of the street is the Art Deco Chanin Building, the base of which is bejeweled with bas-reliefs in terra cotta and bronze. The landmarked building was designed by Irwin S. Chanin, with Sloan & Robertson, in 1927-29. The artwork is by Rene Chambellan.
Across the street is Grand Central Terminal, a designated landmark inside and out, designed by Reed & Stern and Warren & Wetmore. The former were the designers of the plan, the tunnels, ramps and concourses, while credit goes to Warren and Wetmore for the facades and interior spaces. The fight by the owners of the building against designation went all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld NYC's landmarks law. The Terminal underwent an appropriate restoration by Beyer Blinder Belle in the mid-1990s.

It is definitely worthwhile to duck inside for a look around and maybe, something to eat. You have the choice of sit-down restaurants like Michael Jordan's Steakhouse or Metrazur on the great balconies, and the Oyster Bar, a drink at the Campbell Apartment bar, snacks at the moderately-priced food court, or take-home from Grand Central Market, where you can find branches of Murray's Cheese and Wild Edibles, a fine fish store.

Be sure to look up at the ceiling, which displays twinkling constellations, backwards, since the artist who painted them was working from an inside-out globe.

Reflected in a window of the former Bowery Bank is the looming MetLife, originally Pan Am building, north of Grand Central, terminating the view south down Park Avenue.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

From 5th Avenue to Vanderbilt Avenue

Before crossing Fifth Avenue, after looking at the library, take in the long view eastward.
The Chrysler Building dominates, as it deserves to. I'll say more about it when we're in front of it. In the meantime, admire its curving crown, seen to even better advantage at night when it is illuminated by radiating fluorescent lights.

From the sublime to the ridiculous (a New York mantra) this poster was in the window of a storefront on the north side of the street.

Not that much to see here; scurry along to Madison Avenue.

On the south side of the street is the Lincoln Building (one of at least two by that name in NYC), , designed by J.E.R. Carpenter and built in 1928-29, during a skyscraper boom.

Further east is the oddly named Altria building, so-called after the company changed its named from Philip Morris, a major public relations move designed to hide the fact that the company has made its fortune from cigarettes and to suggest, perhaps, that its primary business is...altruism?

To be sure, it is a major funder of all kinds of cultural endeavors and it is not surprising that there is a branch of the Whitney Museum off the lobby. The building was designed by Ulrich Franzen and built in 1982.

The north side of the street is a little more complicated. Vanderbilt Avenue, a very short street, really a driveway for dropoffs, skirts the west side of Grand Central Terminal.

At the northwest corner is Modell's sporting goods store, with some amusing bas-reliefs.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

From 6th Avenue to 5th Avenue

The building going up, the excavation for which was shown in the previous entry, will have the formal address of One Bryant Park. (No one will ever use it, I can assure you, any more than anyone says "Avenue of the Americas" rather than 6th Avenue.)

The real Bryant Park is diagonally across the street from the hole in the ground. The park has been there since 1871, but has undergone some redesign over the years, the last one in 1992 by landscape architects Hannai Olin and Hardy Holzman Pfeifer. It is named in honor of William Cullen Bryant, poet and editor of the Post, who called for the creation of what later became Central Park. Bryant Park has had it ups and downs, and those seeing it for the first time now might find it hard to imagine as a drug dealers haven. It is now one of the most pleasant open spaces in Manhattan and the only large-ish spot of green in midtown. There is a fairly serious restaurant in the par, the Bryant Park Grill. Snack stations are brances of 'wichcraft. An added attraction is the fact that the park is a free WiFi zone.

Library stacks are underneath the ground. New York's version of London's Crystal Palace stood here from 1853 until 1858, when it was destroyed by a fire.

Bryant Park is a designated scenic landmark.

Looking downtown through the park, you can see Raymond Hood's 1924 American Radiator Building, converted to a hotel a few years ago.

If any building can be called passionate, it's this one. The black and gold Art Deco cum Gothic building suggests coal and fire, appropriately, for the company that commissioned it.

On the north side of the street is the sloping-fronted W. R. Grace Building, designed by
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. We've had since 1974 to get used to it.

Much more pleasing is 11 West 42nd Street, whose Art Deco/Romanesque entry is graced by bas-reliefs and a Guastavino tile ceiling.

Not pictured is the State University College of Optometry, originally Aeolian Hall, designed by Warren and Wetmore in 1912 and redesigned in 1970 by Carl. J. Petrilli and Associates. Its marquee is a heavy presence on the street.

Coliseum Books, a beloved independent bookstore, was forced by rising rents to move from its original location near Columbus Circle to 42nd Street.

