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Thread: Fifth Avenue

  1. #1
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Oct 2002

    Default Fifth Avenue

    Fifth Avenue in the Heart of Midtown, from 34th Street to 59th Street

    by Alexandra Hay

    This week we’re continuing from our last installment of Don’t Forget to Look Up, where we walked from 5th Avenue at Washington Square Park to 34th Street. This section of the avenue passes through bustling midtown, and we see a complete shift from the upscale residential buildings of lower Fifth Avenue to this intensely commercial area populated by both massive department stores and chic boutiques. When you need a break from block after block of window shopping, just take a look at these buildings’ upper floors and you will be amazed by what you see.

    350 Fifth Avenue, the Empire State Building

    The Empire State Building, from a distance, cannot be missed. However, if not for a dramatic uptick in the number of tourists milling about, you might walk right by without noticing the most iconic skyscraper in Manhattan above you. Unlike many other large buildings, the Empire State Building has no grand, open plaza to call attention to itself. Shreve, Lamb & Harmon’s 1931, 102-story skyscraper, though it looms above you at 1,472 feet tall to the top of its television antenna (and not, alas, to its dirigible mooring mast), is nonetheless understated. As architectural historian Francis Morrone puts it in The Architectural Guide to New York City, “the tower lives on the skyline, not the street.”

    433 Fifth Avenue, former home of the Hardman Peck Piano Company

    Observant passersby might guess what 433 Fifth Avenue’s former use was, based on the decorative panels up on the fifth floor. Architect Harry Allen Jacobs’ 1911 building included depictions of musical instruments and theatrical masks, appropriate images for the former home of the Hardman Peck Piano Company.

    424-434 Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor

    Starrett & Van Vleck’s design for Lord & Taylor, completed in 1914, is among the first on Fifth Avenue to actually look commercial. Rather than try to disguise it as something grander to fit in with the mansions that once dominated this area, Lord & Taylor clearly looks like a store, though it is dressed up with a chamfered corner, a grand copper cornice on top, and Italian Renaissance touches, like the 2-story limestone columns above the relatively plain brick middle floors.

    461 Fifth Avenue

    Here we shift from early twentieth century grandeur to something more contemporary: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s 1988 skyscraper, across the street from the Beaux-Arts paragon that is the New York Public Library. 461 Fifth Avenue is a standard example of 1980s postmodernism, with exposed trusses that act as both wind bracing and decoration, and a pre-cast concrete curtain wall.

    475 Fifth Avenue’s gargoyles

    At the very top of 475 Fifth Avenue, built in 1926, the original gargoyles still leer down over Bryant Park, though the building’s top has otherwise been dramatically altered.

    551 Fifth Avenue, the Fred F. French Building’s gilt and bronze entrance

    The Fred F. French Building, completed in 1927 and designed by Sloan & Robertson, is covered from top to bottom in a blend of modern Art Deco and historical Near Eastern decorations. At the entrance, beneath the bronze frieze featuring mythological winged creatures and lotus and papyrus stalks is a gilt and bronze arch. In the arch’s spandrels: on the left, a man holding a column, T-squares, and a compass, and on the right, a woman holding a beehive, a symbol of industry that also appears on the building’s colorful top.

    551 Fifth Avenue, the Fred F. French Building’s polychromatic top

    Above the colorfully tiled upper floor setbacks, the Fred F. French Building culminates in two symbol-laden panels on the north and south sides of the building’s top. The symbolic images are meant as outward expressions of the building’s commercial use: the rising sun represents progress, and is flanked by two griffins, symbolizing integrity and watchfulness. The beehives and busy bees are symbols of industry.

    564 Fifth Avenue, an Elizabethan anomaly

    Though designed in 1916, 564 Fifth Avenue is all half-timber Tudor trim and detailing. This style is scattered throughout the city, Pomander Walk a particularly unique example. This building once housed Finchley’s, a men’s clothing store, and the English architectural style evoked a respectable and comfortable old English home to put customers at ease.

