Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The 1883 Western Union Building

When New Yorkers think of famed architect Henry J. Hardenbergh they think of the Plaza Hotel and The Dakota Apartments.  But a Hardenbergh beauty sits overlooked in the shadow of the Flatiron Building at Broadway and 23rd Street.
Although the entire street level floor has been obliterated, the bulk of the structure remains much as it looked in 1883.  Using brick, stone and terra cotta Hardenbergh produced a visual delight for the Western Union's uptown branch office.  The jutting dormers, typical of Hardenbergh, give interest to the roofline and decorative terra cotta bands and inset panels break up the otherwise flat surface.

Hardenbergh established his offices in this building.  In the days when foot messengers rushed back and forth across Manhattan the Western Union Building boasted a pneumatic tube, two and a half miles long, that whisked correspondence to and from the main office downtown.

You have to pause before the Western Union Building to fully appreciate the decorative Aesthetic Movement-style details.  My favorite, on the 23rd Street side, is the terra cotta panel declaring THE WESTERN UNION CO. in a banner that oddly enough forms a grotesque face in the center.  On either side are medallions of a woman and a native American in profile.  Below them entwined in floraform scrolls two male profiles can be seen, one looking very much like Abraham Lincoln.


Above photos by Bob Sheridan



Hardenberg used tiles and creative brickwork in the dormers to draw the passerby's eyes upward.

Converted to condimiums in 2006 this overlooked gem now enjoys landmarked status.  The more you look at Hardenbergh's Western Union Building the more you see.  It's a delightful stop on your way to the Flatiron Building or Madison Square.

non-credited photographs taken  by the author

1 comment:

  1. That does look like Honest Abe. Is there a reason for that face in the center of the banner? What corner is this on?

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