Thursday, March 20, 2014

From the Archives: The Artists of 80 West 40th Street

BPC archivist, Anne Kumer, takes a look at one of the Park's adjacent buildings. This post also appears on NYC Circa.

The Bryant Park Studios building was one of the first buildings in the city constructed specifically to house artists' studios. Commissioned by painter Abraham Archibald Anderson and designed by architect Charles A. Rich, it was built in 1900-1901 and featured 24 double-height, north facing windows. The site chosen for the building was the SE corner of 40th Street and Sixth Avenue. With Bryant Park across the street to the north, the building's windows were unlikely to be blocked out by future additions to the city's skyline, providing the studios with much-coveted natural light. 

Anderson kept the lavishly decorated penthouse and an apartment in the building for his studio and living space. His personal touches included a suit of armor, imported Spanish tapestries, a bathroom tiled in whole abalone shells, and an ornately carved Venetian doorway.

Anderson's penthouse studio with many of its embellishments
The building became one of the centers of the city's art world and attracted a long list of famous tenants. In the early years there was painter, turned photographer Edward Steichen:

Edward Steichen, self portrait, c. 1917 or before. Image via
 From the 1930s until the late 1950s, illustrator and painter Thomas Webb occupied several different studios in the building, including Anderson's Penthouse.
Painter Thomas Webb in his penthouse studio with the Venetian doorway in the background. Image: McCormick family
Webb was an exceptionally talented painter and illustrator, well known for his Saturday Evening Post work.
One of Webb's Saturday Evening Post covers. Image via

Last summer I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Webb's daughter, who also lived in the building for a time during the 1930s. She has great stories about New York City, the park during that time period -- it was empty and not very safe -- and some of the artist who worked in the building at the same time. 

Fernand Léger was a "bear of a man" with a deep gravely voice and a preference for only speaking French.

Fernand Léger's Three Musicians, 1930. Image via
Russian artist Leon Gordon once started a small fire by leaving paint brushes soaking in turpentine.

Elegant Man in Mirror, Leon Gordon. Image via
And though she never met him, her father was friendly with the photographer Man Ray, who shot this photo of another early tenant, sculptor Jo Davidson.

Jo Davidson (in his Paris studio) working on the cast of the Gertrude Stein statue, as his subject looks on, c. 1922. Photo by Man Ray, image source: Getty Museum
The building continues to house creative tenants, each with an eye for beauty and an appreciation of  a park view unblocked northern light.

Other sources:
-Gray, Christopher. NYT, October 6, 1991
-Landmarks Preservation Commission Report, Bryant park Studios Building, December 13, 1988

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