There are five Art Deco masterpieces in Manhattan. Each lies within a square mile of Times Square, offering a convenient and inspiring walking tour.
Before we head out, though, a quick primer on the subject should be in order: Art Deco is a modern style that celebrates the machine age in which it was born. Pure geometric shapes with bold, dynamic lines and deep saturated colors characterize the style, a true celebration of the technological achievements of mankind.
The first stop on your tour should be the Chrysler Building, located at 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue. The Chrysler Building exemplifies New York’s early 20th-century penchant for Gothic-styled skyscrapers. The building’s Art Deco spire of stainless steel sunburst arcs are a response to Walter P. Chrysler’s desire to make people stop and stare when they walked by.
At 77 stories high, it was built to be the tallest building in the world – and it was until the nearby Empire State Building eclipsed it a few months later. Take a Chrysler Building tour to discover the Chrysler Building gargoyles and the many motifs referencing the automobile, like the decorative representations of radiator tops and silver-studded hubcaps.
The Empire State Building, located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, is an excellent second stop to your tour. At 102 stories, it stood as the world’s tallest building for more than 40 years until the completion of the World Trade Center. The Empire State Building demonstrates NYC urban planners’ concern with bringing light and sky views down to the street.
The building “steps back” as it rises in order not to cast surrounding streets and neighborhoods in shadow. Trips to the observation deck will afford a spectacular view of Manhattan, the surrounding boroughs and parts of New Jersey and Connecticut.
Rockefeller Center, located on a huge parcel of Midtown between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, imbues the Art Deco style throughout its 14 buildings, walkways, gardens, skating rink and the glorious interior of Radio City Music Hall.
Rockefeller Center is filled with a flurry of shops and restaurants, and it includes such iconic sites as the Rainbow Room, the “Top of the Rock” observation deck, NBC Television studios (where Saturday Night Live and Today are shot) and the Rockefeller Center concourse – which features the State of Prometheus statue, a landmark in and of itself. Rockefeller Center is a bustling city within the city and it’s not to be missed.
Unlike the other buildings on this tour, Bush Tower sits in the middle of a block (right on 42nd Street, east of Times Square). It’s only 50 feet wide and 90 feet deep, and it rises to a height of 433 feet. Built between 1916 and 1918, Bush Tower – home of the Bush Terminal Company – was the tallest building in Midtown Manhattan when it was first completed.
Bush Tower was built to provide the business community with a stylish and sophisticated place in which to conduct business. The bottom three floors were designed to replicate the feeling of a private club, giving visitors – even if briefly – the sense of belonging to a leisure class.
The General Electric Building at Lexington and 51st Street was once the RCA Building. It features a crown with Gothic geometric tracery that was designed to represent radio waves. The entire upper structure is lit from within at night, providing a spectacular celebration of light that looks like a giant torch above the skyline. The theme of electricity and radio waves runs all over the building’s terra cotta exterior, which was designed to blend seamlessly with the St. Bartholomew’s Church that sits at its base.
After taking this architectural tour, we’re confident you’ll agree that no other city boasts the same breadth of Art Deco masterpieces as New York.