Chances are if someone mentions ’42nd Street’ you will think Times Square.
Unlike many New Yorkers, I really do like Times Square – not the tourists, not the shops, or the restaurants; I am not even a huge fan of big Broadway shows – I just LOVE the spectacle of the space, the lights, and the energy of it all.
But this post is NOT about Times Square…
As a follow up to my recent post about historical preservation in the city, I want to share a ‘self-invented self-guided walking tour’ I took when I was still an architecture student in he early 1980’s of some magnificent spaces on the much less frenetic EAST 42nd Street…
The first stop on this tour is in many ways the opposite of Times Square. The Ford Foundation is an understated late Modern building with barely a visible sign and a truly sublime space inside.
320 East 43rd Street
Architect: Roche Dinkerloo, 1968
The twelve-story box represents an evolutionary approach to expanding the limits of International Style and modern architecture that culminates in a remarkably friendly Modern building from this period.
The massing of the building is simple: a near cube, the architectural vocabulary restrained in its use of materials – rusted steel known as Cor-Ten, glass and granite. However the design intention was to communicate the humanitarian mission of the foundation, and as such the most memorable element of the building is is not the building itself, but the generous and sublime garden.
220 East 42nd Street
The Daily News Building is a 476-foot Art-Deco skyscraper built in 1929–1930; it was headquarters for the New York Daily News newspaper until 1995. Its design was among the first skyscrapers to be built without an ornamental crown, and can be seen as a precursor to Raymond Hood’s design of Rockefeller Center.
I first learned of the building while reading a book on the architectural drawings of Hugh Ferris, who created dramatic images of Art Deco buildings in New York City.
The lobby of the building includes a black glass-domed ceiling, under which, and set into the floor, is an enormous globe. There are lines in the terrazzo that extend in all directions letting the curious know how far it is to other destinations in the world.
405 Lexington Avenue
Architect: William van Alen, 1930
The Chrysler Building is a classic example of Art Deco architecture, and stands as an iconic building on the New York skyline, significantly due to its stainless steel ‘crown’ composed of seven radiating, terraced arches.
The public viewing gallery – originally on the 71st floor, has been closed since 1945, and the private Cloud Club which occupied a three-floor high space from the 66th–68th floors, has been closed since the late 1970s (although I did have the opportunity to see it in the early 1990’s through the Art Deco Society.)
Do not dismay however, as the lobby of the Chrysler Building is truly remarkable: triangular in shape with a rich use of stone and bronze, it features spellbinding murals on the ceiling. The elevators have very decorative inlay on the doors, and each of the cab interiors feature a different design.
122 East 42nd Street
Architect: Sloan & Robertson, 1929
Interiors: Rene Paul Chambellan &
Jacques Delamarre, 1929
Often overlooked because of its proximity to the Chrysler Building, the Chanin Building is another Art Deco structure that contains some of the city’s most spectacular Art Deco bas-reliefs.
Fantastic grills, elevator doors, mailboxes and sculptures greet the visitor. Two bronze-painted plaster reliefs by Chambellan represent ‘Achievement’ and ‘Success’. The means to gain these are represented in six matching reliefs: three are physical – ‘Effort’, ‘Activity’ and ‘Endurance’; and three are mental – ‘Enlightenment’, ‘Vision’, and ‘Courage’.
The architects Reed & Stem were responsible for the overall design of the station, however it was Warren & Wetmore who added the architectural details and the Beaux-Arts design.
The building is highly recognizable to people all over the world, even if they have never been here. This is due in large measure to the extensive use of Grand Central Terminal in movies and television productions over the years including ‘North by Northwest’, ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’, ‘Revolutionary Road’, ‘Arthur’, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, ‘Men in Black’, and ‘Madagascar’.
But seeing this building on a screen is no substitute for experiencing its majestic spaces in person with the almost constant flow of people in motion.
The Main Concourse has an elaborately decorated ceiling depicting a starry night, conceived in 1912 by Warren with his friend, French portrait artist Paul César Helleu, and executed by James Monroe Hewlett and Charles Basing of Hewlett-Basing Studio,
By the 1980s, the ceiling was obscured by decades of what was thought to be coal and diesel smoke. A 12-year restoration effort spearheaded by former first lady Jacqueline Onassis was completed in autumn 1996 restored the ceiling to its original luster.
The Dining Concourse, below the Main Concourse and connected to it by numerous stairs, ramps, and escalators, provides access to the lower-level tracks. It has central seating and lounge areas, surrounded by restaurants. Among them is the Oyster Bar, the oldest business within Grand Central, whose decor includes vaults of Guastavino tile.
Officially it is known as the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant, a seafood establishment located on the lower level that opened along with the terminal itself in 1913, and has been in business ever since.
Interested in learning more about Grand Central? Here’s a link to a fascinating video tour.
110 East 42nd Street
Architect: York & Sawyer, 1923
The Bowery Savings Bank selected York and Sawyer to be the architects of their new headquarters on 42nd street, not in the Art Deco style of many of its neighbors, but in an Italian Romanesque Revival style that recalls the Beaux Art, especially in its banking hall.
When I first took this walking tour the bank was still in operation, with the teller’s cage in the center of a magnificent 16,000 square foot hall with ceilings that soar to 65 feet high! It is truly one of the great spaces of New York City. You can still see and experience this remarkable room, as it is now used as an upscale event space operated by Cipriani’s.
The building was designated a New York City landmark in 1996.
Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street
Architect: Carriere & Hastings, 1910
The organizers of the New York Public Library, wanting an imposing main branch, chose a central site available at the two-block section of Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd streets, and through an architectural competition, selected Carrier & Hastings to build the Beaux Arts building we know today.
The spectacular 23,000 square foot Main Reading Room, shown here, with its 52 foot high ceiling, sits on top of seven floors of bookstacks, as part of a system designed to get books into the hands of library users as quickly and efficiently as possible. In 1910, 75 miles of shelves were installed, and it took more than a year to move and install the books.
The building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965.
Although part of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Bryant Park is managed by the private not-for-profit Bryant Park Corporation, and is cited as a model for the success of public-private partnerships.
Bryant Park is built entirely over an underground structure housing the New York Public Library‘s archives, and is almost 10 acres of land. The main entrance to the park is from Sixth Avenue, with the Library establishing the eastern edge.
By the 1970’s the park had been taken over by drug dealers, prostitutes and homeless people, and as such most New Yorkers avoided it at all costs. However a group of concerned and generous New Yorkers banded together to revamp the park to make it a more broad-based and desirable urban amenity with cafes, book sellers and flower markets.
In the 1980s, the park was closed to the public and excavated. The new library facilities were built below ground level, and the park was restored above it. In 1988, a privately funded re-design and restoration was begun by the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation with the goal of opening up the park to the streets and encouraging activity within it. Those efforts have been a resounding success, with thousands of people using the park on a ‘quiet day’ and larger numbers when special events are held in the park.
After this short but invigorating walking tour I am happy, once again, that I live in this remarkable city.
Now if after all of this you still crave more, well, Times Square is just a couple blocks away!