Vanished New York City Art Deco – The Persian Room

The Persian Room in the Plaza Hotel

The Persian Room of the Plaza Hotel, 1934. Image from cooperhewitt.org

At 5:32 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, December 5, 1933,  Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st amendment to the Constitution. With the requisite three-fourth states majority, prohibition came to an end after 13 years, 10 months and 19 days. The era of the speakeasy was over, the era of swank nightclubs was about to begin and “café society” born.

 

Plaza Hotel, 1907.

The Plaza Hotel looking southwest from 5th Avenue and 60th Street, 1907. Image from mcny.org

The Plaza Hotel opening in 1907 typified the Beaux-Arts style so popular in the first decade of the 20th Century. For the next two and half decades the Plaza represented Edwardian respectability.

 

Small dining room of the Plaza Hotel.

Small dining room in the Plaza Hotel, 1907. Very typical of the Edwardian Era. Image from mcny.org.

1934

Now that prohibition was a thing of the past, the management of the Plaza wanted a new space to attract the night life crowd; a space to compete against nightclubs, like The Stork Club, El Morocco and The Central Park CasinoThe New York Times announced the plan for the nightclub on January 31, 1934:

Hotel Plaza Plans New Cocktail Room

Corner at 5th Av. and 58th St. Will be Fitted Up at Cost of $50,000.

The Plaza Operating Company filed plans with the Building Department yesterday for a new cocktail room in the south corner of the Hotel Plaza, at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-eighth Street.  The new room will contain a service bar and dance floor and will cost $50,000.

Four windows will face on the east overlooking the Plaza, from which side there will be a special entrance. Other approaches will be from the lobby of the hotel and from the Palm Court.. The  new room will be known as the Persian Room and will be designed and decorated by the Joseph Urban Associates.

Five murals reminiscent of old Persians miniatures are being designed by Lillian Gaertner Palmedo for this room, which will seat from 250 to 300 persons.  A twenty-seven-foot bar will adorn the west wall and on the south side of the room there will be raised orchestra platform for about fifteen musicians.

 

Lillian Gaertner Palmedo with one of the five murals to adorn the Persian Room.

Lillian Gaertner Palmedo putting the finishing touches on one of the five murals that gave the Persian Room its name. Image from Getty Images.

As the article in the Times reported, Joseph Urban Associates undertook the job of designing the new nightclub. Joseph Urban one of the most famous designers in the United States in the 1920’s and 1930’s had designed the Ziegfeld Theatre and The Central Park Casino among many other famous buildings in New York had died the previous May. His company certainly kept his aesthetic alive in the Persian Room. The oval shape of the ceiling as well as the use of black carrara glass and gold panels is more than just a little reminiscent of Urban’s design of the Urban Room in Pittsburgh. Less than four months from the announcement of the new club the room opened to the public.

Herald-Tribune photo of Persian Room mural.

Detail of one of the Persian Room’s murals. Photo from The New York Herald-Tribune, March 18, 1934.

Scheduled for an early April opening, Vogue Magazine of April 1, 1934 described the new night spot this way:

Consider, for instance, the Plaza, which for years has been as nobly aloof from the jazz age as the professionally quaint cab drivers outside its door. Well, the Plaza is stepping out to meet a new life. On the second of April, it is opening a brand-new room, called the Persian Room because of the subtly intricate Persian murals designed by the Joseph Urban Associates. The proceeds of the grand gala will go to the New York Infirmary. In the Persian Room, you will see a New York that is not (thank God!) Lillian-Russell-Bustanoby’s-Diamond-Jim-Brady any more than it is the New York of the speakeasy era.

You can’t describe the atmosphere, because there is nothing with which to compare it. Certainly, the room has nothing to do with the marbled, potted-palm lobby which lies outside its door. The Persian Room is a sport, a freak, an anachronism. Only a very great lady could afford to be so whimsical and so disdainful of tradition. The room is, in short, New York in the spring of 1934. A bar and café and (when the occasion demands) a supper room with space for orchestra and dancing. It overlooks the Plaza and is as modern – with concealed flood-lighting (each table top is specially illuminated), a white-and-red colour scheme, and a metal-and-ebony bar – as you could ask. The lighting alone is worth going a considerable distance to see, and, if the ghost of Mr. Urban ever walks, it might well drop in at the Persian Room and look things over: the chances are it would approve.

 

Entrance to the Persian Room, 1934.

