Week of Walks #6: Midtown Modernism (and martinis)

Black Rock

Friday night headed uptown with Alice Twemlow’s SVA D-Crit students to tour around Midtown’s Modernist monuments, while I read from reviews and other stories published when the buildings were completed. Here we’re catty-corner to the CBS Building, also known as “Black Rock” designed by Eero Saarinen, who sadly died before its completion. Chairman William Paley personally oversaw the details inside, including cowhide-upholstered elevators!

9 West 57th St.

We gathered around Ivan Chermayeff’s Red 9, which was added to 9 W. 57th Street’s stark travertine Gordon Bunshaft-facade after people found it to be too cold and impersonal. A story written by Paul Goldberger in 1974 talked about how a local architectural awards show claimed the building had “urban bad manners.”

Lever House

Bathed in the blue-green glow of the Lever House‘s plaza, I read a story about the soap company’s revolutionary window-washing mechanism (an urban spectacle if ever there was one), created to keep the first glass curtain-wall skyscraper sparkling clean.

Seagram Building

We spent quite a while on the corner of 53rd and Park Avenue, possibly one of the most important intersections in modern architecture, then ventured across to street to read this wonderful piece by Herbert Muschamp naming the whiskey-windowed Seagram Building (above) as the best building of the millennium.

The Four Seasons Bar

And speaking of whiskey and windows, we couldn’t help but venture inside the Seagram Building to the Philip Johnson-designed Four Seasons restaurant where the legendary gold chain-mail shades shimmered gently against the glass.


And there were martinis, of course! And—possibly even more fun than gelato—a huge, bouffant-sized puff of cotton candy with candied violets (it makes a great mustache). What a lovely place to end the week. They even gave me my first martini on the house to congratulate me on the book. Thanks to everyone who ventured out in the suddenly-chilly evening for some Mad Men-style entertainment, including Alice and the D-Crit students, and Keith Scharwath for photos!

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