Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Assyria in Manhattan?
Walking on West 30th St. last Friday I noticed this building and wondered, what in the world are Assyrian terracotta reliefs doing on a Manhattan building? Naturally I had to do some checking and learned that the "SJM Building" was constructed in 1928 in the heart of the City's old "Tenderloin" neighborhood, a district known for its concentration of gambling and prostitution. Although I never discovered why the architect added Assyrian motifs to this 20-story structure, I did find out that the building has an interesting history. First, it was designed by noted architect Cass Gilbert, the man responsible for the design of the Woolworth Building downtown, the old U.S. Custom House, the New York Life skyscraper (which I've featured in several blog entries), the U.S. Courthouse at Foley Square, and buildings at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. In fact, several years ago the building was renamed the "Cass Gilbert Building" and given New York City landmark status. In 2003 it underwent a complete renovation and was converted to luxury condos. Sure, I think we already have plenty of high-end housing in Manhattan. But at least this historic building was spared the wrecking ball. And I think most of us can agree that we do not need more characterless post-modern towers of glass in this city!