The Persian Room’s interior entrance way from the lobby, 1934. Image from cooperhewitt.org

 

After it’s April 2nd gala opening night, the Persian Room became one of the most successful New York City Night clubs. Many top performers appeared there in the forty-one years it was open. But the original decor would not last even a decade.

 

Seagram Whiskey ad, 1935 featuring the Persian Room.

Seagram’s Whiskey advertisement showing a color rendition of the original Persian Room. From the January 1, 1935 edition of Vogue.

Entrance way to the Persian Room, 1934.

Persian Room entrance way, 1934. Image from nypl.org.

Bergdoff Goodman ad using the Persian Room as a backdrop. Vogue Magazine.

Bergdoff Goodman advertisement using the Persian Room as a backdrop. Vogue Magazine, October 15, 1934.

 

When the Persian Room closed for the summer in 1942, its decor so chic and modern in 1934, seemed very dated. The Art Deco gave way to what we now call “Hollywood Regency”. Gone were four of five murals and black cararra glass. Legendary café society performer Hildegarde reopened the re-modeled Persian Room in late September, 1942. L. L. Stevenson in his syndicated column Lights of New York reported on October 31, 1942 wrote the following about the new decor:

In honor of the advent of Hildegarde, the Persian Room, for the second time since it opened in 1934, has undergone a complete change in decor and minor change in arrangement. The noted Lillian Gaertner Palmedo Persian murals are still over the bandstand, but little else remains of the past. A terrace, with a balustrade and a full-lenght banquette, has been built along the Fifth Avenue side, reducing the capacity of the from 300 to 275, and thus making it that much more intimate.

The 1942 Re-Model

 

Malcolm Johnson’s, September 29, 1942 “Cafe Life in New York” column in The New York Sun had this to say about the new Persian Room:

It is enough to say that its new dress, with egg shell white as the dominant motif, is bright and cheerful and quite unlike any thing the Persian Room has worn before. Only one of the famous murals remains – the one over the bandstand – and the room has been terraced to command a better view of the floor than in the past.

1950

Even this “new” Persian Room would not last a decade. Conrad Hilton purchased the Plaza Hotel in 1943. In 1950 Hilton contacted famed industrial and interior designer Henry Dreyfuss to discuss plans about a complete renovation of the space. Dreyfuss, writing in his 1955 book, Designing for People, said this about his redesign of the Persian Room:

More than appearance is involved in remodeling and redecorating a night club. The industrial designer must think also in terms of air conditioning, lighting, easy access for the waiters through the crowded tables, acoustics, fire exits – but always glamour. The most popular night spots are those in which lighting magically erases wrinkles and double chins, making dowagers look like debutantes and tired merchants feel like Olympic champions.

Our examination of the room recalled the excavations of the site of ancient Troy. Four successive designers over a period of forty years had imposed their ideas on the room, but, unfortunately, the last three had not bothered to remove the previous interiors, which nested one inside the other. In order to enlarge the capacity and satisfy a critical municipal building code and fire department, the four interiors were removed, and we got a fresh start from the brick walls. We settled on a diagonal plan that would give every seat a good view. The bandstand, therefore, was placed in one corner and everything fanned out from it.

Our design was contemporary, but with a Persian motif chosen because of the famous name of the room, and for this we visited museums and haunted the Iranian Institute, reading the lore of Iran and studying Persian temples and miniatures. The Persian Room has eight enormous windows twenty feet high on two of its walls. For these we had curtains woven of deep blue and green with metallic strands.

Alice Hughes in her September 29, 1950 Buffalo Courier Express column wrote:

New York, Sept. 28 – Tonight’s the night when the jogalong horse-and-buggy pace of the Hotel Plaza is jet-propelled into this new electronic world. It’s the night of the opening of the fabulous new Persian Room, the Plaza’s cafe, rebuilt and recreated this past Summer by Henry Dreyfuss. He is the industrial architect whose designs went into the American Export luxury liners Constitution and Independence, also the new 20th Century Limited, also the erstwhile New York World’s Fair exhibits. What he has created for the Persian Room is a secret until tonight. That it will surpass most going night clubs is without doubt for Dreyfuss is a superb designer.

 

The 1950 remodeled Persian Room by Henry Dreyfuss.

Henry Dreyfuss’ remodel of the Persian Room, 1950. image from theplazany.com

 

“Mid-Century Modern” is the best way to describe the new decor. And in this design the Persian Room would thrive for the next decade-and-half. But in the late 1960’s the era of the super club came to an end.  The Persian Room closed for good in 1975. A dress shop went into the space that formerly hosted some of the top entertainers in American show business. Today the Rose Club occupies the space and it fits in nicely with the rest of the Plaza Hotel stylistically.

