We at Dizon Inc. are well acquainted with the Park Avenue Armory, producing shows for Proenza Schouler as well as G-Star in the amazing space. The history of the building is something few people who rush in and out for a fashion show or two probably have time to ponder. However, it is a fascinating building boasting important 19th-century Aesthetic Movement interiors that are in the process of being restored to their original glory.
On a recent tour, the architectural preservationist in charge of leading the crusade to restoration gave a background of the building and some of the rooms. The Armory occupies an entire block between Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue, 66th and 67th Streets on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It was built to serve the Seventh Regiment National Guard, a volunteer militia whose members included elites of society like the Roosevelts and Vanderbilts. In the 19th century, the “Silk Stocking Regiment” was had a social club located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. During this time, the area was becoming a neighborhood thickly populated with immigrants, largely German and Irish. The Regiment requested funds from the government to build a new location uptown, a ritzier neighborhood where many of the members already lived. When their proposal was denied, many of the members realized that they could fund the project themselves. Although additional money had to be raised partway through the project, by 1881 the Armory was completed.
The 55,000 square foot Drill Hall is the largest space and was used for training exercises. The structure is a barrel-vaulted “balloon shed”, the oldest in the United States. This system of iron arches allows the huge soaring ceiling and vast floor space to be uninterrupted by load-bearing columns. The effect is reminiscent of European train depots like the Gare du Nord in Paris, or London’s Crystal Palace of 1851.
Proenza Schouler showed their Spring 2009 Collection with a X-shaped runway in the Drill Hall, while G-Star built a comprehensive stadium seating with raised runway in the same season. The lighting on the worn green painted floor reflected beautifully to an silver gilded effect.
The first floor hallways and staircase were designed in a Renaissance Revival style by George C. Flint & Co. in 1880. The most striking feature still intact today are the chandeliers and wall sconces which were installed in 1897 with electricity. Proenza Schouler showed their Spring 2008 show in the Armory Hallway; the military influenced collection was accentuated by the vaguely menacing wrought lighting fixtures.
This room is probably one of the most ornate and intact interiors of the Armory. Elements of the decoration were designed by a young Stanford White just as he started his first firm, as well as a virtually unknown Louis Comfort Tiffany. The scheme includes ornately painted silver patterns on the ceiling and columns in a chainmail pattern, as well as a painted frieze depicting the history of warfare. Stained glass windows and glass artwork embellishing the fireplace were executed by Tiffany. The dense program of motifs include an eclectic blend of infuences: Greek, Moresque, Celtic, Egyptian, Persian, and Japanese. G-Star guests fill the room during the after party of the Spring 2009 show at the bottom right. Knowing the illustrious history and the state of restoration makes one a bit nervous to see so many drinks!
FIELD AND STAFF ROOM
This room with extensive woodwork and mounted game heads was originally designed by Pottier & Stymus in a Renaissance Revival style. It will soon undergo extensive work to restore the stenciled floral and geometric wall patterns, which have been revealed under a layer of yellow paint.
LIBRARY- SILVER ROOM
The Library, which has been reappropriated to display some of the Armory’s collection of silver, boasts a beautiful basketweave barrel vaulted ceiling designed by Tiffany, White, and Associated Artists in a subtle salmon color with silver disks scattered over the surface. Crosshatch metalwork on the balcony screen will be cleaned and restored to its original luster.
MARY DIVVER ROOM
This Ladies Reception Room was done by the Herter Brothers. The fireplace is decorated with Minton art tiles that show scenes from Arthurian legend. The painted ceiling and woodwork has been remarkably preserved, even as the walls have been painted over.
BOARD OF OFFICERS ROOM
Another Herter Brothers interior. The wall pattern is the original design but has been overpainted several times. Several different but complementary patterns adorn the walls and ceiling of this room.