5 Barclay-Vesey Building (Verizon Building)
One of the earliest of the art deco skyscrapers, the Barclay-Vesey Building was completed in 1923 and designed by Ralph Walker of McKenzie, Voorhees & Gmelin. It has dramatic setbacks and buttresses crowned with complex sculptural reliefs carved in limestone. The designs contain vegetal patterns, mythological figures and a recurring motif of bells, the symbol of the New York Telephone Company, which commissioned the skyscraper. Because of its proximity to the World Trade Center, the Barclay-Vesey Building was damaged during the September 11th attacks, but restoration work is underway.
4 General Electric Building
Arguably one of the most beautiful skyscrapers in New York, the General Electric Building—originally the RCA Victor Building—was designed by Cross & Cross and completed in 1931. The exterior is faced in a beautiful rose-toned granite meant to complement the adjacent St. Bartholomew’s Church, and is carved with a zig-zag pattern that invokes electricity. But by far the best architectural feature of the building is the top, which is decorated in Gothic flamboyant-style spires, stone filigree and lightening bolts meant to symbolize radio waves and electricity. At night, the crown of the building is lit up so that it looks like a torch.
3 GE Building
The GE Building is situated within Rockefeller Plaza, itself a monument to the art deco style. While Rockefeller Center was designed by Associated Architects, the 1933 GE Building was designed by Raymond Hood, who was inspired by Gothic architecture to create a long, slim building with an austere exterior. In the lobby, there is a mural by Jose Maria Sert called “American Progress,” which replaced a more politically controversial mural by artists Diego Rivera and Ben Shahn.
2 Chrysler Building
Designed by William Van Alen, the Chrysler Building was the tallest building in the world for a brief period between its completion in 1930 and the completion of the Empire State Building in 1931. The lobby is decorated with multicolored marbles, onyx and amber arranged in Egyptian motifs, with a mural on the ceiling painted by Edward Trumbull titled “Transport and Human Endeavor.” The exterior design also references automobiles, with metal hubcaps, aluminum gargoyles, radiator caps, hood ornaments and car fenders. The top of the building is covered in a stainless steel design meant to imitate a crown.
1 Empire State Building
One of the most famous buildings in the world, the Empire State Building was designed by the firm of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon. The building was completed in 1931 and was the tallest building in the world from then until 1970, and billed as the eighth wonder of the world on its opening. The facade is more classic than most art deco structures, with smooth stainless steel and vertical lines. The fanciful spire atop the building was originally intended as a mooring mast for dirigibles, but is now its iconic feature.