As New York's landmarks law turns 50 this year, one way to commemorate is by remembering beautiful architecture the city lost. But for those inclined to see the glass as half full: we can also reflect on the hundreds of structures that the law savedbe they the earliest ones or more recent specimens, exterior or interior.
For the latter, the New York School of Interior Design (NYSID) has put together an exhibition with over 80 images, from archival to specially commissioned, brand-new photography, of NYC's beautiful interior landmarks. The show, which divides the places into rescued, restored, and reimagined categories, opens on March 6 and runs through April 24 at the NYSID's gallery on the Upper East Side. Here now, a look at six of the stunning Landmarks Preservation Commission-annointed interiors that almost didn't make it to this day.
↑ ↓ Radio City Music Hall
The iconic theater was built in 1932, and its striking Art Deco interiors were named an interior landmark in 1978. (And, yes, the designation includes the bathrooms, which are gloriously retro.) As per NYSID's commentary: "Despite its mythic status, this theater was an economic failure from the start. When it was announced that there were plans to tear down the iconic theater, the public rushed to Radio City's defense. The LPC had a hearing that attracted more than 100 speakersincluding a kick line of Rockettes dancing on the steps of City Halland swiftly made Radio City an interior landmark over Rockefeller Center's objections. State-funded renovations and new management structure brought Radio City back to life in 1980." Another restoration in 1999 brought us the lovely, fully functioning performance space people pack into today.
↑ ↓ Loew's Paradise Theater
Loew's was known for building ornate movie palaces during the 1920s, and this outpost, built in 1929 along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, is no exception. "Instead of the customary Beaux Arts opera-house style, John Eberson designed the Paradise to be a mashup of exotic environments evoking foreign lands," NYSID says. "The 4,000-seat auditorium had elaborate plasterwork evoking the courtyard of an Italian palazzo, complete with a painted blue ceiling and light-bulb stars." The theater shut its doors in 1994 when it stopped pulling in enough money to support itself. Initial efforts to landmark the exterior worked, but the interior was deemed too changed from its original to be preserved. After a fire, the theater reopened in 2005 with a restored interior. It was only then that it earned landmark status, with the LPC calling it "one of the most amazing spaces in New York City." Since 2012, the space has been used as a church and meeting facility. Thank goodness this one hasn't suffered the same fate as the dilapidated Loew's on Canal Street, currently lying in ruin.
↑ ↓ Marine Air Terminal
Located in LaGuardia Airport, this William Delano-designed space was completed in 1940, shortly after the airport itself first opened. "Inside, the circular ticketing hall boasts a mural by James Brooks that celebrates air travel with a modernist composition commissioned by the Work's Progress Administration," says the exhibition caption. "Misguided modernization campaignsincluding one that painted over the muralundermined the terminal's character." It took one stalwart defender who worked there to raise money for the mural's restoration in 1980, the year it was declared an interior landmark. The terminal was restored again in 2004, just before its 65th birthday. To good effect, since it's basically a time capsule.
↑ New Amsterdam Theater
Right on 42nd Street, this performance space "is New York's oldest surviving Broadway theater and the only one designed in the Art Nouveau style. Following the style's focus on nature, the color scheme creates the effect of a woodland filled with fruits and flowers. It hosted entertainments, including the Ziegfeld Follies until 1936, when it was converted into a movie theater with the interiors remaining largely intact." The 1980s, though, brought a restoration attempt that left the place flooded. It took state intervention to even partially save it from destruction, and eventually, Walt Disney Company bought it and paid for a full restoration that finally remedied past damage.
↑ Sailors' Snug Harbor
The 19th-century complex, built in the Greek Revival style, was initially intended as a place of respite for "aged, decrepit, and worn-out sailors." It's made up of more than two buildings, but only two are interior landmarks; one is "Building C, recognized as the oldest surviving work of 19th-century architect Minard Lafever, includes colorful nautical-theme painted decoration by Charles Berry and stained glass windows from the 1880s." The chapel, with its wood pews and wainscoting, is also landmarked. "Despite their historic and architectural importance," NYSID says, and the fact that some buildings were among New York's very first landmarks, many "were torn down. Six of the remaining buildings were designated as individual landmarks in 1965, sparking legal challenge by the trustees. To further protect the complex, Mayor John Lindsay organized its purchase by the city for use as a museum, now called Snug Harbor Cultural Center."
↑ ↓ Gould Memorial Library
This library, now part of Bronx Community College, was designed by McKim, Mead & White, the same firm that designed the original (dearly departed) Penn Station, the Brooklyn Museum, and Columbia's main campus. Built in 1899, it was originally intended to serve as a focal point of a northern campus for New York University, funded by financier Jay Gould's daughter (hence the name). NYSID describes the library as "a pristine Classical form, enclosing the dome-topped circular Reading Room, a spectacle of green marble columns, Tiffany gilded capitals, and life-size Classical statues." After the library was moved, the building suffered a lot of damage. After it became a part of BCC, a state grant and other monies helped restore it to its original glory, and restoration work is still ongoing.
· Rescued, Restored, Reimagined: New York's Landmark Interiors [official]
· New York's Interior Landmarks [NYSID]
· New York City Exhibit Showcases Era When Banks Looked Like Temples [WSJ]
· Not a Banister Was Changed [NYT]