The 56 story tall Chanin Building is a brick and terra-cotta skyscraper located at 122 East 42nd Street, at the corner of Lexington Avenue, in Manhattan. Built by Irwin S. Chanin in 1929 It was designed by Sloan & Robertson in the Art Deco style, with the assistance of Chanin’s own architect Jacques Delamarre, and it incorporates architectural sculpture by noted sculptor Rene Paul Chambellan.
In the lobbies, eight bronze reliefs designed by Rene Paul Chambellan are inset in the walls above ornate bronze radiator grilles. The bronze ornamentation continues in the waves on the floor, mailboxes, and elevator doors extending the general Art Deco style from the outside in. Initially a dominant landmark in the midtown skyline, the building had an open air observatory on the 54th floor.
Having been surpassed in height by a number of buildings, most notably the Chrysler Building located across the street, the observatory has been long closed. The self-supporting tower atop the building is the original transmission site for WQXR-FM from 1941 to the 1960s. Irwin S. Chanin, was a self-made man – from poor immigrant to successful architect & developer. He wanted the building that bore his name to represent everything America and New York City meant for him, and could also be for all those that chose to seek it.
He had Rene Chambellan work with Jacques Delamarre to develop a set of eight relief sculptures to represent this. There were two lobbies in the building, each have four plaques, all of which were to represent a theme of “New York, the City of Opportunity.” four of the plaques represent the Mental Life and four of them represent the Physical Life of the individual.
HISTORY of the sculptor whose artwork appears on the building;
Rene Paul Chambellan (September 15, 1893 – November 29, 1955) was an American sculptor, born in West Hoboken, New Jersey. Chambellan studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Academie Julian in Paris and with Solon Borglum in New York City. Chambellan specialized in architectural sculpture. He was also one of the foremost practitioners of what was then called the “French Modern Style” and has subsequently been called Art Deco. He also frequently designed in the Greco Deco style. Rene had many historic and significant buildings under his belt as a sculptor, including the NY Daily News Buildings, Buffalo City Hall, NY Life insurance building. Rene also designed medals, bronze doors, and the historic city seals and other artwork adorning the old Miller Highway (West Side Highway) that ran along Manhattan’s West side along the North (Hudson) River until a collapse in 1973 resulted in it’s eventual removal.
I always found these hyper-masculine figures in this era to be interesting, more so with the abstractness of this in Art Deco. Chambellain’s grandson Bob was working on a book several years ago, and a looks at the web site http://www.louisvilleartdeco.com will bring forth a treasure trove of studio photos and more information on Mr Chambellain and his many works; Rene Paul Chambellan – One of Art Deco’s Greatest Sculptors. by Jim Patterson, with Bob Perrone. Artists played a critical part in architecture during the late ’20s, through the ’30s, and up to WWII. Art Deco buildings wouldn’t have their edgy character without the ornamentation supplied by these artists. A number of talented artists contributed to making each building into its own art gallery of sorts. Metalworkers, muralists, sculptors, designers…. They all played a key part. This feature article is about one of my favorite artists – sculptor Rene Paul Chambellan (pronounced with the “sh” soft sound: “Sham -bell – an”).
This attractive repeating Art Deco design originally was made in individual nickel plated bronze pieces. The pieces when bolted together formed a repeating motiff lintel across the top of the interior entrance doorway of the Women’s House of Detention.
The Jail was located at 6th Ave behind the present day Jefferson Market Public Library which was originally a courthouse.
The New York Women’s House of Detention is believed to have been the world’s only art deco prison. It was designed by Sloan and Robertson in 1931 and opened to the public with a luncheon on March 29, 1932.
The courthouse, and jail, the latter which was subsequently opened in 1934 (demolished 1973) was the scene of the notorious Harry K Thaw murder trial of renowned architect Stanford White in 1906.
I rescued several of the individual bronze pieces, the rest were scrapped during demolition, the original lintel was about 8 feet long. I have made a mold of one of the sections and have several configurations available.