If Coliseum doesn't have enough books for you, the building across the street will. It's the New York Public Library, designed in 1911 by Carrere and Hastings in the Romanesque Revival style and magnificently restored and renovated recently by Davis Brody Bond. Of course it is a designated landmark, including some of the most important interiors. The main reading room on the third floor is worth a detour. Be sure to look up at the fluffy clouds.

New York City's reservoir once occupied this site.
The lions who guard the library were named Patience and Fortitude by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. They were sculpted by E.C. Potter. Every year around Christmas, Patience and Fortitude wear wreaths. This is Patience, on the south side.

The library is a popular spot for the film and tv shoots. Here's Carson Kressley and the crew of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on the steps. I think he's giving the crowd his impersonation of the lions.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

From Times Square to 6th Avenue

The 42nd Street facade of the Conde Nast building is more conservative and conventional than the Times Square facade. We are leaving the amusement park architecture
and atmosphere appropriate for a popular entertainment district for
more serious pursuits and buildings.

This block is very short, but there is something important going on at the northeast corner. It's going to be a big building -- you can see straight through to 43rd Street. There may be a sign on 43rd that has some information about the new building, but I didn't take the detour to find out because I was eager to get to the next block. The low building on the far side of the building site is Town Hall, built by the League for Political Education in 1921 and
designed by McKim, Mead and White in the Georgian Revival style. It is a concert and lecture hall rather than a theatre, and highly regarded for its fine acoustics. Marian Anderson made her New York debut here in 1935; she is only one of many distinguished artists and other public figures who have had engagements in the auditorium.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Times Square

Times Square is the triangle formed by the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue. Broadway is an exception to the NYC grid and runs at a diagonal. As it crosses major avenues, it forms triangular traffic islands that New Yorkers call "squares."

This one received its name when the New York Times moved its offices from Park Row, near City Hall, to Longacre Square, taking up residence in the 25-story, Italian Renaissance Revival terra cotta-clad building you see here today, or would see, if it had not been stripped of all ornament and re-clad in white marble when Allied Chemical moved in. Now, even that is mostly gone, replaced by huge billboards. The building dates from 1904, designed by Cyrus I. W. Eidlitz and Andrew C. MacKenzie. Many hands have contributed to its subsequent obliteration. The Times occupied the building for only a decade, but the name stuck. This is the building from the top of which the ball drops at the stroke of midnight, New Year's Eve.

The electric news "zipper" remains.

The newspaper's current office building, a designated NYC landmark, is at 229 West 43rd Street, until 2006, when the new building is scheduled for completion.

While the dominant features of Times Square remain the bright lights, electric signs and supersized, over-the-top advertisements, a number of new buildings have been constructed, in connection with the "New 42nd Street." No matter how staid or refined the occupant, the buildings get into the 42nd spirit with loud, and in this neighborhood, appropriate signage.

It would have been inconceivable, say, 15 years ago, that Conde Nast would have its headquarters in these tawdry precincts. (4 Times Square, Fox and Fowle, 1999)
I like to think that the rounded corner is a nod to Raymond Hood's McGraw-Hill building a couple of blocks to the west.

Below is the Reuters Building, 3 Times Square,
also by Fox Fowle, 2001, getting into the act.

The subway station would look out of place anywhere except maybe Coney Island.

The subway entrance is protected not by the ordinary concrete barriers one might find elsewhere, but by the brass balls, er, globes.

Is there another accounting firm that announces its presence

the way Ernst and Young does here?

On the southeast corner is a remnant of the turn of the century, the former Knickerbocker Hotel, dating from 1901-1906, a red brick and terra-cotta Beaux-Arts confection designed by
Marvin & Davis, much altered, but a cultural, as as well as an architectural, designated NYC landmark. The building remained a hotel only 15 years, but during that time was home to Enrico Caruso and George M. Cohan.

The mural in its fashionable bar was saved when the hotel was converted to other uses and now graces the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis hotel.

Monday, September 12, 2005

From 8th Avenue to Times Square, con't.

A sober, white, terra-cotta office building, albeit with a McDonald's on the ground floor, appears mid-block. It is the Candler Building, dating from 1914, designed by Willauer, Shape & Bready for a prosperous Coca-Cola salesman. It was renovated in 1999 by Swanke Hayden Connell.

Farther east, there are three more theatres rescued from ignominy. On the south side of the street,

are the Hilton (formerly Ford) Center for the performing arts and the New Victory.

