Abandoned on East 43rd Street

Each time I walk down East 43rd Street, I expect it to have been torn down:

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A beautiful Italianate marble building, 4 East 43rd Street has to be one of the few abandoned properties in Midtown. Nestled in amongst the skyscrapers adjacent to Grand Central, it has been decaying since I began my location scouting career over four years ago.

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To me, the building has always felt like it would be right at home in Venice, especially with its beautiful second floor balcony:

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The building is covered in wonderful ornamentation, and I realized as I passed it today that I’ve never even taken a photo. Those red x-ed boxes on the front are never a good sign of health, and rather than miss my chance forever, I decided to snap some pictures.

As I was shooting, a guy suddenly approached me and accusingly asked me why I was taking pictures. I get hassled all the time while scouting, and I’m usually quick to cop an attitude whenever someone gets in my way. However, this time, I found myself answering honestly: “Because it’s an incredible building.”

The guy sorta stepped back and said “Ha, yeah, I think so too. That’s why we bought it.”

Turns out the guy is somehow related to the company who recently picked up 4 East 43rd Street for a cool $6.3 Million (maybe he’s the owner? part-owner? It was unclear). We chatted for a bit, and the man told me how he’s passed the building every day on his way to work for years and really really hated to see its decay. He was thrilled to purchase it recently, and can’t wait to get to restoring it.

Honestly, in a city where 99% of developers would raze this property without an ounce of guilt, it was really astonishing to hear him talk so passionately about saving it. This NY Post article pretty much mirrors the conversation we had. Apparently, the building is to become a boutique hotel, which I think is a perfect fit.

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4 East 43rd Street was built in 1916 and originally leased to the Mehlin Piano Company. Though the interior is now completely destroyed, this is what it originally looked like:

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An old Mehlin advertisement:

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At some point, the first floor became a clothing store – over the right doorway, you can still see the remains of a “WOMENS DEPARTMENT” sign (can anyone make out what the upper line reads?):

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The building is lined with cherubs, which are now significantly weathered:

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The second floor balcony (note the mermaid-like creature sculpted into the center):

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Third floor balcony:

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Finally, the top floor – note the row of crests:

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A close-up of the crest designs. Note the swastika in the center shield.  Nothing unusual about this – prior to World War II, the swastika appeared quite frequently in building ornamentation as a symbol of religion, luck, or prosperity. I especially like how the crests are sculpted so as to appear to be hanging from bolts.

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The west side of the building is in pretty bad shape, with an enormous broken window:

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Side entrance to the building, now completely sealed up:

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Side window, featuring more ornamentation:

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Close-up:

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The cherub design continues around the exterior:

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The second floor side balcony looks like its in bad shape:

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It’s tragic that this building has been left to rot for so long, but I’ve got my fingers crossed that we’ll see a rejuvenation in the coming years. Check it out if you have a chance – one way or the other, it’ll look quite different in the coming years.

-SCOUT

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18 comments

  1. regarding the upper line of the womens department, I don’t know if it helps at all, but the first word appears to be “EXCHANGE” and the second word looks to start with “BAN,”but that’s all I can decipher.

  2. a few years ago I got into an online conversation with a man out in Big Sur who does a lot of beautiful wood carving… and some of his pieces are of various Buddhist symbols, one of which looks like what we call the Swastika. As you noted it was often used before the Nazi’s ‘hijacked’ it and represents for many Eastern cultures prosperity and good fortune. I found it fascinating that what I grew up associating with evil is widely used in some cultures and has no negative connotations there.

  3. This listing reveals that the “alternative name” for the building is the “Corn Exchange Bank”:

    http://www.emporis.com/application/?nav=building&lng=3&id=1east42street-newyorkcity-ny-usa

  4. Scout,

    As a regular reader of your website, I greatly appreciate your eye for detail. It makes my morning when my RSS feed indicates a new post!

    The little angelic carvings are often mistaken for cherub – which in the Judeo/Christian tradition are one of the classes of angels possessed of two sets of wings and are the guardians of Eden.

    The “baby angels” are actually putti – especially when used in art.

    Just a fun fact!

    -MAB

  5. there’s another building near there that i’ve been wondering about for awhile. i used to work next door and would sometimes see people come in and out of it, so i’m assuming its active, but only once did i see lights on at night in an empty room on the 2nd floor. 15 east 47th street, the building with the cool screened front.

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=mercantile+library&sll=40.756409,-73.977358&sspn=0.002743,0.004281&ie=UTF8&radius=0.11&filter=0&rq=1&ev=zi&hq=mercantile+library&hnear=&ll=40.756461,-73.977358&spn=0,359.995719&t=h&z=18&layer=c&cbll=40.756172,-73.977403&panoid=lFzGOX2RmObJfE09IEp8tw&cbp=12,22.86,,0,-25.68

    I’ve only found a bit of information about it on a real estate forum and everyone on there was puzzled as well.

  6. What wonderful, wonderful news! I love a happy ending. I’ve not been as happy to learn an abandoned property is getting reclaimed since the old New York Cancer Hospital (rotting and homeless-filled in the 1980s and much of the ’90s) was turned into condos:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_Cancer_Hospital

  7. Scout – I got to say – you have the best damn job in NYC.

  8. Thanks for deciphering the history behind this beautiful building.

  9. Beautiful. Thank you so much for taking the time to take the pictures. I wish the owners all the best with the boutique hotel. It sounds fabulous!

  10. I can’t even imagine what it would cost to repair all that. what a find though, you know? I mean I would totaly revamp that with as much white marble inside as possible–just like a gem.

  11. thanks for getting the history of the building aswell as the photos, well done.

  12. Scout has a cool job – especially since he’s in NYC, but as a former location scout, I can say the job doesn’t come without its trials, tribulations and stresses. In particular, dealing with art directors, production designers, producers and directors who change their minds every other day about what exactly it is they’re looking for. And trying to find that ‘needle in the haystack’. This is a great blog post Scout and as always, your attention to detail is unsurpassed!

  13. I used to own a very nice Mehlin & Sons upright piano, so I was just tickled to see a building that once had something to do with the company. It was a very beautiful-looking and sounding old piano, I sold it due to health issues that prevented me from playing, and I still miss it. I’m always happy to see old buildings rescued and restored, so thanks for the post!!

  14. Wonderful post. I was mesmerized by this building today and concerned about its fate.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/zeldman/4400911639/

    Thanks for the hope, and the loving details of building history.

  15. I knew this building as a Chase Bank branch in the 1990s. There was a revolving door as a main entrance. I don’t remember much of the interior, though, except that there was a lot of marble.

  16. HOLD THE PRESSES! THIS JUST IN! Renovation and active work is underway as I write this (04/10/12) at
    4 East 43 St. It is an active job-site. I have admired the building for years, fearful of its fate. Not sure what’s going on inside (boutique hotel?), but the work of preservation is underway! Yayyyy! And another one survives the cut! Thank you, Scout, for keeping this on your finely tuned radar screen!
    Warm regards. Tom

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