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/Wally Gobetz)
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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 (Pinterest)

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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On the Air

As much as they affected a refined disinterest in the latest fads, The New Yorker editors were nevertheless impressed by the many electronic innovations in the 1920s consumer market. Although electricity in cities had been around for awhile, inventions to exploit this new resource would come into their own in the Jazz Age with the advent of mass-produced electrical appliances (refrigerators, toasters etc.).

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Sept. 18, 1926 cover by Stanley W. Reynolds

So when the 1926 Radio World’s Fair opened at Madison Square Garden, the magazine was there to report on its many marvels in the Sept. 18 issue:

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IF ONLY THEY HAD SPOTIFY…Teens tuning in, mid 1920s.

Although New York’s radio fair was doubtless the largest (akin to today’s annual Consumer Electronics Show), similar fairs were held in other major cities where broadcast radio was taking hold.

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Promotional image for Edison Radio from the 1926 New York Radio World’s Fair. (artdecoblog.com)

…and for comparison, an image from the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas:

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(CES)

To give you an idea of some of the stranger innovations in the world of 1920s radio, here is an image scanned from the Oct. 16, 1926 issue of Radio World magazine demonstrating the wonders of a wearable cage antenna, which I believe was intended for use by the wearer for making wireless broadcasts…

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…and a detail of an advertisement from the same issue depicting a typical household radio for the time:

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Before tuning in for the first time, the radio’s owner needed to string a 100-foot outside aerial. Until 1927, when owners could plug their radios into electric sockets, radios required two types of batteries—a storage battery that required recharging every two weeks and a set of dry-cell batteries that needed to be replaced about every three weeks.

If all this looks crude, remember that in September 1926 broadcast radio was less than six years old. But it was big year for radio, with the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) establishing a network of stations that distributed daily programs. Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) would establish a rival network in 1928.

In other items, the magazine offered a lengthy profile on tennis legend Bill Tilden, and later in the sports section described his Davis Cup defeat to Frenchman René Lacoste.

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Tennis rivals Bill Tilden and René Lacoste meet in Philadelphia, 1927. (greensleevestoaground.)
Tilden is often considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time. However, The New Yorker “Profile” described him as a reluctant star with artistic ambitions…
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…who distained the life of a sports hero…
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Samuel Merwin, referred to above, was a playwright and novelist.
Tilden was the world’s number one player for six years (1920-1925). He won 14 Major singles titles including ten Grand Slams. He also won a record seven US Open titles.
There is a sad footnote to Tilden’s career, however. Twenty years after The New Yorker profile, Tilden would be arrested for soliciting sex from an underage male, an offense he would arrested for again three years later, in 1949. He was subsequently shunned by the tennis and Hollywood world, although his old friend Charlie Chaplin allowed Tilden to use his private court for lessons, which helped him financially as he dealt with legal and financial problems.
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The magazine editors continued to watch the rapidly changing skyline of the city, as beloved old buildings were demolished to make way for new skyscrapers. This time it was the old Park Avenue Hotel:
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The editors of “Talk of the Town” fondly recalled the time when the hotel, with its spacious courtyard of flowers and fountains, attracted “almost every dinner party of consequence in New York.”
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This photo of the old Park Avenue Hotel was taken in 1890, only two years after Fourth Avenue was renamed Park Avenue. Constructed in 1877, the hotel was originally called Stewart’s Hotel for Working Women, designed to provide safe housing for the influx of single working women pouring into New York City. The name didn’t last long: the hotel was opened in April 1878, closed in May and reopened in June as the Park Avenue Hotel. It was razed in 1927. (Ephemeral New York)

The same site today:

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(Ephemeral New York)

The nearby Murray Hill Hotel mentioned in the article would last another 20 years, falling to the wrecking ball in 1947:

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The Murray Hill Hotel, built in 1884, would outlive the Park Avenue Hotel by 20 years, falling to a wrecking ball in 1947. (Library of Congress)
 Next Time: Fight Night in Philly…
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