I have a book I saw in a list of references in an article on this building, I was hoping for some photos and didn’t know what to expect of the actual contents. Anyway it’s titled Hellhole; the shocking story of the inmates and life in the New York City House of Detention for Women. By Sara Harris, Dutton 1967. It starts out detailing the jail building and the horrid conditions, rats, roaches, overcrowding, the lousy staff/correction officers/doctors and system that was a total failure in every possible way.
The city was paying correction officers and doctors on call about $90 a month flat fee, so needless to say the morale to do work wasn’t there, nor were the quality of the medical services. The women only jail saw mostly drug addicts and prostitutes, most all of whom were repeatedly put in there- which clearly shows how the entire criminal justice and court system was a total failure. The book goes on to take general leave of the conditions of the jail and staff treatment of prisoners, and starts diving right into much more detailed case histories and interviews with a number of former and present inmates. Harris’ interviews took her to the worst slums in Harlem. Her subjects recounted their time in this jail and coping with a constant barage of rats, dirty bedding with mice nests inside, toilets that leaked on the floor, the homosexual attacks on new inmates and the gang/protection racket amongst the various factions within the prisoners. They further recounted the lack of medical services and a number of instances where inmates with serious mental or physical problems were not given treatment or given the standard pills they handed to everyone who had a medical complaint of any kind- drug withdrawl pills. Harris’ interviews showed graphically how the entire cycle began, and why the women wound up being incarcerated over and over again- one woman arrested 28 times- for the same crimes.
The mystery of why someone in the system didn’t start thinking there had to be a better way, treatment for drug addictions and a help up out of the poverty and lack of skills that resulted in prostitution and stealing. The lack of skilled staff and quality medical care, the city’s dire budgetary shortfalls, and the poorly designed “system” all came together in the most disasterous fashion, and the results were a revolving-door of the same pathetic addicted inmates, and ineffectively dealing with the root causes of the problems that brought them there in the first place. It appears as though the “blame” was largely and inappropriately placed upon The “Women’s House of Detention” building when in reality, the jail was a visible and dark symptom of the much larger, totally ineffective and broken- criminal justice, legal, and social welfare system.
The problem was not so much “the building” as it was the city, poor budget and the quality of staff that $90 a month salary could obtain. I’m not so certain that the ubiquitous rats, roaches, filth, overflowing toilets and poorly trained abusive staff were not symptomatic of all such detention facilities given the budget shortfalls, poorly paid staff and overburdoned court system. In the end, as a “solution” to neighborhood complaints it was the building that was demolished, the system apparently was not fixed nor were the budget problems addressed. Indeed, now, as then, the faces appearing in the facilities and courts are young black poverty stricken, addicted and hopeless people caught up in the system and it’s revolving door cycle of arrest, release back on the street with no job, or money with which to buy food or pay rent, and untreated drug addictions for which the person needs exorbitant amounts of money to support. One can’t help but wonder if these issues are the same today, with only the inmate faces and the addiction of choice being the bulk of any change since the 1960’s Harris’ book has no photos or images, but the details of the stories leaves the readers with more than enough of a series of mental images as clear as any photos she could have included.
The sculpture is now available in two sizes, large and original;
The unassuming and dimunitive little Otis elevator call button was a simple but artistic design used for many years by Otis elevator Co., with their laurel wreath encircling their name emblazoned over a globe logo, and surrounded by a classical egg & dart molding. This particular artifact has only one button- the “up” button as it was originally located in the basement, not only was it located in a lowly, damp basement, but that basement happened to be the one that was under the 1867 Broadway Central Hotel (BCH) once located on several lots fronting 150 feet of Broadway with the main entrance at 673 Broadway, NY City.
It was originally named “The Grand Central Hotel”
The site was originally a hotel and theatre known as; The Lafarge House. Edwin Booth appeared there as did other well known persons, this building was destroyed in an 1854 fire, it was rebuilt, and destroyed in yet another spectacular fire!
In March 1869 the property sold at public auction by the heirs of the Lafarge estate to E. S. Higgins, Esq., who was recorded fourth on the list of wealthy citizens for the sum of $1,000,000. This gentleman was determined to erecting the largest hotel in the country with 630 rooms.
