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.
The sculpted entrance, 29 Broadway
Close-up of the entrance
The vestibule’s very splashy ceiling
A portion of the vestibule, with alternating patterns of marble and Art Deco stylized forms in the metal trim
A close-up view of the marble in the vestibule
The vestibule’s mosaic ceiling
Its setbacks seem to dance toward the sky in the midst of Broadway’s other skyscrapers.
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