    Benjamin Franklin, William Caxton, Johannes Gutenberg, and Aldus Manutius on the Charles Scribner’s Sons Building at 597 Fifth Avenue

    Ernest Flagg, who also designed the now-demolished Singer Building, is the architect behind the beautiful Charles Scribner’s Sons Building. It’s beloved by bibliophiles everywhere, though it now has a Sephora on the ground floor where the Scribner bookstore used to be. Book lovers should not despair, however: if they look up, they will see on the facade the profiles of four titans of printing and publishing: Benjamin Franklin, a Founding Father, pioneer of American printing, and organizer of the country’s first circulating library; William Caxton, the first English printer and the printer of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press; and Aldus Manutius, the great Venetian printer, publisher, typographer, and founder of the Aldine Press.

    651-653 Fifth Avenue, Cartier

    Constructed in 1905 and originally designed by Robert W. Gibson as a mansion for Morton Plant, son of railroad tycoon Henry Plant, the opulent building at 651-653 Fifth Avenue is now the home of Cartier. The 52nd Street facade of the building, which you can get a good view of from Fifth Avenue, was once the mansion’s main entrance, with grand Ionic pilasters and a pediment pierced by an oculus window. The frieze at the top of the building is densely covered with intricate, naturalistic details.

    666 Fifth Avenue

    The look of the embossed aluminum facade of Carson & Lundin’s 1957 office building at 666 Fifth Avenue–once the site of William K. Vanderbilt’s “Petit Chateau”–changes dramatically with the weather, and can be almost blinding in the sun.

    1 West 54th Street on the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue, the University Club

    Despite the flag and the shields of American universities decorating the facade, the University Club looks like a relic of the Renaissance, with rusticated walls, ornate bronze balconies, and carved faces topping the arched windows. The AIA Guide to New York City vividly describes the building, designed by Charles McKim of McKim, Mead & White, as a “Florentine super-palazzo beyond the Medicis’ wildest dreams.”

    2 West 55th Street on the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue, the Peninsula Hotel

    Located on the next corner, the Peninsula Hotel was designed by Hiss & Weekes, former employees of McKim, Mead & White, and their work fits right in with that of their former employers. The neo-Renaissance style of the Peninsula, with its rusticated stonework, arches, and ornament, echoes that of the University Club next to it, though the Peninsula is twice as tall and also sports an impressive cornice.

    2 East 55th Street on the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue, the St. Regis Hotel

    Named after a lake in the Adirondacks, which in turn was named after a French saint known for his hospitality, the St. Regis Hotel, directly across Fifth Avenue from the Peninsula, outdoes all its neighbors in over-the-top Beaux-Arts opulence. The building’s richest decoration can be found at the top, which features balconies, a mansard roof, pedimented dormer windows, oculus windows, and ornate embellishments. Even if you don’t have time to stop for a drink in the Hotel’s King Cole Bar, you might take a moment while passing by to glance up at the architectural extravagance above you.

    689-691 Fifth Avenue, the Elizabeth Arden Building

    This graceful corner building was completed in 1927 and designed by Warren & Wetmore, the architects, with Reed & Stem, of Grand Central Terminal. Built with warm, buff-colored Indiana limestone, terra cotta, and marble panels, the Elizabeth Arden Building combines Art Deco and Renaissance details. At the very top, above the rounded corner, decorative urns, and multiple setbacks, is a patinated copper-topped lantern.

    714 Fifth Avenue, the Lalique windows of the Henri Bendel Building

    The Henri Bendel Building, formerly the Coty Building, is notable for the gorgeous windows on the second, third, and fourth floors, which are one of only two examples in the world of glassmaker and artist Rene Lalique’s pre-World War I architectural glass (the other can be found at Lalique’s townhouse in Paris). The windows were commissioned in 1912 by perfume magnate Francois Coty, and they depict flowering poppies and curving vines that call to mind the floral designs of Art Nouveau. In the mid-1980s, the Lalique windows played a central role in saving the building from demolition.

    730 Fifth Avenue, the Crown Building

    The Crown Building, like the Elizabeth Arden building above, was designed by Warren & Wetmore in the 1920s. Despite the fact that this was one of the first office buildings erected after the 1916 Zoning Resolution, its massing is not very different from that of older buildings. Instead of setbacks, it is topped with an octagonal “hat,” a copper roof, and plenty of gilded details, including a gold crown. Surprisingly, given the glassy, modernist look of its current home, the Museum of Modern Art was originally housed on the 12th floor of the Crown Building, back in 1929.

