NYC Grid is a photo blog dedicated to exploring New York block-by-block and corner-by-corner. Each post covers a new street or feature with a focus on the mundane and ephemeral.

  

Entries in Midtown (86)

Wednesday
Aug072013

Before & After - Park Avenue and Lever House

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The above photo is interactive. Drag the yellow handle in the middle to reveal more or less of the before or after image.

Built in 1952, Lever House single-handedly changed how New York City approached skyscrapers. While it wasn't the first building to introduce the International Style to the city (the United Nations Headquarters is responsible for that), it was the most disruptive. Built at a time when, and in a neighborhood where, stone structures represented the brute strength of the organizations who inhabited them, Lever House brought a shiny, futuristic approach to the stuffy avenue. Today the building blends in amongst dozens of other glass curtain monoliths, but it's worth slowing down for, if even just to pay your respects to "the first".

A side note: Part of this Before & After project involves not only identifying where the photos were shot, but when. Many of the cataloged items in the Library of Congress are only partially dated, or provide a range of potential dates. The photo from today's post is listed as "1960-1980". The absence of the PanAm building clearly limits this photo to pre-1964 and the presence of Lever House safely places the earliest year at 1952. A 12-year span is not bad, and it's certainly more accurate than "1960-1980". Though, I still took issue with it being anytime after 1960. Primarily because if you look at the cars, they all appear to be from the early-to-mid 1950's. Now, it's certainly possible that cars from the 50's could be driving in a photo from the 60's, but you'd expect at least one of them to look more modern – especially in a pricey neighborhood like Park Avenue North. But nope, no space-aged, low-slung Chevys or Buicks to be seen. So identifying the cars is a bit of a dead-end. If I knew more about the surrounding buildings, I may be able to narrow-down the date even more, but since I doubt any of them were replaced pre-1960, that's probably a dead-end too. If anyone has some thoughts on when this photo would have been shot, leave a comment below.


Photo source:  Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

Friday
Aug022013

Before & After - Racquet and Tennis Club

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The above photo is interactive. Drag the yellow handle in the middle to reveal more or less of the before or after image.

One of the few clubs that still maintains a men-only membership, the Racquet and Tennis Club is a rare sight on Park Avenue. The height of the skyline over the storied street has been increasing steadily over the decades since the Lever House introduced the International Style of architecture to the neighborhood. Wikipedia describes it better than I can:

Today [the Racquet and Tennis Club] performs an important architectural role on Park Avenue as a foil to the Seagram Building and the Lever House and other corporate structures in the glass-clad vocabulary of International Modernism.

Over the years thankfully very little has changed to this classic building. And it's in good company with the Helmsley Building visible to the south.


Photo source:  Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS.

Wednesday
Jul312013

Before & After - Grand Central Terminal, Ramps

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The above photos are interactive. Drag the yellow handle in the middle to reveal more or less of the before or after image.

Grand Central Terminal is a structure of innovation. At 100 years old, we tend to forget how forward thinking the building is. One of those innovations used daily by commuters and tourists alike are the terminal's many ramps. Without stepping upon a single stair you can go from several stories underground to street level in a matter of moments. The ramps that traverse the terminal not only provide an easy mode of egress, but also aid in managing the monumental scale of the building. A space of this size could very easily dwarf its inhabitants, making them feel overpowered and small, minimizing their importance in such a grand space. The ramps mitigate that feeling and provide the ability to navigate Grand Central Terminal with ease.


Photo source:  Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection 1, 2

Monday
Jul292013

Before & After - Tudor City, 1st Avenue Pedestrian Walkway

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The above photo is interactive. Drag the yellow handle in the middle to reveal more or less of the before or after image.

Tudor City on the east side of midtown Manhattan is a fascinating piece of real estate. Sitting on ancient granite cliffs, the buildings overlook 1st Avenue and are divided by 42nd Street. A short viaduct connects the two halves of the community, which remains mostly inaccessible from anything other than 2nd Avenue. Some steep stairs across from the United Nations allow for pedestrian access to the north half of the co-op. Between 40th and 41st Streets, the buildings are actually accessible via 1st avenue thanks to the buildings' sub-basements continuing four stories below their lobbies. Level D as it's known, opens upon a covered pedestrian walkway which in recent years has been mostly fenced off.


Photo source:  Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS.

Friday
Jul262013

Before & After - Tunnel Exit Street

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The above photo is interactive. Drag the yellow handle in the middle to reveal more or less of the before or after image.

Possibly one of the best-named streets in Manhattan, Tunnel Exit Street brazenly cuts through several blocks between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Allowing vehicles exiting the Queens-Midtown Tunnel to evenly distribute onto two avenues between 8 different blocks, Tunnel Exit Street lessens the traffic nightmare that tunnels and bridges often bring with them.

In the 72 years since the tunnel and its exit streets were built, Midtown has grown considerably. The black and white photo above was shot one year after the tunnel opened. You can clearly see the Chrysler & Chanin Buildings dominating the landscape while the surrounding blocks are still filled with classic brownstones which have been long forgotten. In the modern photo, all that remains is the short brick wall and the original lamppost. What used to be parking lots are now massive high-rise office buildings.


Photo source:  Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection.

Wednesday
Jul242013

Before & After - Park Avenue And The Helmsley Building

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The above photo is interactive. Drag the yellow handle in the middle to reveal more or less of the before or after image.

At the center of Park Avenue once sat a lone, towering building known as the New York Central Building. Designed by the same architects who designed Grand Central Terminal, the 35-story tower acted as the main offices of the New York Central Railroad (you can imagine where Grand Central Terminal got its name). Now that building is dwarfed by the surrounding structures, not the least of which is the MetLife Building (formerly PanAm Building), which took over the duties of dominating the Park Avenue landscape in both directions when it was completed in 1963. It also suffered several name changes after the the New York Central Railroad merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad and went bankrupt in the late 1960s (I swear I wasn't just dictating a game of Monopoly – that's actually what happened). Now known as the Helmsley Building, it's still being bought and sold every few years, though luckily its name has remained the same in the past few years.

A few blocks north of the Helmsley Building sits St. Barts Church which has acted as a breath of fresh architectural air since it was built in 1930. This building is actually the third for the congregation, though its iconic triple arched bronze doorways are actually a carryover from the second church which used to sit on 44th Street and Madison Avenue.

In this picture of the original church you can clearly see the familiar entranceway on a very unfamiliar building.


Photo source:  Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Arnold Genthe Collection: Negatives and Transparencies.