 

The Rose Club.

The Rose Club at the Plaza Hotel and a return to Edwardian elegance, now occupies the space of the Persian Room. Image from Google.

But lets end with one last look at the original Persian Room. The very short-lived elegant club the ushered in a new era just after the end of Prohibition.

 

The western end of the original Persian Room.

The western side of the original Persian Room showing the 27 foot-long bar and three of the Palmedo murals, 1934. Photo from nypl.org

 

Anthony & Chris (The Freakin’, Tiquen’ Guys)

 

Breakfast Goes Modernistic

Royal Rochester label on the bottom of the batter bowl. 1928.

1928 Royal-Rochester label.

 

Back in 1999 at an antique store in Frankfort, Kentucky, I came across a very striking electric coffee pot. Painted in an abstract design in bold colors it almost bordered on the avant-garde. I had never seen anything like before, so the $110.00 price was not much of a purchasing deterrent. To me the it exemplified the exuberance of early Art Deco design of the late 1920’s. A crazy, optimistic style that produced Roseville Futura pottery and the Chrysler Building and wouldn’t last long once the Great Depression hit in 1930. Made by Robeson Rochester under their trade name of Royal Rochester, a company well-known for the manufacturing of kitchen appliances.

 

Royal Rochester coffee pot in the Modernistic pattern.

Modernistic Royal Rochester coffee pot. Ceramic body made by the Fraunfelter China Company.

Once I had the coffee pot, now I wanted to add more pieces and have a complete set. This wasn’t going to be easy because other pieces weren’t turning up. A couple of years later the teapot, creamer and sugar were up for auction on Ebay. The three-piece set ending up selling for over $500.00 and way out of my price range. And once that auction ended more pieces with the same design were not coming up. And I had never come across these pieces at any flea markets or antique malls. But I did learn from that Ebay listing that this pattern’s name is “Modernistic”.

The Fraunfelter China Company of Ohio produced the ceramic pieces purchased by Royal Rochester for their various lines. “Modernistic” is only one line that used these shapes. The lusterware tan stripe and lilac stripe pieces turn up a lot more often and even though they have the same shape those designs are nowhere near as striking as “Modernistic”

 

“Modernistic”, like all Royal Rochester lines had a full range of pieces to make any breakfast stylish and up to date. Beside the coffee pot and sugar and creamer, a smaller sugar and creamer came with the teapot. The center piece of the line was the large coffee samovar.  Small ceramic cups in metal holders were good for both coffee or tea. A waffle set included a syrup jug, batter bowl and ladle and of course the waffle iron. Completing the line a casserole and pie plate, both came with chrome stands.

 

Modernistic in the 1928 Royal Rochester brochure

Royal Rochester 1928 brochure featuring Modernistic. Image from Modernism.com

Introduction of Royal Rochester's "Modernistic" pattern.

Advertisement for Bullock’s Department Store in Los Angeles and the introduction of Royal Rochester. November 21, 1928. Image from fultonhistory.com

The “Modernistic” pattern made its debut during the Christmas season of 1928. What we  now call Art Deco made its American debut only less than two years before. Modernistic styles proved to be popular with more well to do people living in major cities. To the average American the new style seemed as foreign as a martian. Traditional styles, like colonial revival, remained the most popular in the United States through the 1940’s. Radios or refrigerators tended to be the only moderne style pieces in the house. Because of this Royal Rochester’s “Modernistic” ended up being a huge flop. The company’s advertisements for the 1929 Christmas season no longer mentioned this bold and colorful pattern. Since it was only available for a year or less, it makes the pattern extremely rare and hard to find today.

 

Democrat & Chronicle advertisement 1928.

Christmas 1928, Sibley, Lindsay & Curr Company in Rochester, NY. Democrat & Chronicle advertisement, 12/14/1928. Image from fultonhistory.com

 

I never knew, until recently, how short a production time “Modernistic” had. This explained why it took eighteen years to find more pieces. Finally this summer in an antique mall in Wisconsin I found the large creamer, casserole in holder and pie plate. The dealer seeing a good customer told me she had more of this pattern in another mall nearby, just over the Illinois state line. There I picked up many more pieces, including the very rare waffle iron and batter bowl. Being very reasonably priced and 20% off, I took the plunge. I still need to get a few pieces, including the samovar, cups and the probably nearly impossible to find ladle. So the hunt continues!

