Art Deco – Books

There are any number of Art Deco books on the market today (though an awful lot of others, including some pretty recent ones, are out of print), and a fair number cover architecture in whole or in part. Here are some of the ones I’ve opened my wallet for, or consulted in the course of research, with a quick review that represents only my own opinion.

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

Art Deco: 1910-1939, by Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton and Ghislaine Wood

This is the catalog to the fabulous Art Deco show put together by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London a few years ago (later traveling to San Francisco and Boston). An amazing compilation, and a must for the bookshelf of any serious Deco lover.

NEW YORK CITY – THE MODERN METROPOLIS

American Art Deco Architecture, exhibition catalog, Finch College Museum of Art, text by Elayne H. Varian

This exhibit of 1974-75 followed an earlier Finch College exhibit of furnishings held 1970-71, the first major splash of Art Deco interest in New York City, just four years after the 1966 Louvre exhibit in Paris which coined the Art Deco name. Out of print.

Art Deco Architecture in New York, by Don Vlack (Harper & Row, 1974), photos by Ralph Appelbaum

A pioneering book on the subject — so some of it sounds funny today (the list of “Art Deco” buildings includes such non-Deco delights as the Shelton Towers, the Rockefeller Apartments, Temple Emanu-El and the Municipal Building). Nevertheless, a must-have. Lots of pictures, lots of details. Sadly, out of print.

Skyscraper Style: Art Deco New York by Cervin Robinson, Rosemarie Haag Bletter (Oxford University Press, 1975)

Still the most important book on New York’s Deco architecture — gorgeous photos by Robinson, scholarly essays by Bletter. There are a few mistakes — but nobody had done the research yet. Maps inside the front and back covers locate most major and many minor Manhattan Deco buildings, making for an instant walking tour guide. Indispensable. Unfortunately, also out of print.

The Metropolis of Tomorrow, by Hugh Ferriss (Dover reprint of the 1929 original)

This is a reprint of the original compilation of studies by Hugh Ferriss, one of the great architectural renderers of his day, imagining what the great Skyscraper Metropolis (New York, of course) would look like in the future.

New York 1930: Architecture and Urbanism Between the Two World Wars, by Robert A.M. Stern et al (St. Martin’s Press, 1995)

This is the second of the vast Stern productions that threaten to document New York City architecture to death — hundreds, maybe thousands of photos and mentions of buildings of all kinds. The text is rather dull, but the footnotes and photos (mostly small b&w shots) are a treasure trove — rumor has it Stern sent dozens of his students to Columbia’s Avery Library to xerox every architectural periodical in sight for the project. Not everything in here is Deco, of course, but almost everything Deco is in here — or at least that’s the impression a dazed reader comes away with.

New York Deco, photographs by Carla Breeze, introduction by Rosemarie Haag Bletter (Rizzoli, 1993)

Rizzoli’s pretty picture book of New York’s Deco architecture. Breeze has done several photo surveys of Art Deco — see below under “other cities.” Publisher out of stock (says Amazon.com), but you never know.

Bronx Art Deco Architecture: An Exposition, by Donald Sullivan and Brian Danforth (West Bronx Restoration Committee, 1976)

Hunter College booklet on the Bronx in the 1930s, by Prof. Donald Sullivan. Sullivan taught planning at Hunter College. In the 1970s, he led a student project in documenting the Art Deco apartment houses of the Grand Concourse and neighboring streets, in an attempt to help stem the neighborhood decline and spark interest in these deteriorating and often abandoned buildings. An invaluable list at the end identifies the architects and dates of countless buildings (one important correction to the list: No. 888 Grand Concourse, by Emery Roth, was designed in 1937, not 1927 — a typo which suggested that 888 was the first Deco Bronx apartment house, which it wasn’t). Out of print.

Art Deco in New York, text by Takahiko Okada, photos by Tetsu Sueyoshi and others (Japan 1980s, as far as I can tell)

The color and black and white photos have titles with building name, architect and date in English, but captions are strictly in Japanese. Wish I knew what it said…. but this book clearly demonstrates the global appeal of New York Deco. Good luck finding it.

Art Deco New York, by David Garrard Lowe (Watson-Guptill, 2004)

The latest book out on the subject. Covers architecture, but also fashion, textiles, graphics and so on. Haven’t read it yet.

