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Request for designation of 29 West 57th Street.

WHEREAS, 29 West 57th Street, the 14-story office and gallery building, designed in a commercial neo-Gothic style in brick and terra cotta with sculptures representing pipers above the 12th floor setback and lyre players on the penthouse, was built in 1923-24 to the designs of the noted NYC architectural firm, Cross & Cross. 

WHEREAS, 29 West 57th Street is also called “Chickering Hall” because it was built to house the showroom, concert hall and offices of the American Piano Company, an important American piano manufacturer, which was founded by Jonas Chickering in 1908, and was largest piano manufacturing house in the U.S during the 20th century; and

WHEREAS, This was Chickering’s third NYC building; the first, a concert and lecture hall on l8th Street and 5th Avenue, where Oscar Wilde, Graham Bell, Walt Whitman, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and others were heard, and the second, located at 437 5th Avenue have both been demolished.

WHEREAS, Their third building located at 29 West 57th Street was developed as a performing arts center during the 1900’s with the opening of Carnegie Hall, Steinway Hall and others, and was in keeping with the opening of music and art affiliated businesses in the 57th Street area; and

WHEREAS, Jonas Chickering was noted for his contributions to the piano industry, among them a cast iron plate to relieve stress on the wooden piano case, “overstringing”, positioning the longest bass strings over the others, and concert grand pianos, and his company was also the first manufacturer of musical instruments listed on the N.Y. Stock Exchange; and

WHEREAS, The erection of the Chickering building in 1923 celebrated the 100th anniversary of the continuous manufacturing of Chickering Pianos, and in 1924 WOR Radio moved into the building on the 9th floor with John B. Gambling as the announcer and Houdini, Chaplin and Paul Whiteman among his guests; and

WHEREAS, Although the piano industry was at its peak in 1909, with some 365,000 sold that year, by 1924 the piano industry had fallen apart largely due to the ever-growing use of radios, and “in 1929 the once mighty American Piano Company fell into receivership” and the Chickering name was ultimately sold to Wurlitzer, then Steinway, Baldwin and Gibson; and

WHEREAS, The building is crowned by gigantic polychrome terra cotta reproductions of the Legion of d’Honneur medal won by the Chickering Company’s pianos at the 1867 Paris Exposition, and they are displayed in a raised design for the water-tower enclosure; and

WHEREAS, Cross & Cross was noted for their use of exterior symbols to represent the products of the company housed within their buildings; and

WHEREAS, In 1983 there was a complete façade restoration with the medallion-like ornaments on the tower and the building itself gold-leafed so that it is in pristine condition; and

WHEREAS, Because the façade of its neighbor, 9 West 57th Street curves back, the beautiful east façade of 29 West 57th Street is also very visible; and

WHEREAS, There are two entrances to the building located at the ground floor level, the eastern entrance leads into a women’s clothing store, the western entrance is for the entire building and both entrances are located within cast stone arches that have sculptural details with musical instrument motifs; and

WHEREAS, The central storefront has three glass arches with a large picture window at the second floor which advertises a piano showroom, and the seventh floor advertises for a menswear showroom; and

WHEREAS, Between the second and third floors there are Gothic style gold leaf friezes resembling a Greek chorus and the masonry spandrels between floors four through twelve are all punctuated with boxes in gold leaf, also above the twelfth floor window; and

WHEREAS, The windows from floors four through twelve are primarily single panel pivoting panes which have transoms above and the twelfth floor windows are arched; therefore be it

RESOLVED, That Community Board Five strongly supports the designation of 29 west 57th Street for its architectural, cultural and historic significance.

The above resolution passed with a vote of 38 in favor, 0 opposed, 0 abstention.  

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