The Art Deco Pleasures of 29 Broadway

November 15th, 2013 · 6 Comments · Columns and Features, Explore New York

Their names are unknown, but the fine results of their craftsmanship remain today. On an evening in late February, 1931, the New York Building Congress gave awards and gold buttons to 26 craftsmen for their outstanding work in constructing 29 Broadway. The awards went to William John Delaney, a stonecutter; Louis Materossi, a cement mason; and Michael Cito, a marble setter, among others. All around the city and country people were dealing with the Great Depression’s joblessness and difficulty. A slump in skyscraper construction had set in following the 1929 stock market crash. Thus, it was no small thing that the excellent work of such craftsmen made them “the best salesmen for their contractors and for themselves,” as William Ginsberg of the Adelson Construction and Engineering Corp., said in a speech, the New York Times reported on Feb. 26, 1931.

As this 30-story cream-colored skyscraper was rising in New York, other giant skyscrapers were drawing more attention, especially the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. Though lesser-known, the Art Deco structure that architects Sloan & Robertson designed in New York’s Financial District is a fine building with striking features and many exquisite details. What’s more, it’s a survivor to cherish in a city currently undergoing another building boom.

John Sloan and T. Markoe Robertson, the architects of 29 Broadway, left their mark on this golden age of skyscraper building in the 1920s and 1930s. New York University-educated John Sloan formed a partnership with Robertson, who studied at Yale University and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, in 1924. They designed not only many office buildings but structures for hospitals and institutions; the architectural plans for the West Side Elevated Highway between Canal and 72nd Street; and the New York State exhibit building and marine amphitheater at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

Their body of work became quintessential New York, especially in the ways they embraced the bold, grand expressions and many possibilities of the skyscraper in that era. Sloan & Robertson were the architects for the Chanin Building, completed in 1929 at Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street, a 56-story brick-and-terra-cotta landmark with striking setbacks, buttresses, a bronze frieze depicting the history of evolution, and architectural sculpture; the 1927 Fred F. French Building, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 45th Street, a 38-story golden orange building with geometric and zigzag patterns trimming its varied setbacks; and the Maritime Exchange Building, 80 Broad St., a 1931 beauty with an elaborate nautical theme. Sloan & Robertson’s other buildings include the Graybar, The Majestic, and The Century. You will not find any sameness about these buildings.

The design and ornament of 29 Broadway may not be as bold as some other Sloan & Robertson buildings, but they are no less pleasing and handsome. The structure’s slenderness is just part of its soaring quality, thanks to the smooth cream surface; a vertical band of narrow windows up the middle above the entrance, flanked to the left by alternating horizontal black bands of windows; and a series of dramatic setbacks at the top. The exterior has floral and geometric patterned screens, carved trim, and a beautifully sculpted entrance. The exterior vestibule on Broadway especially mesmerizes, with marble in an alternate pattern of horizontal and vertical lines; silver metal trimming; and a dazzling mosaic ceiling.

Embracing Two Centuries

One has a sense of the old and new working very well here. In a city where developers are razing various older buildings to construct glass towers, 29 Broadway shows how it can work when the owners and management care for an early 20th century Art Deco treasure, tout its history, and modernize it for the 21st. The Web site for 29 Broadway prominently showcases its history, design, and craftsmanship, with photos of the decorative elements as well as descriptions of the lobby’s slate green, gray, and white Cipollino marble; travertine floors from Siena; and aluminum leaf ceiling. (Mindfulwalker.com plans to do a separate photo essay on the interior.) The management notes that it has completely re-engineered the telecommunications infrastructure and updated to 21st century technology.

The building is not a New York City landmark, but it most definitely should be. Its simplicity may make it easy to miss while walking along Broadway near the northern tip of Bowling Green. Still, it’s worth a good look for much more than a few moments, to appreciate Sloan & Robertson’s sleek design and the first-rate work that a stonecutter, a cement mason, a marble setter, and their fellow craftsmen performed more than 80 years ago.