    1 East 57th Street on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue, Louis Vuitton

    We conclude this section with a contemporary update of a 1930 Art Deco building. In 204, Japanese architect Jun Aoki redesigned Cross & Cross’ New York Trust Company Building for Louis Vuitton, cladding the lower floors and the corner of the upper floors with glass.

    Louis Vuitton, detail of checkerboard glass

    What appears to be an optical illusion from the street is created by layers of glass with overlapping checkerboard patterns. As you walk by, the patterns dizzyingly seem to shift and coalesce.

  2. #2
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Oct 2002


    Don’t Forget to Look Up: Fifth Avenue from 59th to 79th Streets

    by Alexandra Hay

    Picking up from where Don’t Forget to Look Up left off last time, the next section of Fifth Avenue–from 59th Street to 79th Street–is known as the Gold Coast of Manhattan. This primarily residential area of the Upper East Side runs along Central Park, with stunning views for anyone lucky enough (and fabulously rich enough) to live here. For those just passing through, we can enjoy the shade on Fifth Avenue along the Park and take in the gorgeous architecture.

    781 Fifth Avenue, the Sherry-Netherland Hotel

    Completed in 1927 by Schultze & Weaver–the same firm that designed the Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue–and Buchman & Kahn, the Gothic-looking Sherry-Netherland Hotel is striking for its tall peaked roof, pointed finial, and prominently projecting gargoyles. Not surprisingly, the views from the upper floors are spectacular.

    795 Fifth Avenue, the Pierre Hotel

    A little further up Fifth Avenue is another Schultze & Weaver creation: the Pierre Hotel, completed in 1930. The building has two distinct parts: a solid palazzo base with a strong street presence, topped by a tall tower. The hotel’s lofty tower is crowned by a mansard roof with ornately framed circular windows and decorative urns, easily visible from Central Park and beyond.

    1-11 East 60th Street, the Metropolitan Club

    Set on a site formerly owned by the Duchess of Marlborough (formerly Conseulo Vanderbilt), the Metropolitan Club was designed by Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White. The Club’s first president was J. Pierpont Morgan, and the building’s stately architecture reflects the illustriousness of the Club’s members, which included Vanderbilts and Roosevelts. The Italian Renaissance style clubhouse has a limestone facade edged with quoins at the corners and topped with a copper cornice. Note the Metropolitan “M”s inscribed above the second floor windows.

    807 Fifth Avenue, the Knickerbocker Club

    One block away is another of Manhattan’s exclusive social clubs, the Knickerbocker Club, founded in 1871. The clubhouse at 807 Fifth Avenue–the Club’s third home–was built in 1915 and designed by Delano & Aldrich. The red brick and limestone building is a mix of London Georgian and American Federal. At the time, a revival of these eighteenth-century styles was underway in early twentieth-century New York.

    821 Fifth Avenue, the Arsenal

    One of only two buildings within Central Park’s borders that are older than the Park itself, the Arsenal was constructed between 1847 and 1851 (the design for Central Park was selected in 1858) and currently houses New York City’s Department of Parks & Recreation. Designed by Martin E. Thompson, the Arsenal sports a crenulated, medieval castle-style cornice and solid brick walls and towers.

    The Arsenal’s Eagle

    The cast-iron eagle, flanked by crossed swords and cannonballs, above the Arsenal’s entrance alludes to the building’s original use as a storage place for New York State’s National Guards’ munitions in the mid-nineteenth century. The building has also served as a police station, an early home of the American Museum of Natural History, and a menagerie for animals from P.T. Barnum’s circus.

    834 Fifth Avenue

    The luxury apartment building at 834 Fifth Avenue was designed by Rosario Candela–architect of numerous apartment buildings across New York City–and completed in 1931. Though understated over all, the limestone facade has a few Art Deco touches, including fruit-laden garlands and a carving of what appears to be the Roman god Mercury, often depicted wearing a winged helmet.

    840 Fifth Avenue, the Temple Emanu-El

    After its original home in midtown was demolished, the Temple Emanu-El moved further uptown to this 1929 building designed by Robert D. Kohn, Charles Butler, Clarence Stein, and Mayers, Murray & Philip. What we see is an impressively ornate hodgepodge of styles. Covered in rich decorations that borrow from both western European and Near Eastern sources, the Temple’s architecture represents the expansive extent of the Jewish Diaspora.