 

Waffle iron, batter bowl, pie plate and casserole.

“Modernistic” waffle iron, batter bowl, pie plate and casserole in chrome holder, by Royal Rochester, 1928. Author’s collection.

Royal Rochester's "Modernistic" coffee pot and sugars and creamers.

The “Modernistic” coffee pot I purchased in 1999 with the sugars and creamers purchased in 2017. Author’s collection.

 

Anthony (A Freakin’, Tiquen’ Guy).

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Reference Library Update – Bel Geddes

The logo of Norman Bel Geddes

Norman Bel Geddes logo. Image from Wikipedia.

 

Norman Bel Geddes.

Norman Bel Geddes, circa 1925. Image from NYPL Digital Collections.

For October’s reference library update, Driving For Deco brings you a career profile of industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes (1893 – 1958).  The article appeared in the July, 1930 issue of Fortune magazine. Bel Geddes began his career as a set and stage designer working for the Metropolitan Opera. In the 1920’s shows he designed included The Miracle and Fifty Million Frenchmen. In the mid 1930’s he would design the set for Sidney Kingsley’s play Dead End.

The Miracle, 1924.

The Miracle, New York production 1924. Set by Norman Bel Geddes. Image from NYPL Digital Collections.

Dead End, 1935.

Norman Bel Geddes set for Dead End, 1935. Sidney Kingsley’s Pulitzer Prize winning play at the Belasco Theater. Image from NYPL Digital Collections.

Turning from the theatre in the late 1920’s Bel Geddes ventured into the brand new field of industrial design. He achieved new fame by redesigning many standard products. Ranging from kitchen appliances, to cars and other forms of transportation, to homes and factories, nothing was too small or too large for Bel Geddes to tackle. In 1932 he authored the book Horizons in which he outlined his theories and ideas.

 

1932, Horizons by Norman Bel Geddes

Horizons by Norman Bel Geddes, 1932. Image from abebooks.com

Today, original 1932 editions of this book are rare and can sell between $250.00 and $950.00.

 

Norman Bel Geddes ideas for planes, ocean liners and cars went far beyond anything of his time. He took streamlining further than any of his contemporaries. Bel Geddes liked to push limits knowing these designs would never materialize.

 

Airliner No. 4

Norman Bel Geddes Airliner No. 4 (1929-1932). Image from Keiththomsonbooks.com

"Whale"Ocean Liner.

“Whale” Ocean Liner designed by Norman Bel Geddes, 1932. Image from oobject.com

Locomotive No. 1

Locomotive No. 1 by Norman Bel Geddes, circa 1932. Image from oobject.com

 

Motor Car No. 9, 1932

Norman Bel Geddes Motor Car No. 9, circa 1932.

 

Of all the designs that Norman Bel Geddes created, three are most accessible to collectors today. The 1938 Soda King Syphon bottle, Revere’s magazine stand and the iconic “Manhattan” cocktail set are available with a good deal of cash.

Soda King White

Bel Geddes – Paxton Soda King, White. 1938

Magazine stand for Revere.

Norman Bel Geddes’ magazine stand for Revere. Image from einnasirrod.com

Manhattan Cocktail Set

The Manhattan cocktail set for Revere designed by Norman Bel Geddes. Image from the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston.

 

Futurama booklet

Futurama brochure, 1939. Image from oldcarbrochures.com

The best showcase for industrial designers in the 1930’s was the 1939 New York World’s Fair.  Bel Geddes created its most popular exhibit, General Motors, Futurama. This massive display provided a glimpse into 1960 America in a simulated coast-to-coast airplane flight. Massive highways with radio controlled cars provided access to cities with different levels for automobiles and pedestrians. There would also be plenty of green space to spend leisure time. Industrial zones would be a good distance away from residential neighborhoods. Many of the ideas that Bel Geddes designed for Futurama would come to fruition in the 1950’s and later.

 

General Motor's building, NY World's Fair.

Norman Bel Geddes General Motors Pavillion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Image from The New York Times.

 

To read the Fortune article profiling Norman Bel Geddes industrial design career, click on the cover below.

 

Fortune Magazine, July, 1930.

July, 1930 Fortune Magazine

 Anthony & Chris (The Freakin’, Tiquen’ Guys)

The Ones that Got Away – Art Deco Antiques we passed on.

