In present day, New Yorkers enjoy a plethora of activities at the Park Avenue Armory, including live performances, concerts, art and antique shows. But the Armory enjoys a history just as exciting ~ completed in 1881, designed and decorated by some of the most sought-after masters of the American Aesthetic Movement during the Gilded Age, and home to the prestigious National Guard’s Seventh Regiment ~ also known as the ‘Silk Stocking Bragade.’ Take a look back in time.
The Armory was built by the National Guard’s Seventh Regiment, the first militia to respond to President Lincoln’s call for volunteers in 1861. Members included family names like Van Rensselaer, Roosevelts, Stewarts, Livingstons, and Harrimans. It was a military, cultural and social center for the Regiment, as well as New York society of the Gilded Age.
The Reception Rooms on the first floor and the Company Rooms on the second floor were designed by prestigious artists and firms like Louis Comfort Tiffany, Stanford White, Ferrer Brothers, and Pottier & Stymus.
The administration building and Drill Hall, along with the majestic entrance, hallways and grand staircase, were designed by Charles W. Clinton, later a partner of Clinton & Russell (architects of the Apthorp Apartments).
One of the largest rooms in the Armory, the Board of Officers Room pictured above and below, was originally designed as a meeting space for the colonel of the Seventh Regiment and his officers who oversaw the ten companies that made up the “Silk Stocking” brigade, as the Regiment was known. Since then, the room has served many and varied purposes, such as the memorial and viewing of General Douglas MacArthur; the filming location for the men’s club in the movie Trading Places with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd; and most recently as a place to experience live performances and installations by artists as diverse as Rufus Wainwright, ETHEL, Meredith Monk, Somi, Lauren Flannigan, Bora Yoon, and Jeff Koons, among others.
The room was originally designed in 1880 by Herter Brothers, considered among the leading design and decorating firms of the Gilded Age and among the foremost exponents of the American Aesthetic Movement. With work spanning furniture, the decorative arts, and interior design, Herter Brothers created some of the most celebrated interiors in the country and designed mansions for such prominent clients as William H. Vanderbilt, J. Pierpont Morgan, Darius Ogden Mills, as well as two rooms in the White House under Ulysses S. Grant.
At the time of its completion, the Board of Officers Room was described as a “royal apartment” by The New York Times. The main focal point of the room was the south mantelpiece with its affixed paintings. The high-grade Honduran mahogany was finished in a blood-red hue with walls painted a deep green with darker floral stencils. The ceiling was stenciled in a series of cream panels with blue borders. The room underwent two renovations during the 20th century, with the first in 1906, by William Baumgarten, who had worked for Herter Brothers during the original design, and who conducted a cleaning and renovation of the ceiling ~ then a second comprehensive, and poorly executed, “restoration” in 1932, by architects Irving & Casson/A.H. Davenport.
The room suffered from poor maintenance and water infiltration in the 1980s. By 1998, the room and the entire building had fallen into such disrepair that The New York Times featured an editorial calling it “a splendid crumble” where, in specific reference to the Board of Officers Room, the “ceilings were falling” and the “walls are drenched.” It was this editorial, in combination with its designation in 2000 among the world’s “100 Most Endangered Sites” that encouraged the State to award stewardship of the building to Park Avenue Armory in December 2006.
The renovation of the Board of Officers Room was completed in 2013. The restoration, led by Herzog & de Meuron, brought new life into the room, transforming this extraordinary space into a state-of-the-art salon for todays installations, intimate performances, and other contemporary art programs.
Entering The Veterans’ Room, below.
The Veterans’ Room and the Library were designed and decorated by Associated Artists (Louis C. Tiffany & Co.) with architect Stanford White in 1880-81. Many consider these rooms to be among the most significant and beautiful surviving interiors of the American Aesthetic Movement, and they are also two of the very few surviving Tiffany interiors anywhere, being among the most intact of the nineteenth-century rooms in the Armory.
The Veterans’ Room is also one of the most extravagant ~ although the total cost is not officially known, the Veterans received $20,000 from the New Armory Fund (January 1880) ~ In the end, the New York Sun’s May 1888 issuer reported its cost $25,000.
The room is divided by a broad structural beam covered in bronze plates. The main focus is the north wall with its elaborate turquoise blue glass tile, marble and brick, inglenook fireplace, carved wood mantel, and a painted plaster overmantel panel depicting an eagle and sea dragon, set within an embossed iron frame..
Leaded stained-glass window screens, a balustraded balcony with stairs and lattice screens, affixed benches and window seats, and three sets of double sliding doors.
A coffered timber ceiling and canvas frieze stenciled with arabesques in silver and other metallic hues; Lighting consists of two wrought-iron fireplace candelabra, electrified in 1897, and two fixtures set on the columns.
The Seventh Regiment Gazette (December 1890) had this to say about the Veterans’ Room, “Never in the old days, when during nine tenths of the year, it was shrouded in darkness, did it possess the attractiveness now lent it by many colored lamps, comfortable seats and the presence of groups of readers and gossiping comrades. It was either dark, gloomy and majestic or too dazzling to be homelike and pleasant, before. Now…it has the inviting air of a drawing room. No club in New York has such magnificent quarters as the Seventh Regiment possesses…”
The Library (below) also designed and decorated by Associated Artists (Louis C. Tiffany & Co.) with architect Stanford White are mostly in tact. Records of disbursements indicate that Louis C. Tiffany & Co. and McKim, Mead & White were paid $9,000 for cabinet work, decorations and bookcases ~ work completed between August and September, 1880. Tiffany was paid $1,200 for a table, chairs and chandelier in January 1881, and $300 for curtains and fixtures in April.
Additional payments were made to George C. Flint & Co in the amount of $291 for a table, and John J. Bowes & Bro. in the amount of $280 for four pairs of iron gates, Mitchell, Vance & Co in the amount of $518 for chandeliers drop baskets, bringing the total expenditures for the Library Room to about $11,590.
Notice the barrel vaulted ceiling ornamented with a basketweave and disk pattern (image below), and a continuous gallery with an iron railing in a web pattern. In this room, there is an inglenook fireplace and two large round-arched windows with Tiffany stained-glass upper sash and multi-pane lower sash on the west wall.
A large wrought-iron and chainlink chandelier and four hanging basket wall fixtures, and extensive mahogany woodwork, including sets of double sliding doors and bookcases on three walls.
Moving to the second floor,
The second floor houses the Company Rooms A-K. Below are several of the Company Room interiors and closeup pictures of the intricately detailed work. Several of the rooms have not yet been restored.
Images above and below, Company Room D by Pottier & Stymus featuring intricate carving on the mahogany lockers.
Below, Company I by Pottier & Stymus with the original clock from 1880. the Company members redecorated the room in 1890 in an Art Nouveau style, replacing the ceiling, the wall surfaces, the mantle, and installing an elaborate new balcony railing and torchère.
The oak wood work and the mantelpiece in Company Room E are largely unchanged.
In addition, the Armory includes a 55,000 square-foot Drill Hall measuring 200 by 300 feet and 80 feet high. It is one of the largest unobstructed spaces in New York, and the oldest balloon shed in the United States.
The Drill Hall now hosts a number of performing arts.
The Park Avenue Armory was designated a New York City Landmark in 1967; interior landmark, 1994. The Park Avenue Armory is on the National Register of Historic Places, 1975.
Take a look at a few recent events at The Park Avenue Armory.