The Chrysler Building, the Waldorf-Astoria, Rockefeller Center– these are among the hundreds of Art Deco monuments that during the 1920s and ‘30s helped create the image of New York City as the world’s Modern Metropolis. Coined in the 1960s to describe a style of French decorative arts, “Art Deco” now refers to almost anything from saltcellars to skyscrapers, produced anywhere in the world during the early decades of this century, using abstract, stylized floral, geometric, or streamlined design. In New York, Art Deco evolved through a series of Manhattan skyscrapers into the city’s chief architectural language. Following a massive reawakening of interest in them during the 1970s, New York’s Deco buildings today survive as prized remnants of a distant yet modern past that still help define the city’s visual identity.
1. 42nd Street
42nd Street — Midtown Manhattan’s major boulevard of Art Deco skyscrapers. Star architect of the walk is crusty modernist Raymond Hood: we visit three of his four skyscrapers — the Daily News, American Radiator, and old McGraw-Hill. Star building, once the world’s tallest, is the one and only Chrysler, whose architect, William Van Alen, was once called the Ziegfeld of his profession. Also visited: the Chanin, Paramount, and Film Center Buildings.
2. From the Waldorf-Astoria to Rockefeller Center
Starting with the spectacular General Electric Building, we continue with the Waldorf, New York’s preeminent and beautifully restored skyscraper hotel; the delightful Goelet Building, New York’s best kept Deco secret; Viennese architect Joseph Urban’s whimsical base for what would have been William Randolph Hearst’s skyscraper citadel; and Midtown’s miraculously urbane urban wonderland: Rockefeller Center.
3. From the Chrysler Building to Rockefeller Center
Combine the best of tours a) and b): Daily News Building, Chrysler Building, G.E. Building, Waldorf-Astoria, and Rockefeller Center.
4. Deco Denizens of Midtown South
A walk down the middle of Manhattan Island, from 44th to 24th streets. Major monuments visited include Shreve, Lamb & Harmon’s Empire State Building (still the world’s tallest Deco skyscraper), Raymond Hood’s American Radiator Building (his first NYC skyscraper), Harvey Wiley Corbett’s Metropolitan Life North Building (originally meant to rise 100 stories above Madison Square), and Ely Jacques Kahn’s 2 Park Avenue (his great multi-color marvel). We also take in several of Kahn’s garment district loft buildings and other off-the-beaten-track Deco Denizens of the side streets of Midtown South.
5. Downtown/Financial District
Towering above the narrow streets of 17th-century Nieuw Amsterdam are some of the city’s finest 20th century skyscrapers. Included are the best of Ralph Walker, once voted the “architect of the century” by his peers: the delightfully decorative New York Telephone Company headquarters, the ponderously massive Western Union Building, and the Gothic-modern fantasy of the Irving Trust tower at No. 1 Wall Street. Other marvels include the Art Deco encrusted Cities Service headquarters.
6. Central Park West
A pleasant stroll along Central Park West, for a closer look at the buildings that form Manhattan’s major residential skyline. We visit the great twin-towered skyscraper-apartment buildings — the Century, the Majestic, and the Eldorado — and other multi-colored jazz-age fantasies of high living overlooking the Park.
7. Bronx Art Deco
An all-day bus tour of the great 1930s monuments of the Bronx: the Art Deco apartment houses on the Grand Concourse, Park Plaza (first Art Deco apartment house in the Bronx) and Noonan Plaza in High Bridge, the Bronx Borough Court House, the Dollar Savings Bank, the residential city-within-a-city of Parkchester, and the WPA-era Orchard Beach Bath House.