A Venetian Palace atop a NYC Skyscraper

By Guglielmo Mattioli

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The Lincoln Building, constructed in 1930 for the Lincoln Storage Company and Lincoln National Bank across the street from Grand Central Terminal, is one of a kind among 1930s Midtown skyscrapers, directly facing Grade Central Terminal across 42nd Street. The architect JER Carpenter made a name for himself designing tall luxury apartment buildings on Manhattan’s Upper East Side taking from European influences, specifically Italian Renaissance elements with a vertical New York aesthetic.

Photographer: Tony Hisgett, 2010

Photographer: Tony Hisgett, 2010

For this skyscraper, he opted for a Venetian-Moorish palette. The building occupies the entire width of the block, ascending vertically through a sequence of massive setbacks acting like buttresses holding a central, slimmer section adorned with Moorish elements; pointed arches, gigantic triforas, balconies, and a thick cornice underlining the Italian style roof. From the sidewalk, it appears to be an overscaled Venitian Palazzo floating in the sky? 

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Carpenter, an MIT graduate, also studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris along with many apprentice architects of his time. “A believer in the esthetic,” per his obituary in The New York Times, he was able to combine traditional European architectural elements with the new typology of the New York skyscraper. Many buildings from the 1930s present this combination of old and new, classic and modern. Architects were entitled to the creative freedom that combines sacred and profane in the name of an aesthetic quality that triggers the onlooker's imagination. Many are able to recognize some familiar elements (columns, moldings, cornices) but are unsure of what to make of the puzzling ensemble. What is that? A fort, a castle? A palazzo? A penthouse for royalty?

The 53-story office tower was renamed One Grand Central Place in 2009 following an $85 million renovation and is directly connected to the subway system below. With the name change, a sculpture of President Lincoln by Daniel Chester French and two bronze plaques inscribed with the Gettysburg Address were removed from the lobby.

Guglielmo Mattioli Is a multimedia journalist with a background in architecture and urban planning. Using different mediums, from writing to video and Virtual Reality, he tells stories mostly focusing on the built environment. Guglielmo's work appeared on The New York Times, National Geographic, The Guardian, Architect’s Newspaper, Metropolis Magazine, City Limits and RAI