I told myself that if this inspired Georgia O’Keefe, it should be interesting, as I made my way to see the American Radiator Building near Bryant Park. The black building with gold trimming is unmistakable. The overcast day was warm and humid, and I didn’t feel like crossing the park. I took time out to walk into a juice bar and cool off by sipping a tall cold drink. The building has not moved since 1924, and it would certainly not lose patience and walk off in twenty minutes.
I’d quickly skimmed the bare-bones history of this coal-coloured New York Notable earlier. Designed by Raymond Hood and John Howells and based on the unrealized but influential design submitted by Eliel Saarinen to the competition for Chicago’s Tribune tower, it was built to house the American Radiator Company. The black and gold exterior of the 23 story skyscraper is often taken as suggestion of glowing coals, but one of the design goals was to lessen the visual contrast between the facade and the dark windows. Hood was dismissive of this kind of look, which he once called “a waffle stood on end.” The structure now is the Bryant Park Hotel. The natural light which floods the interior because everything is within 7 meters of a window should be good for this use.
When you stand in front of it on 40th Street, you can’t miss the Gothic revival decorations on the facade. The bronze pieces were made by Rene Paul Chambellan. I failed to see the allegories of matter being transformed into energy. The man on the left seems to be screaming “Go away.” The one next to him is crying because his amphora of olive oil is always empty. The woman next to him is dragging her chains around. If the much-photographed bare-breasted woman at the end is an allegorical figure, I’m a bar of mottled soap. The only allegorical figures here seem to be the leaping porpoises and the woman with a scroll and callipers which you can see in the featured photo. The ill-tempered dragons may also be allegorical. It could be the allegory of bad food giving you heartburn.
One interesting geological feature around Bryant Park is not visible. Apparently the deep basement of this building, and the deep underground stacks of the neighbouring New York Public Library have displaced the water table, so that it is fairly high here. Is the lush greenery of Bryant Park due to that?