Thursday, October 13, 2016

Some Stubby Postwar New York "Skyscrapers"

When Wall Street crashed in October 1929 marking the start of the Great Depression, a large amount of office space in New York City was either under construction or in such advanced a planning stage that construction happened anyway.

Depression-driven drastic scaling back of business activity combined with floor after floor of new office space reaching completion in the early 1930s resulted in a glut on the real estate leasing market. Famous sites such as the Empire State Building remained partly empty for years after they were built.

World War 2 prosperity and the fact that depressed times failed to recur saw more and more space being rented after the war.  The market soon reached the point that new office building construction could resume.

This first wave of postwar buildings was an odd-looking lot. For one thing, they were short by New York standard -- 21 to 25 above-ground floors. And their shapes determined by zoning regulations were not graceful, especially when compared to the Art Deco style skyscrapers of the late 1920s and early 30s.


Look Building, 488 Madison Avenue (at 51st Street) - 1950
Designed by Emery Roth & Sons, 25 floors. This is perhaps the best known of that era's office construction. The building was named for its major tenant, Look Magazine, a photography-centered publication that competed against the better-known, more successful, Life Magazine. A noteworthy tenant was industrial designer Raymond Loewy. A recent tenant is the Municipal Art Society. The building attained landmark status in 2010, as this New York Times article reports.

Universal Pictures Building, 445 Park Avenue (between 56th & 57th streets) - 1947
Kahn & Jacobs architects, 22 floors. This is perhaps the first of the postwar breed. Setbacks begin above the tenth floor. The exterior features curtain walls and strip windows.

505 Park Avenue (at 59th Street) - 1949
Emery Roth & Sons architects, 21 floors. Again strip windows, but the corner facing the intersection is rounded off -- an echo of certain 1930s Moderne designs. The Look Building continued and elaborated on this motif.

260 Madison Avenue (by 38th Street) - 1953
Sylvan Bien architect, 21 floors. The trendsetting 1952 Lever House by Gordon Bunshaft (Park Avenue between 53rd & 54th streets, 24floors) was in place before 260 was completed, and Bien did borrow the sort of cladding used by Bunshaft. On the other hand, the wedding cake setback scheme of the buildings shown above was continued.

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