The Chrysler Building, by David Stravitz, introduction by Christoper Grey (Princeton Architectural Pressm, 2002).

An amazing discovery: a treasure trove of original photos documenting the construction of the Chrysler Building.

The Art Deco Skyscraper in New York, by Norbert Messler (revised edition, February 1986, Peter Lang Publishing)

Out of print.

The Level Club: A New York City Story of the Twenties: Splendor, Decadence and Resurgence of a Monument to Human Ambition, by Bruno Bertuccioli, Andrea Bassan (1991)

Written by a resident fascinated by the history and architecture of this unusual building.

INDIVIDUAL ARCHITECTS

Raymond Hood, Architect: Form Through Function in the American Skyscraper, by Walter H. Kilham, Jr. (Architectural Book Publishing Co., Inc., 1973)

This is a must-have biography of Hood, written by an architect who joined the Hood office in 1928. Kilham is an architect, not an historian or a writer, but his book offers remarkable insights into Hood the architect and Hood the man.

Raymond Hood, by Robert A.M. Stern. (Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, and Rizzoli, 1982)

Stern, like Kilham, is an architect, but also an historian and a writer. The writing is a little stilted and pedantic, but this is still a worthwhile book, because it amounts to a complete catalogue of all Hood’s work. It includes a very complete bibliography put together by Thomas Catalano. Some of the photos are full size and in color, most are black and white, and many are pretty small — but as far as I can tell, they include just about everything Hood ever designed. Out of print.

Ralph Walker, Architect, by Ralph Walker (Henahan House, 1957)

This is a monograph published by the architect himself (not an unusual occurrence), and written back when architects didn’t feel the need to indulge in obscure academic language when describing their work. There’s a lot on Walker’s work from the 1920s, but also illustrations of his 1950s productions — which look just like everybody else’s 1950s designs. Just goes to show — it’s not only the architect, it’s also the times. Out of print. (I found my copy in a used bookstore in San Francisco, many years ago. In New York today? Forget it.)

USA

Besides the above, there are now quite a few books devoted to the Art Deco architecture of other cities, states and countries. A sampling:

Rediscovering Art Deco USA, Barbara Capitman, Michael D. Kinerk, Dennis W. Wilhelm, photos by Randy Juster (Viking, 1994)

The grand national survey begun by Barbara Capitman was completed by Kinerk and Wilhelm, fellow activists in the Miami Design Preservation League that fights for Art Deco Miami Beach (see below). The book covers eighteen major urban centers, from Boston to Washington D.C. Lots of information, a chatty text, and drop-dead gorgeous photographs by Randy Juster, in this reviewer’s humble opinion the country’s finest Deco photographer (which is not meant to minimize the talents of either Cervin Robinson or Carla Breeze). Out of print.

[Conflict of interest disclaimer -- your reviewer is credited and quoted in several spots in the book. My favorite: "Our friend and confidant, Anthony Robins, chief of surveys for the New York Landmarks Commission, could only laugh when we told him about our plan to survey all of the Big Apple's Art Deco." (p. 161)]

Art Deco Style in American Architecture: A Brief Style Guide, by Robert B. Harmon

Out of print.

The National Trust Guide to Art Deco in America, by David Gebhard (Wiley & Sons, 1996)

David Gebhard has been thinking about Art Deco architecture for a very long time. He’s a scholar, and writes like one of course, but his insights are worth the struggle. Sadly, out of print.

OTHER U.S. CITIES

ATLANTA

Atlanta Architecture: Art Deco to Modern Classic, 1929-1959 by Robert M. Craig, Richard Guy Wilson (Pelican, 1995)

Professor Craig does rousing slide shows on Deco Atlanta, both the original stuff and modern “Deco Echo” adaptations. Richard Guy Wilson wrote the text for the Brooklyn Museum’s 1980s show, “The Machine Age.”

L.A.

Art Deco: Los Angeles: Photographs by Ave Pildas (Harper & Row, 1977)

Gorgeous photos. Ancient, and out of print (but Amazon.com has used copies).. Pildas also did a lovely picture book on movie theaters.

L.A. Deco by Carla Breeze (Hennessey & Ingalls, 2004)

More gorgeous photos. A new edition, with an introduction by David Lowe.

