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Thread: 130 West 30th Street - by Cass Gilbert - Building Renamed for Cass Gilbert

  1. #1

    Default 130 West 30th Street - by Cass Gilbert - Building Renamed for Cass Gilbert

    May 9, 2004


    1928 Building Renamed for Its Renowned Architect


    The Cass Gilbert on West 30th.

    MANY architects complain that after the building is up, the designer's name forever fades to obscurity. But the opposite is true at an Assyrian-style 1928 loft building at 130 West 30th Street, which has been renamed the Cass Gilbert, after the renowned architect who designed it — along with the old United States Custom House and the Woolworth Building in Lower Manhattan.

    Gilbert's work spanned six decades, and in New York it ranges from skyscrapers to gemlike commuter railroad stations. Born in 1859 in Zanesville, Ohio, Gilbert left high school in the 1870's to work with a St. Paul architect. In 1878 he spent a year at M.I.T., and in 1880 he traveled to Europe before joining the office of McKim, Mead & White in New York. But he soon he returned to St. Paul to set up his own practice, and was joined by James Knox Taylor, an M.I.T. classmate.

    Their partnership was one of the most influential in Minnesota, producing shingle-style houses, Richardsonian Romanesque churches and chaste commercial buildings. Gilbert's rising prominence led him to seek out major commissions, like the Minnesota State Capitol in 1895. In "The Politics of Public Architecture," an essay in "Cass Gilbert — Life and Work" (W. W. Norton, 2001; edited by Barbara S. Christen and Steven Flanders), Geoffrey Blodgett says that Gilbert was skilled in political patronage. Blodgett quotes a diary entry: "The sleeping fox catches no poultry."

    By 1899, Taylor was no longer Gilbert's partner and was the supervising architect for the Department of the Treasury in Washington. Taylor wrote Gilbert and urged his friend to enter the architectural competition for the new United States Custom House at Bowling Green in Manhattan — a competition of which Taylor was in charge.

    The competition had three judges, and Taylor cast the deciding vote — in Gilbert's favor. "Our Ship's Come In," Gilbert wrote his wife, Julia, according to Blodgett. Gilbert, prominent in St. Paul but relatively unknown elsewhere, had beaten Carrère & Hastings, George B. Post and other renowned architects. The competing architects protested, but to no avail, and Gilbert's lavish, almost Baroque-style Custom House was completed in 1907.

    At the same time, Gilbert designed the Broadway Chambers building, highly regarded by critics when completed in 1900 at the corner of Broadway and Chambers Street, where it still stands. In 1900, he moved to New York, first to an apartment house on Central Park South, where he, his wife and their four children had two servants, and then to a brownstone at 45 East 78th Street, where they had four servants. He soon also bought a country house in Ridgefield, Conn.

    Gilbert was not shy in asserting his rights. In 1905, he sued the sponsors of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, for which he was one of the architects, demanding his fee — and he won. That was also the year he designed the giant neo-Gothic 90 West Street, at Cedar Street, completed in 1907, just south of what was later the site of the World Trade Center. The terra-cotta clad West Street structure's original design had a big central tower jutting out of its mansard roof, but that element was not executed. (The building was severely damaged in the 9/11 terrorist attack and the trade center's collapse.)

    In 1908, he built a string of varied jewel-like stations of glazed terra cotta for the old Harlem Branch of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad in the Bronx, including the Westchester Avenue station, near the Sheridan Expressway.

    In 1913, his 790-foot-high Woolworth Building was finished. It was then the tallest building in the world. In its design, he restated and expanded the muscular Gothic styling of the West Street building.

    Four years later, he again used the Gothic for his Rodin Studios, at 57th Street and Seventh Avenue, a much more delicate work than his earlier efforts.

    In 1917, he wrote a letter to The New York Times urging young men to serve willingly in the military, saying that to be called was a "proud privilege" and that in the future, children would acclaim soldiers and say they "fought in the great war for the liberty of the world." His son, Cass Jr., served in an artillery unit and returned safely.

