The New York of Raymond Hood, Architect

 a self-guided walking tour from Walking Off the Big Apple

During the heady years of the late Jazz Age in New York, architect Raymond Hood (1881-1934) presided over some of the city's most dazzling projects. Catapulted to fame after winning the 1922 competition to design the Chicago Tribune building with partner John Mead Howells, Hood quickly built a reputation in New York. Architecture critics and historians denounced Hood's winning Chicago Tribune design as too safe and too neo-Gothic retro, especially in comparison to the competition of European modernists, but he would come to shed these retro design sensibilities, embracing the sleeker lines of art deco and simpler geometries.

Hood's American Radiator Building at 40 W. 40th Street in New York, his first major New York commission, echoed the Gothic lines of the Tribune building but with the added drama of black brick and gold trim. With the Daily News building and the McGraw-Hill Building on 42nd Street, and as lead architect for the team that designed Rockefeller Center, including parts of Radio City and the monumental RCA building, he helped bring modernism to the United States.

Hood was a late bloomer, and he didn't get a lucky break until he was 40. He started out broke. He was persuasive with clients, logical, and mischievous. A man of slight stature, Hood nevertheless put his faith and hopes in the future of tall buildings.

His buildings are worth a close look. They're hopeful and utopian and full of fun. He would have called them simply practical. So, a walk begins - 42nd Street, Rockefeller Center, and environs, with a detour to a little building on Bleecker Street.

Images: Raymond Hood, architect-in-chief, Rockefeller Center, July 3, 1931. Gottscho, Samuel H. 1875-1971, (Samuel Herman), photographer, Library of Congress, and McGraw-Hill Building, 330 W. 42nd Street, photo by WOTBA.

Visiting the four major building projects of architect Raymond Hood - the Daily News Building, the Radiator Building, Rockefeller Center, and the McGraw-Hill building, constitutes a pleasurable midtown stroll of approximately 2.5 miles. I'd throw in another mile for wandering around Rockefeller Center.

I haven't included Hood' earliest project here, the renovation of the small building on Bleecker Street, on this map, because after repeated alterations throughout several decades, the building is undistinguished. On the other hand, I enjoy shopping at the new art supply store that occupies the space (the other storefront occupant is the ubiquitous Duane Reade).

The walk presents opportunities to explore other landmarks along the way, including Grand Central Station and the New York Public Library. Keeping with the theme of Art Deco architecture of the 1920s, I also recommend a visit to the beautiful Chanin Building at 122 E. 42nd. Murals such as "The City of Opportunity" are in character with the optimism and boom-time cheerleading that characterized the age.

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Images of Rockefeller Center by Walking Off the Big Apple. February 2008.

Raymond Hood Designed My Duane Reade, Well, Sort Of

Born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on March 21, 1881, Raymond Hood attended Brown University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Hood returned to the United States and established an architectural practice in New York in 1914. He didn't have much work, but he got a lucky break in 1920 when his landlord, Placido Mori, commissioned him to redesign his popular Greenwich Village restaurant on Bleecker Street. According to biographer and architect Walter H. Kilham, Jr.'s account, Mori gave Hood the assignment because, as Mori said, "He must be a genius–he eats so much!"*

As part of her epic journey documenting a vanishing New York, photographer Berenice Abbott took a photo of the restaurant in 1935 (see Museum of the City of New York website), and comparing her image with the image here it's easy to notice that some of the details of Mori's remain today. Hood added the top apartments, the Federal lintels above the windows, and the Doric columns.

Image: 144 Bleecker Street, February 12, 2008. WOTBA. Originally two Federalist era townhouses at 144 and 146, the facade of the building was resigned for Mori's Italian restaurant by Raymond Hood in 1920. The restaurant went out of business in 1938. The building hosted a variety of tenants until 1962. In that year the Bleecker Street Cinema, an indie art house, beloved in its era, opened in the building. After the cinema closed, a series of music venues occupied the building including the Elbow Room and Nocturne, as well as Kim's Underground Video. Most all of these businesses departed the location due to rising rents. It's an eternal New York story.

For a curious story about some lost murals from 144 Bleecker's wartime years and the history of the building, see this November 4, 1990 article from The New York Times archives.

* Raymond Hood, Architect: Form Through Function in the American Skyscraper by Walter H. Kilham, Jr. NY: Architectural Book Publishing Co., 1973.

Part of a series of posts relating to the New York buildings of architect Raymond Hood (1881-1934).

Lesson: If you want to design some place like Rockefeller Center, you gotta start somewhere.

The Radiator Building

After architect Raymond Hood finished the renovation of Mori's restaurant in Greenwich Village in 1920, he found success designing radiator covers for the American Radiator Company. The income allowed him to move with his bride and growing family to an apartment on Washington Square. In 1922 John Mead Howells invited Hood to join him on a design competition for the Chicago Tribune Building, and when they won the $50,000 award, Hood finally emerged out of debt.

Winning the prestigious Tribune competition allowed Hood to secure his first important New York commission - the new building to house the American Radiator Company at 40 West 40th Street. In designing a tower that would symbolize the company, Hood designed several unusual features, including the use of black brick. He didn't want anyone to work after dark in the building, thinking that the illumination would disrupt the overall impression of mass and solidity. He couldn't control the workforce, of course, and George O'Keeffe (see related post) made the building famous by painting it at night.

After the building was completed in 1924 Hood moved his offices into the building's fourteenth floor. He partnered with J. André Fouilhoux, a French engineer, and Frederick A. Godley. The firm also designed the National Radiator Building in London, also a structure of black brick.

Increasingly successful in a time that coalesced with the national building boom of the 1920s, Hood enjoyed a long four-hour lunch every Friday at Mori's with Viennese designer Joseph Urban, his best friend and architect of the Ziegfeld Theater, and architects Ely Jacques Kahn and Ralph Walker. Among them they built a significant part of the famous New York skyline.

For Hood, after the Radiator Building, he would soon leave his Gothic designs in favor of sleeker and less ornamental work. The Daily News building provided reasons to move on to something more modern.

Image: The American Radiator Building, 1924. The carousel in Bryant Park is in the foreground. photo by WOTBA. 2008.