Entrance - 29 Broadway

The sculpted entrance, 29 Broadway

29 Broadway

Entrance Detail - 29 Broadway

Close-up of the entrance

Entranceway And  - 29 Broadway

The vestibule

Ceiling With Mosaic, Entrance - 29 Broadway

The vestibule’s very splashy ceiling

Art Deco Details - 29 Broadway

A portion of the vestibule, with alternating patterns of marble and Art Deco stylized forms in the metal trim

Wall Pattern of Entrance - 29 Broadway

A close-up view of the marble in the vestibule

Geometric Shapes of Screen - 29 Broadway

Exquisite Pattern, Entrance - 29 Broadway

Sleek Light and Entryway - 29 Broadway

Mosaic of Entry Ceiling - 29 Broadway

The vestibule’s mosaic ceiling

Distinctive Address Plate - 29 Broadway

Art Deco Screen - 29 Broadway

Building Profile - 29 Broadway

Its setbacks seem to dance toward the sky in the midst of Broadway’s other skyscrapers.

And Nearby…

To explore more in the Financial District, also check out:

Transported Back at 20 Exchange Place

Thirty-Minute Tour: Bowling Green

Wanna Buy an Art Deco Gem? Ask AIG

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6 Comments so far ↓

  • Gail Wynns

    Thank you so much for taking me back again to see my grandfather’s accomplishments, John Sloan, in New York City!!!

    • Susan DeMark

      Hi, Gail,

      I’m so glad that this helps take you back to see your grandfather’s accomplishments. They were many, and his gifts and talent continue to contribute to the beauty and inspiration of our surroundings today. I shared an anecdote when I posted the essay on Facebook: A man coming out of 29 Broadway as I was taking photos stopped to say to me, “Isn’t this a beautiful building?” I thought that was great, and it says something about the care in building and preserving these places.

      The more I read about John Sloan, and about Sloan & Robertson, the more I want to know!

      Thank you!

      Warmly,
      Susan

  • Ginny Williams

    I have a special fondness for Art Deco design and architecture. Thank you for sharing this photo essay on such a beautiful yet understated building.

    You captured so many of the Art Deco elements that I love, especially the lovely mosaic detail in the vestibule.

    If I am ever in the NYC area I’ll be sure to visit this grand building. So glad it has survived the wrecking ball all these years!

    • Susan DeMark

      Ginny,

      Thank you! Yes, you have to put this one on your list during a New York visit. There are others very near by.

      You captured what is fine about this building. Art Deco is always elegant, in my eyes. This mosaic ceiling is really dazzling.

      Again, I’m grateful for your warm and appreciative response to this post. It is a special joy to share Art Deco with another who is so fond of it as well. Certain eras, designs, and details speak to each of us. And I believe it takes a special person to appreciate what we have before our eyes.

      Susan

  • Brenna

    I am fortunate to work in 29 Broadway and it definitely has beauty and personality. I’m not a big believer in ghosts, but at least a dozen times when I’ve walked through the vestibule and opened the door to get in (be warned…doors are not easy to open!), I could SWEAR I heard a voice and footsteps behind me, and I’ll turn around and no one is there. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a mischievous spirit or two in that gorgeous vestibule.

    Once you’re in the building, and you experience the beauty of that long green slate hallway (spectacular at Christmas time) be sure to snap a pic of the stunning elevator doors and my favorite, the adorable Art Deco letter box.

    Thanks for posting this article!

    • Susan DeMark

      Brenna,

      Thank you for your very special descriptions and experience of this lovely and historic building. I definitely believe that walking through such a building on the way to one’s work elevates what we feel and do. That is the magic.

      I would never doubt the possibility of spirits in a building, and I LOVE your telling of your experiences. Such spirits must get quite a kick out of some of us, I’d say.

      I appreciate your suggestions about a return to the building to capture these aspects of its beautiful interior. That gives me some good ideas!

      Thank you for honoring this post by sharing your experience of the building, which always enriches it for the audience. Enjoy 29 Broadway!

      Gratefully,
      Susan

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