    World War I brought Gilbert one of his most unusual commissions, what is now generally called the Brooklyn Army Terminal, begun in early 1918 and just completed by the end of the war that November. A vast series of bare-knuckle warehouses in concrete, the terminal was designed to marshal goods for shipment overseas. The austere buildings, spread over several blocks, are hard to reconcile with Gilbert's other designs. A huge interior loading bay, with traveling cranes, could be a set from a German Expressionist horror film.

    In 1924, he designed the grand neo-Gothic New York Life skyscraper, on Madison Avenue from 26th to 27th Street, but on this commission he lost the drama of his earlier works. It is "formidable, dark and staid," Sharon Irish said in her book "Cass Gilbert, Architect — Modern Traditionalist" (Monacelli Press, 1999).

    In the mid-1920's he was designing masonry cladding for the great towers of the George Washington Bridge, but they were ultimately left unadorned. In 1928, he finished one of the most unusual loft buildings erected in New York, the S. J. M. Building at 130 West 30th Street. Built for Salomon J. Manne, a fur trader who had started as a worker, Gilbert's setback design was not too different from comparable efforts, but the ornamental program of Assyrian reliefs in polychrome terra cotta makes it one of the brightest spots in the area.

    Gilbert hobnobbed with the elite of society, and the 30th Street commission — from an immigrant born in Poland who fought for increased wages and shorter hours for workers — at first seems unusual. But Manne and Gilbert both had part interests in boxes at the Metropolitan Opera. And the Rev. Cass Gilbert III, a grandson of the architect, says that his grandfather "was not a Social Register type of individual — he was a very earthy man."

    In 1929, Gilbert designed the chaste but tepid New York County Lawyers' Association building, on Vesey Street between Church Street and Broadway. The 1930's brought him commissions as big as the Custom House, including his rather dour federal courthouse in Foley Square (designed in 1933 and completed in 1936) and his dazzling white marble United States Supreme Court building, just behind the Capitol in Washington, finished in 1935.

    He died in 1934, at 74. Many architects gradually purge their files and, when they die, leave only scraps. But, like Frank Lloyd Wright, Gilbert seems to have felt his work had historic significance, because there are extensive collections of letters, bill books, photographs, drawings and other documents, at the New-York Historical Society, the National Museum of American History in Washington, and in other archives. Perhaps these explain why there are at least six major works on Gilbert, a number exceeded only by those on Frank Lloyd Wright, Stanford White and perhaps a few others.

    Now Gilbert is in the news again, because of Salomon J. Manne's fur building on West 30th Street. Last fall, the developer Henry Justin finished dividing what had been a manufacturing building into 45 condominium lofts, designed by Alfredo Carballude and Michele Morris of CMA Design Studio. Mr. Justin says that 130 West 30th sold out within 60 days of going on the market as the Cass Gilbert.

    Mr. Justin, an art collector and the director of the Center for Figurative Painting in Manhattan, acknowledges that most architects' names don't seem to carry much weight, but says he feels that Gilbert is different. He sought and received permission from Gilbert's grandson to use the name. "If he had refused," Mr. Justin said, "maybe I would have called it the Beaver Pelt Building."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  2. #2
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    NYC - Downtown

    Default Federal Court House - Foley Square

    Anyone know what they are doing to the crown of Cass Gilbert's Federal Court House on Foley Square?

    The pyramidal top has been warpped in black material for months.

  3. #3
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    NYC - Downtown


    Cass Gilbert's earlier NYC masterpiece at 279 Broadway -- The Broadway Chambers Building -- is gettng a re-vamp of its ground floor.

    The long-time tenant (a low-end clothing store) has made way for a new Captiol One Bank branch (renovation in progress).

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  4. #4
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    NYC - Downtown


    This article says the entire Courthouse building was closed in 2007 (?) and will re-open in 2009.

    This describes is what is now under wraps:

    A three-story Ionic colonnade around the tower rises to the steeply pitched, pyramidal roof. The roof is of terra cotta, covered in gold leaf, and is topped by a small open lantern, also of gold-leaf-covered terra cotta. The roof design recalls those on Gilbert’s nearby Woolworth Building and New York Life Insurance Company Building
    Folks in north-facing units over at the new Gehry Beekman tower should have some really nice views.

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