(Formerly The Halloran House and originally the Shelton Towers Hotel)

525 Lexington Avenue

(Between 48th and 49th Streets)

Architect: Arthur Loomis Harmon

Erected: 1924

Former Shelton Hotel seen from the south

By Carter B. Horsley

One of the first major buildings to comply with the setback requirements of the city's first Zoning Resolution of 1916, this building, shown above, was highly influential in its massing, but was still mired in historical allusions, as evidenced by its abundant and delightful gargoyles and scattered exterior decorative elements, and is a transitional precursor to the explosion of Art Deco skyscrapers that came shortly thereafter.

main entrance on Lexington Avenue

Aesthetically, the massing is actually quite bulky and cumbersome, although the architect, who became a partner in the firm that designed the Empire State Building several years later, modulated its tower with indented vertical sections and lightened its broad top and protruding animal sculptures to balance its visual impact.

Most of the decorative elements are Romanesque in character and include owls lions and pelicans as well as people engaged in some of the sports it offered patrons in its roof top health facilities, including squash.

Gargoyles on sidestreet facade

The 34-story, 1,200-room hotel was the world's tallest when it was built and Harmon received a gold medal from the Architectural League of New York and the American Institute of Architects, perhaps because the building embodied much of the lugubrious, looming aesthetic of Hugh Ferriss's great architectural drawings and renderings that were very important at the time.

In their great book, "New York 1930, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Two World Wars," published by Rizzoli in 1987," Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins devote considerable attention to this important building:

"The two great architectural problems of the era - that of the skyscraper and that of skyscraper living - came together in 1924 in Arthur Loomis Harmon's remarkable and totally unexpected Shelton Club Hotel was not the Shelton's height but its design that thrilled the public and the profession alike. Here, for the first time, one could see the new zoning laws skillfully translated into a complexly massed, powerfully modeled composition that combined bold scale with a fine sense of detail so that the building's appeal was not only as a virtual lone icon on the east midtown skyline, but also as a subtle insertion into the architectural of the city's streets. Fiske Kimball proclaimed that 'from the front, the building seems not merely to have a tower, but to be a tower. In three great leaps of rhythmic height it rises, gathering in its forces for the final flight.' The Shelton's tower was the first tall building of the postwar era in New York to convincingly inhabit its height, and even to seem greater than its size. Harmon actually bulged its mass as it rose, employing the entasis characteristic of Classical columns, to prevent the illusion of sagging. The lower floors are inclined inward to enhance the illusion of height, and the inherently repetitious pattern of double-hung windows, each lighting a single small guest bedroom, was relieved by introducing recessing vertical panels that fostered shadows and further contributed to the sense of three-dimensionality. While stylistic refeneces to Venetian Gothic and Romanesque design were present throughout, and particularly in the limestone base with its two-story loggia entrance the general effect was, as George Harold Edgell put it, like 'some titanic result of the force of nature rather than a building by the hand of man. The mass seen at dusk is as impressive as Gilbraltar.' ....

"The Shelton caught the essence of [famed architectural artist Hugh] Ferriss's ideal: 'Its form makes it impossible that it will ever be lost amid adjoining buildings - almost invariably the fate of cube-like structures whose individuality is indistinguishable amid identical neighbors ... With the fires which heat its steel rivets still burning brightly in its lofty grill, this structure is a predilection of the city of the next generation - no longer a checkerboard of solidly built blocks, but a disposition of individual buildings, wherein one will be able to comprehend each element, where it is and what it is.'

Needless to say, Ferriss was not entirely correct and the Shelton did get swallowed up by surrounding buildings, not the least of which, of course, is the overpowering and wonderful Waldorf-Astoria Hotel across the avenue. The building was romantically admired by the protagonists of the new, which is understandable and the Shelton, especially when unobstructively viewed from the west in old photographs, was certainly robust, secure and balanced. Today, it is hard to see its relatively small pitched roof and its primary virtues are its wonderful decorative elements.

The building gained added celebrity by being depicted in some of the works of two of its most legendary tenants, Alfred Steiglitz, the photographer, and Georgia O'Keefe, the painter.

Erected as a bachelor hotel, the Shelton had reading rooms, solariums, roof gardens, a swimming pool and three squash courts, but by 1925 it began to be used for "mixed-occupancy transients, inaugurating the development of Lexington Avenue as midtown's avenue of moderately priced hotels," authors Stern, Gilmartin and Mellins noted.

The building, whose interiors were redesigned by Stephen B. Jacobs, when it became the Halloran House in 1978, is not an architectural masterpiece, but its decorative elements are spectacular.

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