The hotel had 350 workmen building it, 7 acres of carpeting, 4,000,000 bricks were used.
The hotel was the scene of Railroad magnate Jim Fisk’s shooting, and in the early 1970s when the hotel was a welfare hotel and deteriorated greatly, the rear of the hotel was converted into the Mercer Arts Center, a multi theatre and arts complex by Sy Kaback.
On a late summer day in August 1973, a section of the 8 story facade and the floors behind it all collapsed onto Broadway- killing several people, hundreds of patrons who were due to attend the theatres that very evening escaped the disaster!
The buck stopped with the city who was notified about a serious crack and “bulge” in the facade wall, and other violations, they sent an inspector out, and despite requiring corrective action within 10 days, nothing was done and the city didn’t bother following up! Of the 308 residents, 4 residents were killed, 2 dogs survived days trapped in the rubble, one was adopted by the fire department. Consider that just between Nov 1970 and March 1973 there were 450 building and health code violations recorded in the hotel. Violations included illegal alterations, leaks in the plumbing, fire alarm malfunctioning, and of course the crack and bulge in the facade wall to name but a few.
On Jan 26, 1973 the Buildings Dept was notified by an engineer doing structural renovations at the hotel that brickwork was bulging out of bond, the next day an inspector found a crack stretching from the 2nd to the 6th floor separating the bearing and facade walls. What was happing there was the facade was moving away from the bearing wall in the center where the 2 walls connected to one another which ran East to West from Broadway to Mercer St in the back.
The inspector decided to call in the chief inspector, but neither wrote an official report! They did not issue a summons or record an official violation either, they “informed” the hotel manager who promised to take immediate action.
It wasn’t until Feb 22nd- almost a month later that it was re-inspected after “officially hazardous” conditions were first discovered, a violation was recorded then. It wasn’t even re-inspected again until March 29, NO repair work had even been done despite the 10 day law.
Still nothing happened as April, May, June and July rolled on by while a major crack from the 2nd to the 6th floor went un-repaired, then Friday August 3rd came around and residents reported hearing strange noises coming out of the walls, the Buildings Dept emergency number was called by Mercer Arts owner Sy Kaback and his wife over the weekend and they told them to call on Monday! The noises became worse and plaster was falling from the ceilings in places, so at least one if not 2 callers called the fire department and they were told that “strange noises are coming out of the walls” the person at the fire dept asked the caller if they had been drinking… amazingly, in the middle of that call with the Kabacks the line went dead because that was when the collapse happened and a large section of the stone and brick facade wall fell out onto Broadway and the sidewalk.
I communicated around 1998 or so with the owner of the Mercer Arts Center: Sy Kaback, and his wife, who together operated several live performance theaters in the back of the hotel, Sy’s wife described the scene to me and her call to the fire dept.
On the day of the collapse, the Mercer Arts Center was expecting a crowd of patrons for some live performances, and the Kabacks were gravely concerned about the falling plaster and cracking and other noises in the walls, they tried calling city agencies to get a go or no go because if they cancelled the event they would have been sued for breach of contract, OTH if they had a few hundred patrons in their theaters and something happened- they would be liable.
As it happened, the collapsed cccurred just hours before the events were to begin!
After the collapse, an emergency demolition was begun to demolish the entire building, that was when this then 13 year old author discovered the site and I began exploring it top to bottom during the demolition, the little Otis elevator plate was discovered after crawling down thru a hole in the rubble to a debris filled hallway in front of the elevator. The button plate and a number of other artifacts came home with me over the many weeks of demolition, and some of these will be pictured here as well.
But let us go back before the collapse, way back, back before the hotel was built and to the LaFarge House, this illustration will perfectly show my theory, which to my knowlege no one else has hiterto come up with;
The drawing on the left in the split image would have been done before the fire on January 8, 1854, Metropolitan Hall and the adjoining La Farge House were destroyed by the fire; but the hall was rebuilt and opened in the following September, under the name of the New York Theatre and Metropolitan Opera House.
