More Freshness

by Don Friedman on February 22, 2018

To continue yesterday’s train of thought, here’s the Chrysler Building in 1930, roughly a year after completion. Again, if you want a very high-resolution copy, click here.

We’re looking northwest to the Chrysler, at 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue. The tall, vertically-striped building on the right is the Daily News building at 42nd and Second; the tall building on the left is the Chanin Building at 42nd and Lexington; and the New York Central building is just visible past Chrysler on its right. All of those buildings are still there, basically unchanged. The two-winged building left of Chrysler, with the tall chimney, is the Commodore Hotel, altered in the late 70s with a glass curtain wall.

The vast majority of other buildings in this photo are gone. They are rowhouses and tenements on side streets in the east 30s and 40s, an area that gradually turned into an extension of the midtown office district. Some are still there, and some were replaced by more modern apartments, but most were replaced by tall office buildings. The low-rise gothic building just west (left) of Daily News is the old PS 27, which has since been replaced by a hotel built in 1980. Obviously, as a neighborhood changes from residential to commercial, buildings that house functions related to residential use – like schools and churches – tend to change use or be replaced.

But the main point, as I discussed yesterday, is how foreign Chrysler, Daily News, and Chanin are relative to the older built environment of the city. Chrysler is sui generis and would look alien in almost any context, but it’s hard to place as a piece of the same city as those tenements in the foreground. In 1930, after forty years of steel-skeleton skyscrapers, they still looked like a foreign intrusion in the city. It was only when the context of the older city was replaced by more skyscrapers that the extreme contrast seen above faded away.

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