When we think of Art Deco architecture in New York City, what often comes to mind are Midtown icons such as the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, or Rockefeller Center.
However Greenwich Village and the East Village boast some of their own Art Deco gems, also worth examining.
Art Deco was known by several names during the late 1920’s and 1930’s including moderne, modernistic and jazz modern, to name a few. During the 1960’s the term ‘art deco’ was assigned to the style referencing the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. The style drew on a number of modern and traditional styles synthesizing into a popularized modernism. As described by William Jordy, “…the movement is historically interesting as a search for design capable of relating to the modern word, not with technological purity of more earnest expressions of modernity, but with an abandon calculated to stimulate popular fantasy.”* Designers used new materials such as aluminum, stainless steel and plastics with traditional materials like glass, stones and wood veneers in innovative ways creating dynamic and exuberant effects. Although typically associated with the commercial skyscraper, Art Deco was also employed on residential, ecclesiastical and public buildings as well as theaters and other entertainment centers.
Here is just a sampling of Art Deco in and around the Village and East Village. 204 Second Avenue was built for New York Telephone company in two campaigns. The first three stories were built in 1923 and designed by McKenzie, Voorhees & Gmelin and between 1929-30 the remaining eight stories were built and designed by Voorhees, Gmelin & Walker. The entry on Second Avenue features “columns” of telescoping clustered shafts with a chevron “entablature.” One Fifth Avenue is perhaps one of the more well known Art Deco buildings in the Village. Built in 1929 originally as an apartment hotel and designed by Helmle, Corbett & Harrison and Sugarman & Berger, the exterior of this apartment building is clad in dark and light colored brick creating a dynamic surface within a simple composition. 59 West 12th Street, an apartment building by Emery Roth, was built in 1931 and here Art Deco ornamentation is seen in its many rooftop terraces. The Greenwich Substation 235 at 255 West 13th Street was built in 1930 (architect unknown). Only about four stories in height, the brick piers and limestone detailing lend a certain monumentality to this utilitarian building. Finally, the 1929-30 Salvation Army headquarters, Markle Evangeline Residence (120 14th Street) by Voorhees, Gmelin & Walker features a three story entry arch on 14th Street announcing the temple within.
*William H. Jordy, The Impact of Modernism in the Mid-Twentieth Century, New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.