Towards the close of the same year the house was remodelled and called Laura Keene’s Varieties; and in the following year, it became Burton’s Theatre. In 1859 it became the Winter Garden and Conservatory of the Arts, the first part of the title being that by which it is best known and which it retained until its total destruction by fire, March 23, 1867.
On the left is the old LaFarge House, on the right is the Broadway Central Hotel built on the site after the LaFarge burned to the ground in a spectacular fire, those words “burned to the ground, spectacular fire” are key to my theory, because while the building burned down, the stone and brick facade REMAINED largely intact, notice the red circles showing the very same unique window surrrounds on the LaFarge facade, a classical tripointed alternating with dioclesan pedimented windows, as well as the center entrance treatment. In other words what I strongly believe they did, was they REUSED the LaFarge’s facade and where it’s 6th floor shorter windows and cornice were- they removed the cornice, added a larger more dramatic cornice plus three more floors on top and a large central tower with a mansard roof!
So when we consider this, remember- the LaFarge facade was built for a SIX story building, it was exposed to a massive fire in the rear, collapse of the floors behind it, no doubt millions of gallons of water soaked into it’s footings and surrounding earth. Add now almost 70 years of subway trains vibrating it underneath, and an illegal doorway was cut thru the East-West brick bearing wall behind it in the basement, factor in the additional weight of three more floors and it should be no surprise it finally gave out.
The failure can be traced right back to the big fire, water, and adding three more floors on top of it causing instability and settling.
Probably THE earliest photo of the hotel, on the original image it is clear that final finishing work was still being done in the rooms behind the windows whose upper half is pushed down fully open, that dates it to about 1869, the horse-drawn carriages were in use before the trolly tracks came in 1892. With a larger scan of one part of the above image reproduced below, let’s focus on the remains of a painted SIGN clearly visible on the wall that says; “–ARGE HOUSE”;
THIS is where the original LaFarge House side wall left off and the new brickwork added to the left and above it, that one arch top open window’s lower half is exactly where the short square windows of the LaFarge were located, and that elaborate cornice with it’s large scrolled brackets is where the plainer LaFarge cornice was.
Some other artifacts from the hotel include a Tycos mercury thermometer from a basement
hot water tank, china and silverware with the hotel logo, and an ACME fire alarm box.
Interior cast-stone shown with an antique dirty bronze finish
The eagle plaque sculpture is a bas relief and after a design by Grueby Faience Co 1904. Grueby custom made tiles and ornaments for the NYC subway stations, and at the Union Square (14th Street), Brooklyn Bridge, and 33rd Street stations these eagle plaques were installed in two slightly different configurations.
All the ornamentation had been designed to help passengers recognize his or her station without the necessity of listening for the announcement or reading the signs.
The Interborough Rapid Transit Subway, or IRT, was the first subway company in New York City, and opened on October 27th, 1904
Station Decoration, Plaques: Grueby Faience Co. 1904.
Architectural Designs For New York’s First Subway David J. Framberger Survey Number HAER NY-122, pp. 365-412 Historic American Engineering Record National Park Service Department of the Interior Washington, DC.
SIZE: Nominal 24″ high by 19″ wide.
The plaque is one piece made to look like the multiple pieces the originals were made from, these can be obtained in your choice of any of my usual finishes and may be purchased at this url;
Sullivanesque panel, after historic artifacts once on the James W Scoville building, Chicago.
I am excited to offer this interesting Sullivanesque 1884 design after the artifacts that were connected to Adler & Sullivan, George Elmslie, Kristian Schneider, and once installed on the James W Scoville building in Chicago.
Those involved in creating the original 1884 Chicago design are said to have included;
George Grant Elmslie
Significance:The James W. Scoville factory building, designed by Adler & Sullivan contains three different designs belonging to the transitional period (1880 and 1890) of Louis Sullivan’s architectural ornament. This structure was the best and most ornamental of all the few remaining factory buildings by Adler & Sullivan.
Some of the original historic artifacts that were salvaged from the 1973 demolition are in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) and were gifted by the Metropolitan Museum, a set of three of these artifacts appears in the St Louis Art Museum’s web site of their holdings.
