Last week, I was scouting around midtown when I happened to notice the building at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue…
Er, make that the building next to the building at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue:
For the longest time, 22 West 34th Street has confused the hell out of me. How did this incredibly strange little structure come to be the neighbor of the most famous skyscraper in the world?
And yet, though it’s sort of ugly on first glance, there are actually some really interesting design elements at work if you take the time to look. For example, far more than just a boring modern box, the eastern edge extends out in a rather graceful curve…
…and features an unusual contrast between the rounded edge and the angular window boxes set into it:
And though it’s impossible to tell now due to too many layers of paint, the left side is actually made of limestone, while the rest is tan-colored brick.
One final set of window boxes graces the right side:
OK, maybe my argument is not particularly convincing. But had you been on this spot in the 1930s…
…it would have looked as cutting-edge modern as you could imagine.
22 West 34th Street was once the home to Spear & Company, a furniture store based out of Pittsburgh, built in 1938 and described by the AIA as “startling modern work for Midtown when completed during the Great Depression.”
Designed by DeYoung & Moscowitz, the facade was designed with an inset so that passersby heading east from various train and subway stations would easily see the Spear’s sign. Note the angle below:
It appears that Spear’s had operated a store at the location prior to this structure. You can see 22 West 34th below left, with a Spear’s ad…
…and during its demolition in 1937 for the new building:
From the late-1950s on, the interior was chopped up and gutted for additional stores and offices. For a period, the blank portion of the wall featured a mural of a giant guy wearing jeans for the County Seat clothing store within. Then the 34th Street Partnership filed a complaint due to it violating the maximum size of advertising in the area, and it was painted over.
Very little remains from the original interior. Here’s a look at the curve’s windows:
About the only other remnants can be found in the stairwell – love the flowerburst pattern on the steps:
Also in the stairwell, a stray bit of detail no one would ever be foolish enough to include nowadays:
Finally, I must say: the rooftop view is quite unique when this is your neighbor:
These days, I can’t imagine that many people take the time to look at the sad little building next door to the Empire State Building. But if you squint a little, ignore the disrepair and look past the grime…
…you might find a building worthy of sitting in its shadow.
For more info: Streetscapes/22 West 34th Street
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