525 Lexington Avenue: Shelton Hotel (now Marriott East Side Hotel)
Shelton Hotel, now Marriott East Side Hotel
525 Lexington Avenue, southeast corner East 49th Street
Arthur Loomis Harmon, 1922-23
The Shelton was one of the most heralded buildings of the 1920s and is the first great monument to New York City’s 1916 zoning code. Critic George S. Chappell exulted in architect Arthur Loomis Harmon’s “romantic and thrilling achievement”; it was such a striking presence on the New York skyline that it inspired a series of masterful paintings by artist Georgia O’Keefe. The building was commissioned by James T. Lee, a prominent New York builder, also responsible for such luxury apartment buildings as 740 Park Avenue and 998 Fifth Avenue.
In 1916, New York had passed America’s first zoning law, mandating setbacks on skyscrapers in order to insure that light and air would reach the street. Harmon’s design for the Shelton was one of the first to prove that a building of great expressive strength could be designed within the zoning rules, with the required setbacks and tower occupying only twenty-five percent of the lot area. From a limestone base with double-height arcade, richly ornamented with carved detail, the building soars upward through a serious of beautifully integrated masses with no cornices to block the continuous vertical thrust. From Lexington Avenue, the building appears as a rectangular block, but the structure is actually U-shaped in plan, with a light court at the rear, facing east. The brick of the upper stories is employed like a textile with some bricks pulled out to create texture. The emphatic verticality lends a certain Gothic character to the building, but the use of materials and details harks back to Byzantine and Italian Romanesque forms, reflecting architect Arthur Loomis Harmon’s intentions “to take from any source whatever was required, treating it in a free and easy classical way, the hope being that the details and masses shall both suggest, if possible their own time rather than that of their prototypes.” Harmon had experimented with style, texture, and massing in earlier buildings, notably the Allerton Houses, including the landmarked example on East 57th Street and Lexington Avenue, but, as critic Claude Bragdon noted, the Allerton Houses “show forth, to the discerning eye, piecemeal and partially, many things which find fuller and happier embodiment in this latest building.”
The Shelton was planned as a “club hotel”; i.e., a residential hotel for men, with such club features as a swimming pool, Turkish bath, billiard room, bowling alley, and, on the setbacks, rooftop gardens. The joys of living in such a hotel were detailed by a writer for Edison Monthly: “In a house of monumental beauty raised to the heights especially for you – if you are a bachelor – you will find all the comforts of a country home, and the luxuries and camaraderie of a university or great club always at your disposal and command.” The male athletes carved above the column capitals at the entrance symbolize this original use. This use as a residential hotel for men was not a success and soon after its completion the hotel became a more traditional residential and transient facility. The design, however, was deemed a great success. It was widely discussed by architectural critics; indeed, Leon V. Solon noted that “it is probable that no design produced in recent years has attracted as much attention, or received more commendation.” The building received gold medals from the American Institute of Architects and the Architectural League of New York. Although the interior was gutted in 1977, the exterior was restored for a conversion into the Halloran House Hotel.
“Beauty in the Skyscraper: The Shelton Hotel,” Vanity Fair 23 (October 1924): 51.
Bragdon, Claude, “The Shelton Hotel, New York,” Architectural Record 58 (July 1925): 1-18.
Chappell, George S., “The Shelton,” The New Republic 38 (March 5, 1924): 43-45.
Ferriss, Hugh, “A New Type of Building,” Christian Science Monitor, April 27, 1923, 7.
“A Giant Hotel for None But Men,” New York Hotel Record, September 19,1923, 16, 30.
Huxtable, Ada Louise, “A Dramatic Example of Architectural Recycling,” New York Times July 3, 1977, sec. 2, 17.
Kimball, Fiske, “Three Centuries of American Architecture,” Architectural Record 57 (June 1925): 563.
“The Shelton,” American Architect 123 (February 14, 1923): plate 123.
“The Shelton,” Architecture 49 (April 1924): 101-105 and plates.
“The Shelton,” Edison Monthly 15 (October 1923): 216-218.
“The Shelton: A Residence for Men,” New York Times March 16, 1924, sec. 7, 119.
“The Shelton Club Hotel, Lexington Avenue and 49th Street, New York,” The Architect 1 (February 1924), plate cxxxi-cxxxii.
Solon, Leon V., “Evolution of an Architectural Design, II – The Shelton Hotel, New York,” Architectural Record 59 (April 1926): 367-375.
Stern, Robert A. M., Gregory Gilmartin, and Thomas Mellins, New York 1930: Architecture and Urbanism Between the Two World Wars (New York: Rizzoli, 1987), 208-212.
“Work in Progress on World’s Tallest Hotel for Bachelors,” Real Estate Record and Builders Guide 109 (June 10, 1922): 713.