The most beautiful residential building in the city benefits from the red brick that contrasts with its white limestone, giving it the edge over its monochromatic neighbors. Like so many of the greatest buildings in any city, this one was not well loved upon its opening. Architectural critics lambasted its flamboyant showiness and described it as “the architectural equivalent of a fist fight”. Since then, as with so many, its grandeur and exuberance have come to be seen as old friends in the urban sprawl and comforts in troubling times.
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On November 22, 1902, the Algonquin Hotel opened on 44th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Initially planned as a residential hotel, it quickly became a transient one as the neighborhood changed and more travelers found midtown lodging near the burgeoning entertainment district of Times Square desirable. The hotel ultimately became most famous as a meeting place for the magazine writers who populated its famous Round Table, whose witty banter is now the stuff of legend. Denizens of the table included Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott, Robert Benchley, Edna Ferber, Robert E. Sherwood, Tallulah Bankhead, and Harpo Marx, among others.
“New York is the greatest city in the world – especially for my people. Where else, in this grand and glorious land of ours, can I get on a subway, sit in any part of the train I please, get off at any station above 110th Street, and know I’ll be welcome?” — Dick Gregory
On November 18, 1942, The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder opened on Broadway. Starring Frederic March, Florence Eldridge, Tallulah Bankhead, Montgomery Clift, and Frances Heflin, the Biblical allegory went on to run for 359 performances and win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The most beautiful residential building in Midtown features the most intricate terra-cotta design anywhere, starring the two salamanders that guard the door to the Petrossian restaurant inside (whose lavish Art-Deco décor somehow manages not to clash with the façade). The residential units were designed as 14-room, 5-bathroom apartments, but have since been subdivided into smaller units that remain utterly palatial. The best views of the wonderful floral patterns carved throughout are hard to access — if you can get into the New York Athletic Club across the street and go upstairs, the view from their windows is absolutely ideal.
The New York Life Building
Modeled on Salisbury Cathedral, this office building rises 40 stories above its full square block from Madison to Park Avenue and from 26th to 27th Street. It replaced another grand palace, the second Madison Square Garden. Though the AIA snarkily claims that Gilbert was “obsessed with pyramidal hats for his buildings”, surely none glimmers in daytime or glows at night half so resplendently as the gold spire that graces this glorious structure.
The Met Life Tower
Soaring into the sky above Madison Square Park, this was the tallest building in the world from 1909 to 1913, having taken the title from the now-demolished Singer Building. Once an elaborate warehouse for the Met Life Insurance Company’s records, it is now rented office space combined with a boutique hotel. The glorious clocktower with its half-ton minute hands would have been utterly dwarfed by its Art-Deco neighbor to the north if the Great Depression had not halted that construction at its current height, leaving the gold cap at the top of the spire the dominant structure in the neighborhood.