The artist working on the master clay model of this design from photos and known measurements
How the original artifacts were originally used on the Scoville building’s facade
The picture above is from a HABS study done before the building was demolished, three of these designs were installed together under the window sills on one floor.
One of my interior cast stone casts in the aged buff yellow finish shown above, the mold for casting was taken directly from the original clay model
I am pleased to say I now have printing for the book arranged again and the quality of the printing is excellent as before. I tried an alternate printer that was a little less cost and as soon as I got the two samples I ordered I immediately regretted it, the photos were muddy and dark, the colors washed out and even the actual photos as printed were not as clear and were somewhat “hazy” as you can see in the photo below, the upper photo in each set is the alternate printer, the bottom was printed by Amazon/KDP, mind you the original Kodak print dates back to the 1970s and has damage to it that isn’t going to go away like magic at the printer, but you can clearly see how poor the alternate printer’s work was- darker, not clear, foggy or hazy, detail is lost, the colors are dull. In contrast the Amazon/KDP is warmer, clearer/sharper, no “haze” and more vibrant colors.
These are just quick snaps with an iPhone of the two books laid on the kitchen counter;
The gloss cover on both printed books however looked the same and excellent;
You can order a signed, numbered copy directly from me for $35 total, ppd, or you spend more and get it from Amazon for $39.95 plus tax and shipping but they won’t be signed or numbered as they won’t pass through my hands, link to order the book;
A client purchased a number of sculptures for his home, one was the Morton school Sullivanesque frieze. We decided to do this interior cast stone version for him in the aged buff yellow finish and I think anyone can agree it looks very “old world” an just like a weathered antique fresh off the demolition site!
The Oliver P. Morton High School, built in 1936 was located at 7040 Marshall Avenue, Hammond, Indiana and was demolished in the late 1980s. Once in a while an oddball piece or two of original salvaged terracotta artifacts come up for sale at pretty high prices. Many have chips and other damage to them as well as inappropriate removal by powersaws of their back sections; supposedly to reduce the weight, but which instead severely weakens the artifact and destroys it’s integrity.
The amount of “excess” weight removed is miniscule, on what might be 85 pounds it’s removing at best 5 to 10 pounds.
Nominal 13-1/2″ high by 15-1/2″ wide, 3″ deep WEIGHT: 22#.
I’ve had this design in my lineup for quite a while, but this week a client purchased a cast along with several others and I started thinking that since I need to order in some materials, maybe now would be a good time to order what I need to “convert” this design so it can also be offered in my hand-pressed kiln fired red terracotta.
With an original selling for around $750 at salvage outfits I know there’s a lot of people who don’t want to pay $750 plus shipping for one of the originals, and only being able to obtain one, and it having chips and damage on top of that, but they would be interested in the design in a fired terracotta from me that can be purchased in the quantity they want or need at a quarter of that price, and they don’t have to settle for damaged goods either!
I’m going to have to make a new rubber mold to replace the old one I have for this as it is tearing due to the purple Quantum Silicones rubber I used years ago that turned out to be total garbage, once I do that I can pour a rubber positive in the new mold and then make the plaster piece mold off that to use for pressing the clay version.
The design is from the demolished Morton High School (1936, Hammond Indiana) This was George Elmslie’s final project before his death. Elmslie was the chief ornamental designer for Louis Sullivan. This piece is cataloged as an M-5 Main building cornice from the book Architectural Ornament by Krutty and Schmitt.
Hope to finally finish this Sullivanesque pier capital to-morrow, the clay is getting pretty firm despite being covered with plastic and spritzed with water, so it needs to be finished now.
It’s amazing how much time this design takes, probably twice what other models I’ve done have taken, there’s a lot of detail packed in on the surface!
I still have 5 of the 8 “squares” along the sides- the 4 on the right and the bottom left one to finish refining and cleaning up and then it’s done.
Now that the model is done it is drying out.
There is an 11 minute long timelapse video showing the whole modelling process on this start to finish over 3 months;
Working now on final cleaning up, detailing and refining, I haven’t had time to work on it the last couple of weeks as other projects and things needed my attention.
