A Changing Sky Line

Although architectural criticism was practiced by a rare few in 1926 (and even fewer today), it was prominent in the pages of The New Yorker. Lewis Mumford famously served as the magazine’s critic from the 1930s to the 1950s, and longtime critic Paul Goldberger took over the magazine’s “Sky Line” column from the mid-90s to 2011.

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October 16, 1926 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

In 1926 George S. Chappell served the magazine as architecture critic under the pseudonym “T-Square.” A rare combination of architect, parodist, and journalist, he was perhaps best known for his travel series parody published under the pseudonym “Walter E. Traprock.”

In the Oct. 16, 1926 issue, Chappell took critical aim at the “cheap architecture” sprouting amidst the clamor of a rapidly changing landscape…

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…and referred to the fenestration (the arrangement of windows and doors) of the Murray Hill Building as “atrocious.”

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The Murray Hill Building. (Museum of the City of New York)
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The ground-floor show windows of Murray Hill feature free-hand carvings depicting people in various trades. (Wikimapia)

Chappell then set his sights on “another disappointment,” the Delmonico Building, which he said possessed “the grace of an overgrown grain elevator…”

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Part of Chappell’s disgust is no doubt attributable to the fact that the beloved old Delmonico Building at Fifth Avenue and 44th Street (left, photo from The Brickbuilder, 1899), was razed in 1925 and replaced by the “overgrown grain elevator” at right. (Google Maps screen image)

He then moves on to the landmark French Building with its “dreary factory windows”…

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The French Building. (flickr)
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The 5th Avenue entrance to the French Building. (omnidisc)

So what did Chappell prefer? Read on…

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Aeolian Hall on Fifth Avenue, constructed on a site formerly occupied by the William Rockefeller mansion. (Museum of the City of New York)
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Detail of the upper stories of the building. (Daytonian in Manhattan)
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Cartier’s clock on Fifth Avenue (flickr)

Despite Chappell’s oft disapproving gaze, in the end he (along with other editors and writers at The New Yorker) could not help but be caught up in the thrill of one of the city’s grandest building booms…

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Other items of note in the Oct. 16 issue, this ad promoting the first-ever “New Yorker book,” a collection of “Profiles” by Waldo Frank, who wrote under the pen name “Search-light”…

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And finally this picturesque ad for Marmon automobiles. The company was defunct by 1933.

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Next time: A Royal Flush…

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?

Despite The New Yorker’s taste for the finer things–polo, opera, classical music–its editors couldn’t resist the pull of popular culture as both spectacle and fodder for mockery of the hoi polloi.

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Oct. 9, 1926 cover by Julien deMiskey.

And so we have the Oct. 9, 1926 issue with a review of the much-anticipated Broadway play Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which was based on a surprise bestselling novel by Anita Loos (and illustrated by The New Yorker’s own Ralph Barton). Despite garnering lukewarm reviews from critics, the public loved the adventures of gold-digging flapper Lorelei Lee.

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First edition of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, by Anita Loos, illustrated by Ralph Barton (Wikipedia)
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Edward Steichen portrait of Anita Loos, 1926. The New Yorker would feature a lengthy, admiring “Profile” of Loos in its Nov. 6, 1926 issue.(Minneapolis Institute of Art)

According to Wikipedia, the book was one of several famous novels published in 1925 to chronicle the Jazz Age, including F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (which ironically didn’t do so well) and Carl Van Vechten’s Firecrackers. Loos was inspired to write the book after watching a sexy blonde “turn intellectual H. L. Mencken into a lovestruck schoolboy.” Mencken, a close friend of Loos, actually enjoyed the work and saw to it that it was published.

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Gold-digging flapper Lorelei Lee (June Walker, second from left), Henry Spofford (Frank Morgan, second from right), and the rest of the cast tussle in the stage production Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Times Square Theatre, 1926. Another “blonde,” Marilyn Monroe, would famously portray Lorelei Lee in the 1953 Howard Hawks film. (New York Public Library)

Ralph Barton contributed this drawing of June Walker for the magazine’s review:

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And a bit of the review itself…

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In other items, Lois Long paid a visit to Texas Guinan’s 300 Club on 54th Street, which apparently was still the place to go for a roaring good time:

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JUST HAVING A LITTLE FUN…According to the blog Ephemeral New York, Texas Guinan’s 300 Club at 151 West 54th Street hosted the likes of John Barrymore, George Gershwin, and Clara Bow. The club was targeted by prohibition officials, who were constantly padlocking the door and arresting Texas. Guinan’s clever rejoinder to the officials: The 300 Club’s patrons brought liquor with them, and because the place was so small, the showgirls were forced to dance close to customers. (Ephemeral New York)

The magazine’s comics continued to mine the humor of rich old men out on the town with their young flapper mistresses. The one below was a center spread illustration by Wallace Morgan with the caption: “Poor little girl–to think you’ve never had anyone to protect you.”

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Finally, a look back at one of my earlier blog posts (Cuban Idyll) that featured Sloppy Joe’s bar in Havana. I recently traveled to Havana, and I am happy to report that the famous bar has been faithfully restored and business appears to be booming.

29 Dec 1931, Havana, Cuba --- 12/29/31-Havana, Cuba: Sloppy Joe, Jr., just four years of age and having two years behind the bar, is celebrating his graduation from apprenticeship by mixing his real champagne cocktail behind his father's world-famed bar. Sloppy Joe Jr., is quite proficient at mixing the more common varieties. Here, customers toast the little guy. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Sloppy Joe, Jr., just four years of age and having two years behind the bar, is celebrating his graduation from apprenticeship in 1931 by mixing his first real champagne cocktail behind his father’s world-famed bar. (Bettmann/CORBIS)
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The same bar today…(Photo by David Ochsner)

Next Time: The Changing Skyline…

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