    854 Fifth Avenue, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Serbia to the United Nations

    Warren & Wetmore’s building at 854 Fifth Avenue, completed in 1905, was originally the mansion of politician R. Livingston Beeckman. Though dwarfed by much taller apartment buildings on either side, 854 Fifth Avenue stands out from its neighbors: its two-story copper mansard roof, with its two large oculi and dormer windows below, is brightly patinated. Right below the cornice is a decorative frieze of alternating trigylphs and metopes, which include a shield depicting the head of Medusa–classical elements and mythological allusions abound in Beaux-Arts architecture.

    1 East 70th Street, the Frick Collection

    The Frick Collection is difficult to miss–it is one of the very few buildings set back from Fifth Avenue. The cream-colored limestone facade rising above the garden exudes the tranquility and elegance of an eighteenth-century chateau. Carrere & Hasting’s restrained neoclassical design for industrialist Henry Clay Frick is now a very fitting home for the Frick Collection’s exceedingly fine array of European paintings and sculptures. There’s also a bowling alley, hidden away for centuries and only recently discovered.

    926 Fifth Avenue

    Architect C. P. H. Gilbert designed both 926 Fifth Avenue and its neighbor at 925 Fifth Avenue in the late 1890s. These five-story town houses are typical examples of turn-of-the-century Fifth Avenue homes, and are a refreshing change after dozens of high-rise apartment buildings–the scale is comparatively cozy. 926 Fifth Avenue is topped with two gracefully arched and pedimented dormer windows flanked by Ionic columns.

    927 Fifth Avenue, home of Pale Male

    This 1917 Warren & Wetmore apartment building, topped with a cornice and neo-Italian Renaissance decorations, is perhaps best known for what you can see above the ornate frame of the window in the upper right corner of the photo above: the nest of the red-tailed hawk Pale Male. Back in 2004, a controversy arose when some of the building’s residents strongly opposed having a hawk’s nest on their building. Pale Male’s supporters eventually won–the nest was removed and then restored three weeks later.

    1 East 75th Street

    Originally the Edward S. and Mary Stillman Harkness House, the neo-Renaissance palazzo on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 75th Street has strikingly rich bands of decoration beneath its projecting cornice and balustrade. Completed in 1909 and designed by Hale & Rogers, the ornate frieze of 1 East 75th Street is covered with curving vines, with larger leavers and flowers above the windows.

    960 Fifth Avenue

    Designed by Rosario Candela with Warren & Wetmore, 960 Fifth Avenue is yet another luxury apartment building for the inconceivably wealthy. Amidst the garlands, flowers, urns, and drapery on the limestone facade are eleven somewhat ominous-looking hooded figures whose faces are completely hidden in shadow when seen from below.

    1 East 78th Street, the Institute of Fine Arts

    This former home of James B. Duke, a founding partner of the American Tobacco Company, is now New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. Designed by Horace Trumbauer and based on the eighteenth-century Hotel Labottiere in Bordeaux, the Institute of Fine Arts is a well-proportioned exemplar of neoclassicism, with a dentilated pediment and elegant balcony.

    972 Fifth Avenue, French Embassy Cultural Services

    This High Italian Renaissance palazzo with the graceful bow-front facade and Corinthian pilasters was designed by Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White and completed in 1909 as the mansion of financier Payne Whitney, brother-in-law to Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the founder of the Whitney Museum.

    2 East 79th Street, the Ukrainian Institute of America

    Right next door to the French Embassy’s Cultural Services building is the former home of banker Isaac D. Fletcher, completed in 1899 and designed by C. P. H. Gilbert. Past residents have included oil baron Harry F. Sinclair, who was involved in the 1922 Teapot Dome scandal, and August Van Horne Stuyvesant Jr., a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant. Now the Ukrainian Institute of America, 2 East 79th Street is a picturesque example of the French Gothic style with pointed arches, carved faces, a steep slate roof, and numerous finials–a miniature chateau on Fifth Avenue.

    Next week, our journey up Fifth Avenue along Central Park continues. We’ll cover 80th Street to 110th Street in the next installment of Don’t Forget to Look Up!

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