Building (841) Broadway: A Majestic Terra-Cotta Beauty
It’s been a while since our last Building Broadway post, but that doesn’t mean we’ve stopped admiring all those stunning structures along that oh-so-famous thoroughfare. Today’s feature is 841 Broadway, originally known as the Roosevelt Building when it was constructed in 1893. Yes, it was named after those Roosevelts, powerful merchants in 19th century New York before Teddy Roosevelt became the 26th U.S. President in 1901.
Designed by Stephen D. Hatch, the Renaissance Revival style building exhibits some exquisite terra cotta on both the East 13th Street and Broadway facades. Clearly no expense was spared in its creation.
Since there already have been a few detailed articles about the history of this magnificent building, I thought I’d focus today’s post on the very architectural details that grab my attention each and every time I walk by. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then how about eight or nine of them? Click each for a larger view.
The building’s striking appearance today is in large part due to a 2007 renovation. According to Daytonian in Manhattan (who has additional history on the building), the “owners commissioned Israel Berger Architects to do a complete restoration of the façade, including cleaning, historic paint analysis for repainting the iron spandrel panels, replication of the terra-cotta elements too damaged to salvage and the reproduction of the lost copper cornice.”
It’s pretty remarkable that all this work was done to bring back the architectural splendor of a building that isn’t even a protected landmark.
I love this shot because it really emphasizes the depth of the facade. Jutting bay windows supported by ornamental brackets, intricate terra-cotta details in the foreground, and projecting rectangular and curving piers clad in Roman brick.
An interesting contrast to the more modern building to the north (just visible in the background).
The monumental entrance on the Broadway side is all but gone, however the large terra-cotta arch remains along with the number “841” just above it.
The 1899 illustrated drawing above gives an indication of what the main entrance and the ground floor looked like 115 years ago (or about 6 years after the building was completed). Barely visible at the center of the rooftop is the word “Roosevelt”, which unfortunately appears to have been lost.
Even still, the 2007 restoration is a nice tribute to this grand old building on Broadway. If only every owner would be as diligent of historic buildings that aren’t official, protected landmarks (ahem, NYU and the Brittany Building).
See you next time on Building Broadway!
3 responses to “Building (841) Broadway: A Majestic Terra-Cotta Beauty”
The address 839-841 Broadway has a notable past:
In 1853, the third floor at 839 Broadway (previous building on the site) was the home and gallery of Thomas Bryan. Bryan displayed a collection of 381 paintings–European masterpieces as well as American portraiture (paintings of Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison). When he ran his home museum at 839 Broadway, Bryan wore a robe-dechambre and velvet cap while he reposed in his old-fashioned arm-chair and scrutinized the visitors. His snowy white hair and beard completed the picture of an ancient Florentine in his ancestral palace.
To see the gallery, you had to climb a staircase to the third floor. There, a boy named Thomas Nast would collect 25 cents admission. Later in life, Thomas Nast’s cartoons would play a central role in exposing the Tweed Ring in New York City. In 1864, Bryan gave his entire collection to the New-York Historical Society. In the 1870s the (chronically out of space) Society transferred Bryan’s painting collection to the new Metropolitan Museum of Art where Bryan’s paintings formed the nucleus of the museum’s collection.
841 Broadway housed the world’s first movie company that produced AND distributed motion pictures. 841 Broadway was the original site of the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company (from 1895 to 1906). Biograph made movie stars of Lillian Gish, Lionel Barrymore, and Mack Sennett. They gave D.W. Griffith the opportunity to direct his first film.
In the summer of 1896 the Biograph projector was released, offering better image quality than Edison’s Vitascope projector. In 1899 the company changed its name to the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company. The company was started by William Kennedy Dickson, an inventor at Thomas Edison’s laboratory. The Company produced superior alternatives to Edison’s Kinetoscope.
Mutoscope invented the Biograph in 1896–a projector using large-format, wide-gauge 68mm film (different from Edison’s 35mm)–and the Mutoscope viewer–a hand-cranked viewing device that worked with bromide prints or illustrated cards on a ‘flip-book’ principle. Mutoscope films were displayed in a stand-alone box for a single person to view, with the images moving with the help of a hand crank. The American Mutoscope and Biograph Company soon became the chief competitor to Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope and Vitascope Company. The Mutoscope firm made flip-card movies for its Mutoscope parlors (to compete with Edison’s Kinetoscope parlors). Individual peep shows cost 5 cents a view (as did Edison’s).
Mutoscope’s original movie studio was on the roof of this building to take advantage of the light. The studio was mounted on a circular track which turned to revolve with the sun and get the best possible sunlight. As late as 1988, traces of the Biograph studio machinery were still visible on the roof. The first attempt to bring Sherlock Holmes to the film medium was in the year 1900 with Biograph-Mutoscope Company’s release of “Sherlock Holmes Baffled.” The movie was made at Biograph’s revolving rooftop studio at 841 Broadway.
The American Mutoscope and Biograph Company moved in 1906 to 11 East 14th Street (but the 14th Street building was razed in the 1960s). That 14th Street location was Biograph’s first indoor studio and the first movie studio in the world to rely exclusively on artificial light.
And the fact that this building is not landmarked says a lot about our Landmarks “Preservation” Committee.
Who sculpted the terra cotta of 841 broadway? Did he do other buildings?