FORT WORTH

Cowtown Moderne: Art Deco Architecture of Fort Worth, Texas, by Judith Singer Cohen

Out of print.

MIAMI

Deco Delights: Preserving the Beauty and Joy of Miami Beach Architecture, by Barbara Baer Capitman, Steven Brooke (Dutton, 1988)

Anyone who knew the late Barbara Capitman was bowled over by her undying devotion to Art Deco Miami Beach. A founder of the Miami Design Preservation League, Capitman led the battle to have a large swatch of the Beach listed as an historic district in the National Register of Historic Places — the first such district made up of 20th-century buildings. This book is her memorial.

Tropical Deco: the Architecture and Design of Old Miami Beach, by Laura Cerwinske, David Kaminsky (Photographer) (Rizzoli, 1982)

Pretty pictures.

SAN FRANISCO / BAY AREA

Deco by the Bay: Art Deco Architecture in the San Francisco Bay Area, by Michael F. Crowe (Penguin, 1995)

The Oakland Paramount, by Susannah Harris Stone (Lancaster-Miller Publishers, 1982)

A wonderful photo-essay on the wonderful Deco movie-theater-turned-performing-arts-center. Out of print.

SOUTHWEST

Pueblo Deco: The Art Deco Architecture of the Southwest, by Marcus Whiffen and Carla Breeze

Another Carla Breeze book. Out of print.

TULSA

Tulsa Art Deco, by Carol Newton Gambino and David Halpern (Tulsa Foundation for Architecture, 2001)

Tulsa? You bet. Tulsa emerged as the “Oil Capital of the World” just in time for the great Deco revolution — and has enough Deco to have warranted being the site of the Sixth World Congress on Art Deco back in 2001, the year this book was published.

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Washington Deco: Art Deco Design in the Nation’s Capital, by Hans Wirz, Richard Striner (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1984)

Striner is a long-time leader of the Washington D.C. Art Deco Society.

OTHER COUNTRIES

AUSTRALIA

A Spirit of Progress: Art Deco Architecture in Australia, by Patrick Van Daele, Roy Lumby (Craftsman House, 1997)

The long-awaited compendium on Art Deco down under. Lumby, a presenter at the 1993 Third World Congress on Art Deco in Perth, Western Australia, has been studying Sydney’s Art Deco pubs (that’s right) forever — maybe he’ll do the book about them one day. Meantime, here’s the big picture, mate. (For a quick introduction to the subject, you can read my 1993 New York Times article, “In Australia’s Great Cities, Art Deco Gleams On.”)

CANADA

Northern Deco – Art Deco Architecture in Montreal, by Sandra Cohen-Rose (Corona, 1997)

GREAT BRITAIN

Britain in the Thirties, A.D. Profiles 24

A double issue of the British journal Architectural Design, guest edited by Gavin Stamp. A dozen articles on British architecture of the period, and a map of “London in the Thirties.” Good luck finding it.

The Thirties Society, Journal No. 1, 1980

The opening salvo of the British equivalent of America’s Art Deco Societies, the Journal came out just as the fabulous Firestone Factory was being demolished. Half a dozen serious and scholarly articles. My copy is a xerox. The Thirties Society today is known as The Twentieth Century Society, and hosted the 1995 World Congress on Art Deco, in London and Brighton.

MISC.

Art Deco Architecture: Design, Decoration, and Detail; from the Twenties and Thirties, by Patricia Bayer (Thames & Hudson, 1999)

A Bibliography on Art Deco (Architecture Series No. 1623) by Lamia Doumato (Vance Bibliographies, 1986)

Seventeen pages, all of them out of print.

Screen Deco, by Howard Mandelbaum, Eric Myers (Hennessey & Ingalls, 2001)

Deco architecture in your favorite movies. Eric Myers is a great guy.

The Art Deco Style in Household Objects, Architecture, Sculpture, Graphics, Jewelry: 468 authentic examples selected by Theodore Menten (Dover Publications, 1972)

This is one of the very first works on Art Deco, and includes things we would probably not call by that name today, including work by Frank Lloyd Wright and Gropius’ work at the Bauhaus in Dessau! But there are a lot of wonderful Deco and Moderne buildings (and everything else), in what appear to be vintage black and white photos. Most of it is European. Minimal text, but a very worthwhile book all the same.