Saturday, April 21, 2012

Prodigies of Midtown New York

It was an almost perfect day out.  It's my last Saturday before tsunamis of grading start breaking against my shore.  So I decided to do something I've been meaning to do for a long time.  I joined the tourists in Midtown Manhattan and took my trusty little digital camera to take some pictures of some of the prodigious skyscrapers.  I stayed away from the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center for the time being.  There's no shortage of pictures of those buildings.  I concentrated today on buildings that I teach in modern art classes, and that I think have too few photos of the architectural details, or that I've never been satisfied with the pictures available.

I took all of these pictures, and any educators out there who don't live quite so conveniently close to these things as I do, then please help yourselves.

Here's Lexington Avenue at 52nd Street looking downtown to the Chrysler Building

Here is the top of the Chrysler Building, everyone's favorite skyscraper in New York.  The big spike on top was built secretly in an elevator shaft so that William Van Allen could humiliate a rival architect with whom he had a grudge.  Van Allen and his former business partner Craig Severance were in a race to see who could build the tallest building in the world.  Severance claimed victory when his building at 40 Wall Street topped out at 5 feet higher than Van Allen's Chrysler Building.  During Severance's press conference, workers in the Chrysler began raising the spike up through the top adding another 100 feet, making the Chrysler the tallest building in the world very briefly until the Empire State Building went up.

A closer view of the top of the Chrysler, a brilliant design

The Chrysler from 42nd Street

One of Van Allen's automobile hood ornament inspired "gargoyles" on the Chrysler, plus a close up of the ornamental brickwork.

The Chrysler from Lexington Avenue; If you look carefully at this photo, you can see me in a reflection taking the picture.

The bizarre looking main entrance to the Chrysler Building on Lexington Avenue

The magnificent lobby of the Chrysler, one of the best in New York in my opinion.  No expense was spared here.  The floors are paved with Travertine marble, the walls with bookmarked jasper, and with zinc and alabaster light fixtures.  As you can see by the sign and the guards there, my access was limited.  I couldn't get any pictures of those amazing elevator doors with all the inlays in rare woods.

The mural on the ceiling of the Chrysler lobby

One of the light fixtures made out of zinc with alabaster reflectors; amazing.

A little known masterpiece of New York Art Deco architecture, the General Electric Building designed by John W. Cross in 1931.  It housed a division of GE when the company moved to Rockefeller Center.  Today, it is usually known as 570 Lexington.
The 640 feet tall building is set back in stages because of the 1916 Zoning Code to keep air and sunlight on the street level.  The upper parts of this building, of the Chrysler, and of others of this period are tall and narrow because of air flow.  During hot months, windows could be open to let a cross breeze through.  Just as the elevator made buildings taller, so the invention of air conditioning later on would make them fatter.

The ornamental detail on this building is amazing, especially the top, probably the most elaborate and original of the Art Deco skyscrapers in New York.  Here it is photographed from Park Avenue.

Here is the top of the old GE Building from Lexington Avenue.

Here is the amazing corner entrance at 52nd and Lexington to the old GE Building.

The GE clock with hands holding lightning bolts above it, and above the entrances.

Some of the amazing ornamental terra cotta work on the ground floor of the old GE building

More stainless steel lightning bolt ornament with stonework on the old GE Building

And a certain retired librarian in Thibodaux, LA seems to have a presence everywhere; in this case, up on Lexington and 84th Street

Next time, I'll post pictures of the first glass and steel office tower in the USA (and possibly the world), and pictures of what I think is the Parthenon of glass and steel towers that set all  the standards.


JayV said...

Oh what a treat you've given us!! Thanks.

it's margaret said...

Those are better than some cathedrals! Thanks!

Counterlight said...

As I've always said, these are the real cathedrals of New York, proclaiming what the city really believes in, the transformative power of money.

it's margaret said...

I got it Doug --!!!! I really got it! I knew it --but now I 'see' it!

David said...

Thank-you Doug
Your pictures, informed by your commentary are wonderful.
The G.E. Building in particular was a completely new experience for me personally.
Thanks again.

June Butler said...

That's my New York franchise.

The Chrysler building is amazing in its excellence and is still my favorite skyscraper. The ceiling mural is beautiful. They don't make 'em like that any more.

JCF said...

Oy vey: I made a specific pilgrimage to Chicago in the late 70s to see the skyscrapers. Whereas I lived in NYC for 4 years, and naturally, didn't see them in any where NEAR the detail you've given us here, Doug. [I have a vague awareness of the top of "570 Lexington", but never studied it up close. Wish I'd had a pair of binoculars when I lived in the Big Apple. (Must bring if/WHEN I visit again!)]

Counterlight said...

A correction: Where is says "1913 Zoning Law" should read "1916 Zoning Law."