The Hilton (home for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the moment) was originally the site of the Apollo (19200 and Lyric Theaters (1903). The two theaters were artfully combined in 1998 by Beyer, Blinder Belle to create the current incarnation. Next door, the New Victory was restored to its 1899 glory by Hardy Holtzman Pfeiffer. These two firms are arguably New York City's finest restoration architects. The original New Victory was designed by Albert Westover for Oscar Hammerstein. It had many names and uses over the years, Minsky's being, probably, the most recognizable.

Across the street is the New Amsterdam Theatre, where The Lion King has reigned for many years. The bulk of the theatre is on 41st Street. Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer restored the 1902 creation of Herts and Tallant in 1995-97, The latter firm was largely responsible for many of the theatres in the district. This one, and many others, is a designated exterior and interior NYC landmark.

This theatre was the venue for the Ziegfeld Follies from 1913 - 1927.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

From 8th Avenue to Times Square, part 1

Port Authority, the New York City bus terminal, is on the southwest corner of 8th Avenue.

Look downtown as you cross the street to see the new New York Times building going up, designed by Renzo Piano, with Fox and Fowle. It is scheduled for completion in 2006.

This part of Forty-second Street (from 8th Avenue to 7th Avenue, including Broadway, which crosses at a diagonal to form Times Square) became the popular entertainment section of New York at the turn of the last century. Dozens of theaters sprang up on the adjacent streets, as well as restaurants and related businesses that catered to the theatrical professions and to the audience. By the mid-1960s, the area had declined and it took years and a couple of false starts before city planners came up with a viable alternative to the all-encompassing sleaze. For a good review of the street's contemporary history, click on http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/issueoftheweek/20050829/200/1544.

On the northwest corner is the colorful cubism of the Westin Hotel, replete with an assortment of chain restaurants. Can someone explain why tourists come to New York, the city which may have the widest assortment of restaurants in the world in terms of types of cuisine at all price points, and eat at the same chains that they have in the mall at home?

The Westin Times Square (it's really a block away) was built in 2001, designed by the Miami firm, Arquitectonica. It is an exuberant expression of the revitalized (some say Disney-fied) neighborhood, in which light, color and popular entertainment are the defining characteristics.

Call it Disney-fied, if you must, but this notorious neighborhood is certainly friendlier to tourists and to locals who sometimes visit the movie theaters, than it was when it was "the deuce," ground zero for drug dealers, prostitutes and the full range of petty and not-so-petty crime that accompanied them.

The lavishly decorated Loew's multiplex cinema in in the Westin complex.

On the south side of the block is another large complex that incorporates a number of theatres, combined and renovated to form the AMC 25 multiplex, stores, a branch of Madame Tussaud's, and the Hilton Times Square hotel. The architects involved in the complex (2001) were Beyer Blinder Belle and the Rockwell Group.

This block is one of the difficult in NYC to walk, so densely packed it is with pedestrians and sidewalk vendors. Nevertheless, a certain number of locals wend their way to this theater despite the inconvenience because it charges lower-cost senior citizens prices beginning at age 55. At the left, an old sign with the theatre's original name (Empire) has been left on the building. The theatre is not in its original location. but was moved nearly 200 feet west to become part of the complex. Two other old theatres, the Liberty and the Harris are part of the complex as well. The architect of the original Harris and Empire theatres was the great Thomas W. Lamb, 1912 - 14. Herts and Tallant, equally and deservedly well-regarded theatre architects, were responsible for the Liberty,

The entrance to the Hilton is graced by some amusing Tom Otterness sculptures.

This is a detail of Madame Tussaud's facade.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

From 9th Avenue to 8th Avenue

On the southeast corner of 42nd Street and 9th Avenue is a holdout group of five-story buildings, 568-578 9th Avenue, dating from about 1897.

Empire Coffee and Tea is located in 568 and notes that it has been in the neighborhood since 1908.

Across the street, on the northeast corner or 42nd and 9th Avenue, a very tall tower is set on a base about the same height as the low-rise buildings, out of respect to their scale.

The red brick Holy Cross Church, by Henry Engelbert, 1870, was described as "Byzantine" when it was built. Not far from Times Square, to the east, is a traffic island with a statue dedicated to Father Duffy, whose parish this was.

Still known as the McGraw-Hill building, although the publishers are long gone, one of Raymond Hood's masterpieces has faced Holy Cross since 1930. This is a close-up of the distinctive banding at the entry of the striped Art Deco building.

This is what the body of the building looks like.

The impression from a distrance is of blue-green horizontal stripes, a shocking use of color at the time the building was constructed.

We'll see another of his buildings farther east. Actually, we'll see two, but one of those is not right on 42nd Street.

Near the corner, on the north side of the street, is this colorful row, dating from 1901, by Jason Cole. One can assume that #319 was not always red, white and blue.