I expect it will take quite a few more hours to finally get this done, the clay is getting firmer despite misting it with water and keeping it covered with plastic, so it needs to be finished as soon as I can get it done!
This James W Scoville building Elmslie “Sullivanesque” sculpture is now out of the kiln, it is still about 200 degrees and had to be handled with gloves, it turned out perfect!
One can see the color change in photos from the previous dry/unfired state and now that it’s been fired to a little over 2,079 degrees, actually cone 2 tipped because I added a 15 minute “hold” at the set temperature, but because of the “heat work” it went a little higher, but the result is better and the color is nice and even top to bottom, whereas in the past the very bottom of large pieces like this would turn out slightly lighter due to slightly lower temperatures near the floor of the kiln.
Exterior Ornament from the James W. Scoville Building, Chicago (Primary Title)
Dankmar Adler, 1844-1900 (Artist)
Louis Sullivan, American, 1856 – 1924 (Artist)
Northwestern Terra Cotta Co. (Artist)
probably modeled by, Kristian Schneider (Modeler)
After 4 weeks of drying I placed the pressed clay Chicago James Scoville building “Sullivanesque” panel in the kiln and turned ‘er on.
I changed the program on the controller slightly for this piece by bumping the temperature up and adding 10 minutes soak time to when the kiln reaches that temperature.
About 37 hours from now the kiln will shut off and take half a day to cool down before I see what I get.
Meanwhile, here it is sitting in the kiln when I turned it on. The light yellow colored deals touching the back of the panel are shelf posts and I placed them on both front and back so that should the panel want to tip- it can’t.
The two red pyramid haped deals resting on top of the posts are called “cones” and they will partially melt and bend over at specified temperatures each uniquely is formulated to do that at, so they tell me if the kiln got hot enough- what it was set to, or too hot- hotter than I set it for.
In this case there’s a cone 1 which bends over at 2,079 degrees F and a cone 2 which bends over at 2,088 degrees F, and yes they are THAT accurate that 9 degrees in a furnace that is over 2,000 degrees can be measured accurately.
The temperature and soak time much like baking a cake or making toast in a toaster- also affects the final color and “doneness” of the terracotta. This clay I use is a brick red that as the temperature goes above that cone 1 starts to turn brown- it can take cone 5 (2,167 degrees) at which point it turns a dark chococate brown! I’ve never gone higher than cone 1 but it would be interesting to experiment with a smaller piece.
So far I’ve shown the modelling process, the hand-pressing process and now the kiln firing process will wrap it all up in a sort of educational “How the architectural terracotta was made” in Sullivan’s day and before.
The first hand-pressed clay sculpture is finished and drying now before it can be kiln fired.
Once this is fired in the kiln I will have an exact size and weight and a firm price for these signed, numbered and dated works reproducing this historic George Grant Elmslie/Louis Sullivan 1884 Chicago design featuring a styled webbed lotus.
The design is an early work by these men and it dates to the foundation of what has become known as the “Sullivanesque” style of architectural ornament.
The James W Scoville building was demolished in the 1970s, many of the original artifacts were salvaged, most are in private collections while a few are in museums such as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts where it appears in photos on their web site still sporting it’s old battleship grey paint that was slathered on the original facade over the rich red brick and terracotta.
Now instead of hoping one of these might come up at an auction, and only finding ONE when you might really need a pair for a project, and instead of paying upwards of $5,000 for one of those, these authentic hand-pressed kiln fired sculptures can be had new, in any quantity, made exactly the same way the originals were made in the 1880s- one can purchase these from me at $349 delivered (48 states only)
As can be seen in the bottom photo, these really ARE made exactly like the originals- including the typical webbed compartments in the back- the portion that was embedded into the wall.
The webbing gives considerable structural strength and stability, and when kiln fired to almost 2,100 degrees F it becomes vitrified and has less porosity than even modern hard brick. As a result these can be built into a brick or stone wall or displayed in the garden too.
These will probably be around 50 pounds in weight as this one took 60 pounds of clay.