Architectural Salvage

The Barbizon-Plaza Hotel Panels

View looking northwest of Barbizon Plaza Hotel from Sixth Avenue and 58th Street. Spring, 1931. Photo: Unknown/Federal Seaboard Terra Cotta Corporation.

The present work hails from the Barbizon-Plaza Hotel on Central Park South in New York, a structure designed and decorated by Lawrence Emmons for the firm Murgatroyd & Ogden. The 38-story building cost $10 million to build at the time and formally opened in May of 1930. It was the first music-art residence center in the United States, with 1,400 rooms in addition to concert halls, studios for sculptors and artists, exhibition rooms, clubrooms, art galleries, exhibition salons, and a library. Notable guests included Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, who visited in 1933, and the Beatles, who stayed during their early U.S. visits.

Emmons designed cast aluminum panels to decorate the exterior of the building which, in keeping with the building’s overall purpose, featured artistically-related subject matter such as brushes, pencils, and paint palettes. Donald Trump acquired the building in the 1980s and went on to replace the decoration with his signature gaudy gold panes and trim. Emmons’ panels were saved from the wrecking ball by Jim Elkind and live on as reminders of the rich architectural and cultural history of early 20th century New York.

40 Years of Lost City Arts

Jim Elkind, founder Lost City Arts—of one of the most influential design galleries in New York City—has design in his DNA. Elkind grew up in a modernist house full of mid-century modern furniture and spent many weekends traveling into New York with his mother, visiting museums and exploring the city. He fondly recalls her pointing up at the skyscrapers and their architectural details, encouraging and instilling in him a curiosity about his surroundings and an attention to detail that would go on to shape his future career.

The idea to open a gallery originally came to Elkind during a visit to the annual juried art show at University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he attended college. The vetted show featured several hundred artists, many of whom, he realized, were extremely talented but would never make it into the mainstream art world. Taking a page from his entrepreneur father’s book, Elkind imagined opening a gallery in New York called the Gallery of the Unknown Artist where he would feature work by up-and-coming artists from universities around the country.