January 3, 2011 § 3 Comments
Notes About the Cincinnati Netherland Hotel Plaza and Carew Tower
I find it extraordinary that the plans for the Carew Tower and Netherland Plaza Hotel were announced in August of 1929, the foundation begun in January of 1930 and the project completed by January, 1931, not only because of the lightning speed in which this opulent monument to Art Deco design was constructed, but because the Wall Street Crash of October 1929 occurred several months after the project was first announced.
The financing came from the Emery family, which had made its fortune in Cincinnati’s stockyards. John Emery hired designer Walter W. Ahlschlager and Colonel William Starrett of Starrett Bros. & Eken of New York. William Starrett at that time was arguably the standard bearer of building first class buildings. Starrett Bros. & Eken are most famously known today as the builders of New York City’s Empire State Building. (For more information about William Starrett see The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark by John Tauranac, Scribner, 1995).
The Carew Tower and Netherland Plaza were designed to be what Col. William Starrett termed a “city-within-a-city.” By the time Emery brought him to Cincinnati, Starrett had written of his urban vision in his seminal book Skyscrapers and the Men Who Build Them (Scribner, 1928). Due to traffic density, Cincinnati was ranked the third most congested city in the U.S. Part theoretical and part practical, Starrett’s solution to the increasing density and street level congestion in American cities was an untried, mixed-use skyscraper complex—a city-within-a-city. Although the concept was new at the time, Emery was willing to risk his fortune, believing that the combination of department store, shops, offices, and hotel would invite downtown residents, workers, and visitors. The Carew complex was the first experiment in the design, construction, and development of such a concept and it inspired other mixed-use complexes such as Rockefeller Center, which was completed in 1934.
Emery’s vision for Cincinnati led to bold financial moves. He had approached the bank to underwrite his city-within-a-city project but because the concept was so novel the bank declined. Emery sold all his stocks and securities. The plans and the financing for the building complex were in place when the stock market crashed. Had he left his stocks and securities tied up in the market, he would have lost everything. The construction project became one of Cincinnati’s largest employers during the years after the Great Crash, creating over one thousand jobs.
The Restaurants at Palm Court
The Palm Court was once the main lobby for the hotel. Egyptian, French, and Greek influences abound and are transmuted into an eclectic vision of Art Deco design. At the far end of the Palm Court is a ram’s-head fountain with a breche marble ziggurat-shaped surround, guarded by two strikingly handsome seahorses, crowned with lotus-shaped lights.
George Unger, a talented theatre designer during the 1920s and 1930s, is credited with the majority of the interior design work. Although myriad mythological figures are found throughout the hotel—the ram, dolphin, seahorse, and mermaid represent protection for travelers—the variety of Art Deco images and forms were adopted not so much for their for their symbolic attributes, but for their dramatic visual effect.
Detail of Ceramic Rookwood Art Tiles from the Carew Arcade Arches
The seahorse, fountain, and Carew Arcade ceramic tile arches were made at the world-renowned Rookwood Pottery studio located atop Mt. Adams, one of the seven hills surrounding Cincinnati. The magnificent floral arches are located on the east and west ends of the Carew Tower Arcade and are one of the largest installations of art pottery in the world. Because of their highly visible location they are one of the most publicly accessible. The tiles are the work of William E. Hentschel and are based on a repeating motif designed by the French metalsmith and armaments designer Edgar Brandt, establishing a link between Hentschel’s Arts and Crafts movement heritage and Brandt’s influence in the French Arts Décoratifs et Industrials Modernes of the mid-1920s. Although not ever directly acknowledged by the developer, builder, or architect, Brandt is considered the “decorative artist in absentia,” particularly of the Netherland Hotel. The appropriation of knock-offs of Brandt’s signature themes such as the frozen fountains, sunflower patterns, rams’ horns, and antelopes into the complex filled an immediate need for a decorative vocabulary in the massive building on the developer’s fast-track schedule.
The wall lighting in the Netherland Plaza was considered ground breaking design because the light bulbs were not visible through the silver and nickel sconces.
Preparations Underway for the Grand Christmas Dinner Feast at the Palm Court!
A quiet morning after…
The Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza is an Historic Hotel of America and in 1985 earned National Historic Register and National Landmark Status.
End Note: Breche marbles are a category of marbles that are of similar composition: the pressure and distortions at the time of the geological formation of the stone created a marble with large elements. See photo below and photo of the ram’s head statue surround.
January 3, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Christmas in Beautiful Cincinnati
We spent the holidays with my husband Tom’s parents in downtown Cincinnati. Several years ago my in-laws sold their home on Indian Hill and moved to the city, which is located directly on the Ohio River in southwestern Ohio. They love the close proximity of the new home to their church, offices, cultural institutions, and shops. Surrounded by seven hills, the beauty of the region was not lost on the early German immigrants; one of the oldest neighborhoods is still referred to as Over-the-Rhine. Cincinnati boasts a wealth of museums and performing centers and is a veritable treasure trove of superlative examples of American architecture.
For close to one hundred years the family has celebrated the holidays with an annual Christmas Eve party. The party was originated by Tom’s great grandmother Freida (Mrs. Louis) Hauck in their family home atop one of Cincinnati’s hilltops. Today, members of the “older” generation take turns hosting; this year was my mother and father-in-law’s turn. Comparing family photographs of the gala event from decades past, they have continued with the custom of hosting in the most elegant and lovely of German traditions. Particularly as the family becomes more dispersed with each passing year, the party affords a welcome opportunity to stay in touch.
As guests of my mother- and father-in-law, we were invited to stay at the Westin Hotel, which is located within walking distance of their apartment. The enchanting view from our hotel window:
In search of breakfast on the first morning after arriving we left the lobby of the Westin, crossed Vine Street and entered the fascinating and fantastical French Art Deco world of the Hilton Netherland Plaza Hotel and Carew Tower. We quickly found the luncheonette Hathaways, tucked in amongst the shops, a favorite spot of my father-in-law’s, then wandered the public areas of the Carew Tower, eventually wending our way through the lobby and restaurants of the Palm Court of the Netherland Plaza.
Blanketed by a cold front, the sun shone once during our entire stay; however, that did not deter us from having a grand holiday. Perhaps the next time we visit my mother- and father-in-law in downtown Cincinnati, the weather will be warmer. I plan to bring you additional photos from the gorgeous Hilton Netherland Plaza—the snapshots in this posting and the following are but a modicum of the stunning design elements found there—as well as more photos representative of the beauty that is Cincinnati.
Batsakes~ Genuine haberdashery, located around the corner from the Westin, well-stocked with fedoras, pork-pies, et al.–custom gold-leaf monogramming, stamped inside the hat brim, is provided with purchase!
Over the bridge to Newport Kentucky to keep son happy with with burger and shake…we miss you Johnny Rockets!