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New York Art Deco: An Introduction

New York City is the Art Deco capital of the world! Of all the world’s great cities, none is so defined by its Art Deco buildings as is New York with its noble Art Deco skyscrapers, such as Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, along with countless other apartment houses, public buildings, and theaters found throughout the five boroughs.

Together these monuments of the 1920s and 1930s made New York the world’s most modern metropolis and tell a dramatic story of a long past era of glamor.

It was in this era that New Yorkers moved into stylish six-story Art Deco apartment houses on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx and Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn, people dined out in Art Deco diners and sleek automats (the first fast food chain in the nation), and watched movies in neighborhood movie palaces like the Lane in New Dorp and the Earle in Jackson Heights. It was where worshippers found modern churches and synagogues, shopped in modern splendor at Bloomingdales and Abraham and Strauss in Brooklyn. They partied at the La Casina nightclub in Jamaica and the Lenox Lounge in Harlem and they took their first flights from the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia airport.

It was during the ‘20s that far-flung cultures merged to influence America’s lifestyle in new and exciting ways—and Art Deco became all the rage in everything from architecture and advertising design to movies, fashion, jewelry and furniture. The abstract, stylized floral, geometric, or streamlined design that inspired the trends of the 1920s and 1930s help make New York one of the most modern cities in the world.

The 1920s were later called “the jazz age” and “the age of the flapper”—an age where “anything goes.” The concept of speed, the streamlined look, the new age of the machine and innovative technology, and the embrace of everything modern came to represent the dizzying heights of hopes and excesses of the 1920s. Then came the stock market crash of 1929. Although the Great Depression—the economic downturn that devastated the nation—followed during the early ‘30s, it was in fact, the period when the construction of some of New York’s most famous and luxurious buildings signaled a triumph over adversity. These new skyscrapers embodied the upward thrust of the American spirit.

Many of America’s greatest public works of art can be credited to funding procured from government programs that put America back to work. New, less expensive materials and an emphasis on steel and glass furthered an architectural style based on simplicity and modernism. Additional decorative embellishment was now kept to a minimum.

Many important structures of the period survive today because of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Law which was passed 50 years ago, in addition to the efforts of neighborhood organizations that work to preserve and protect New York’s rich architectural past.

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