An Art Deco Sunday in New York

I recently spent a day in New York with nothing to do but photograph Art Deco buildings. The day was full of surprises. For one thing, the lower Manhattan I remembered was deserted on weekends. Don’t believe it? Here’s a picture.


NYC Coffee Shop-Edit-60070

Someone who knows cars should be able to tell the year. A beautiful day, yet just one person in the photo.


Obviously, things had changed.

I grew up close to NYC but after this much time I was like any other tourist. Ok, not quite. My reason for starting at World Trade Center station was to see the first Art Deco building I photographed, in 1976, the Barclay-Vesey building (then New York Telephone, now Verizon.) As I mentioned in an earlier post, the structure was heavily damaged on 9/11. I had forgotten just how close the phone company building was to the World Trade Center site.



Barclay Vesey Building and Freedom Tower

On this gorgeous fall day there were people and cameras everywhere. I wondered if I looked suspicious, taking just a few shots of the Freedom Tower, turning most of my attention to the Barclay-Vesey building.

Manhattan’s first Art Deco building looked as it had when I last saw it, only cleaner.

Barclay Vesey - Lamp Outside-Edit-60070



2013. I don’t think the gold paint was part of the original scheme, but perhaps.



Nothing but the best and most ornate for the flagship building of the mighty Bell System. Alas, Alexander Graham Bell did not live to see it.


More surprises. Without exception people were friendly, at least to a tourist. Before heading to midtown I bought a pretzel (we don’t have pretzels like this in California and pizza never seems the same, either.) Eating my pretzel on the Subway, I thought people were staring at me. I found out later that food and drink are prohibited on the Subway! Who knew?

From the phone company, I passed by the Irving Trust and headed over to the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce to see it’s wonderful doors. For some reason I had never gotten a good photo. I used the Canon EOS-M with the 11-22mm zoom. Oh, the joy of having a small digital camera with a sharp wide angle zoom and image stabilization. Bear in mind, the last time I stood in any of these places I was shooting film and didn’t even know if I had anything until a few days later. Sometimes I would take eight 4×5 film holders which meant 16 shots for the entire day. This time, the counter on the EOS-M showed I had 477 shots remaining.



A corner of the Irving Trust. I’ll do a post on this in the future.



Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce




When I started the Art Deco Documentary in the 1970s, to get an image of this quality would have required a medium format camera and a tripod. To get images this clean from a tiny camera (in this case, a Canon EOS-M) is hard to believe.


Next, I went to 60 Wall Tower, the old Cities Service building. I wanted a better picture of the little skyscraper over the entrance but unfortunately, the building was having some work done and things were mostly obscured.



Another Art Deco icon, #60 Wall Tower. I should do a post on this as well. Although these places are generally off limits these days, I’ve been in most of them at one time or another.


Too soon, the sun was starting to go down. I’d spent too long at the Barclay Vesey building. That’s the flip side of having an unlimited number of shots, all free. I was meeting friends for dinner on Central Park West and needed work my way north. Took the Subway to Grand Central, which had  a dubious nostalgia for me–it’s one of only two places I’d ever been thrown out of for taking photos (subject for yet another post.)

Outside Grand Central I headed over to the Chanin building. Here again, a comment on how nice New Yorkers seem these days. I had already photographed in the Chanin but for reasons long forgotten (probably difficult lighting) I had taken black and white photos exclusively. At the time, the property was still in the hands of the Chanin Management Company and my recollection is that while they allowed me to take photos, they weren’t exactly thrilled about it. So, had things changed?  Yes and no. I contacted the building’s current owner to ask if I could spend a few minutes in the lobby. They said no, which wasn’t surprising. But what was surprising was how nice they were! Still a huge disappointment, but their politeness was disarming.



The breathtaking Chanin building.


(I’ve ramped up the contrast in these photos to make the frieze more distinct.)



Before heading uptown to grab a few quick shots of the Majestic Apartments before dinner, I turned to face the Chrysler which is across the street from the Chanin. I hadn’t planned on taking a photo, having seen the place many times. But there was something I had to do.


Chrysler Buidling-60070

c. 1970



I can’t explain it, but I felt both satisfaction and melancholy, standing on the same spot and taking the same photo I’d shot, long ago. I thought of the people who were indispensable in getting the Art Deco Documentary started–Larry Zim, Mel Lerner, Martin Greif and most of all, Andrew Corsini. They’re gone. Even some of the buildings are gone. But not forgotten.






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