For our 100th post, Chris thought it would be “fun” to look back on the Art Deco items we passed on and have regretted since. As he often says, “The time to buy an antique is when you see it; because it can’t be reordered.” We tend to be pretty savvy shoppers on our adventures; none-the-less, we’ve missed a few.

Part of the Roseville 1928-1929 Futura line, catalogue #393-12, better known as “Four Ball” vase, it is indeed a rare find. Regularly selling in the $1200.00 range, we found one at Antique World in Clarence, NY for $65.00 dollars. This was early on in our joint collecting. Since these pieces are unmarked Anthony wasn’t sure if it was a Futura vase. We didn’t have smart phones back then and Anthony felt we didn’t know enough about Roseville to justify spending the money. When we got home, he did some research and back we went the next day. Not to our surprise, but to our disappointment, it had been sold. We still kick ourselves over this one.

Another one we kick ourselves for was a set of six Chase chrome 1930’s canapé trays. Designed so that you could hold the plate and drink with one hand, this is a relatively hard to find item. Found at the Asbury Methodist Church Flea Market in Rochester, NY, they were in excellent condition and priced at about $40.00.  We just purchased a cobalt mirror picture frame and didn’t want to spend more money that day. Dumb mistake!

Although not entirely sure, Chris believes he passed on 4 circa 1930 Crown Ducal cocktail plates at the local Goodwill. Currently selling at about $75.00 per plate, the Goodwill price was $2.99 per plate.

On a trip to Bay City Antique Center, Bay City, Michigan, we passed on an art deco copper and chrome hostess stand priced at only $125.00. Buried, dusty and obviously overlooked for some time, we debated on this for quite a while. It boiled down to what do we do with it. Reason ruled but we still think about this one.

 

We failed to pick up a Westinghouse Columaire grandfather clock / radio at the Old Mill Antique Mall, West Columbia, South Carolina. Designed in 1930 by Raymond Loewy, it was part of the Westinghouse Company’s 1931 catalog. In decent, working condition, they can go for $900.00 or more. This one, working, was priced at around $600.00

If you follow us regularly you know that Anthony has an extensive collection of vintage Fiesta. In 1948, Homer Laughlin’s Pottery Company produced a juice pitcher in celadon green as part of a promotional set to introduce their new Jubilee line. Extremely rare, we have seen this only twice. The first time was at Heart of Ohio Antique Mall in near mint condition and Anthony passed because of the asking price. The second – can’t remember where – but Chris remembers that we passed on it because of a condition issue (hairline crack).

Lest you feel bad for us, we have passed on some things and not regretted it.

On a whirlwind trip in 2008, we visited every family member in the east and 11 states in a 10-day period.  At Smiley’s Antique Mall, Micanopy, FL, Anthony passed on a Kodak Beau Brownie No. 2A for $165.00. Later the same day, we saw another one at a different store for $125.00.  Anthony passed again joking he wanted to find one for $25.00.

 

Still the same trip, a sign for Schoolhouse Antiques (a popular name for schools repurposed into malls) found us driving for deco. We were exploring the different rooms when Anthony let out a gasp.  In his hands, a Kodak Beau Brownie No. 2A for $22.00!

Beau Brownie No. 2A

The Kodak Beau Brownie No. 2A (1930 – 1933). Designed by Walter Dorwin Teague.

 

Anthony found a set of glasses at the Vietnam Vets Thrift Store (now, sadly closed) in Rochester, NY. Six in all, he wasn’t sure what they were but had a gut feeling they were good. Chris was not impressed and thought they were strange looking glasses from the 1970’s.  As 2 were chipped (very small rim chips), Anthony bought the 4 in mint condition for $1.99 each. Ironically, Chris thought he remembered seeing something like them before and thought the pattern was called Rumba.

A little research that night found they were part of Consolidated Glass’ Ruba Rombic line. (Rumba, Ruba – Chris was close!)  This glassware is so rare that minor damage does not affect the value.  As Vietnam Vets was closed the next day, Sunday, Anthony had to wait until Monday at lunchtime to get the other two. Luckily, they were still there. They are currently valued at approximately $250 per glass.

We have since added to the collection but paying premium prices.

Ruba Rombic glassware

Consolidated Glass Company’s Ruba Rombic (1928 – 1932). Designed by Reuben Haley.

We have learned from our past mistakes. Now with more years of collecting experience under our belts, and smart phones, we often do not let great Art Deco antiques get away from us.

Chris & Anthony (The Freakin’, Tiquen’ Guys)