Named for the revered French architecture school, Beaux-Arts architecture was born out of Paris in the 1800s and adopted by architects in the United States, reaching its peak popularity between 1880 and 1920. It evoked a return to classic Greco-Roman architectural features, such as large columns, balustrades, pediments, and ornamental flourishes. The buildings are also characterized by rusticated first floors, archways on the second floors, and a flat roof. Beaux-Arts architecture rose to prominence in the height of the Gilded Age in part because such rich ornamentation so aptly symbolized the opulence of the time. Their style and grand scale continue to make them some of the most impressive pieces of architecture in many of America’s big cities including New York. This Midtown tour will take you past some of the finest Beaux-Arts architecture in Manhattan.
476 5th Avenue at East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10018
This beloved library took 16 years to build and has earned its place in the annals of Beaux-Arts architecture thanks to its impressive marble facade. Other embellishments like the attic figures, pediments, and fountains contribute to the splendor. While you’re there, check out the Rose Main Reading Room which has among the largest uncolumned interiors anywhere in the world.
89 East 42nd Street b/t Lexington and Vanderbilt Avenues
New York, NY 10017
Grand Central Terminal is more than a mere train station, it’s a majestic piece of Beaux-Arts architecture featuring hallmarks of the style such as monumental columns and decorative sculptures that span the exterior facade. The enormous glass windows are said to evoke the French exposition buildings of the 19th century.
37 West 44th Street b/t 5th and 6th Avenues
New York, NY 10036
This Beaux-Arts style clubhouse was built in 1901 by architect Whitney Warren who designed it to evoke the nautical origins of the club. The five-story building is made of limestone, and features elaborate maritime decorations including “stone waves” that spill off the three main window ledges.
142 West 42nd Street at Broadway
New York, NY 10036
The first of Time Square’s luxury hotels, the Knickerbocker, was financed by the wealthy Astor family and once attracted the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and John D. Rockefeller. The building is classic Beaux-Arts architecture, evidenced by its copper mansard roof complete with corner pavilions and cresting. Its balconies are similarly common to the Beaux-Art style, featuring rich ornamentation that evokes the French Renaissance. As is the case with many New York Beaux-Arts buildings, the ornamental flourishes are carved out of terracotta, which was frequently molded to look like more expensive marble, granite, or limestone.
149 West 45th Street b/t Broadway and 6th Avenue
New York, NY 10036
Broadway’s oldest, continually-operating theater, the Lyceum Theater, features Beaux-Arts characteristics like its six Corinthian columns, flat roof, and grand marble staircase. Like many Beaux-Arts buildings, its exterior is decorated with extensive ornamentation seen in its undulating marquee, balconies, and pediments.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
243 East 34th Street b/t Second and Third Avenues
New York, NY 10016
Built in 1899, this landmark ushered in a promising 20th century of New York City architecture. Designed by Brooklyn architect Thomas A. Gray, the house served as headquarters for wealthy philanthropist Frederick Goddard’s Civic Club, which helped impoverished New Yorkers. In 1946, it was purchased by the current owners, the Estonian Educational Society. It has all the markings of classic Beaux-Arts architecture, with a rusticated first floor featuring two arched windows, a flat mansard roof, and plenty of ornamental flourishes carved out of terracotta.