The Daily Heller: Art Deco Details of New York

Posted inThe Daily Heller

This post was originally published on Oct. 16, 2014

New York City is a mecca for Art Deco extravagance. But while the Empire State may be its centerpiece, Art Deco architecture is not exclusive to New York. Miami has its magnificent beachfront hotels, Hollywood its sumptuous movie palaces, and Deco relics can be seen in Washington, Seattle and Chicago, and in most major U.S. industrial cities.

A Deco hybrid known as “Navajo style” is prevalent in cities throughout the Southwest. And in many small, formerly industrial towns in the United States, Deco detailing is visible on pre-World War II buildings. Yet since Paris and Bruxelles are dubbed the capitols of Art Nouveau (owing to the profound influence of architects and designers who practiced the fin de siecle curvilinear style), New York City must be hailed as the Art Deco capitol of the world for its many monumental buildings conforming to this international, between-the-wars decorative style.

As host of the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Paris was the epicenter of “art moderne,” as Art Deco was then formally called. This exposition was a collection of lush pavilions that celebrated a new ornamentalism, presenting the world with examples of the choicest stylistic developments in furniture, textile, fashion and graphic design. Despite this early French beachhead in what one critic called the “style wars,” New York City became the paradigm of two other stages of the moderne manifestation: the Skyscraper and Streamline phases. The former began in the early 1920s with a Postwar building boom, while the latter emerged during the Depression, reaching its crescendo at the 1939–1940 New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens. Despite the preference following World War II for architecture in the International Style, New York’s Art Deco legacy remains virtually intact.

These “orphan” photographs (from an ill-fated project) are lost treasures and the details therein are gems.