This is my second post on the main architectural styles that await you in New York City. What to expect? The most beautiful buildings from the Beaux Arts era with all the information and my tips on how you can experience them. Highlights include the New York Public Library and Grand Central Terminal – you see, the era produced some beautiful buildings that still haven’t lost any of their elegance today!
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When did Beaux Arts architecture peak?
Beaux Arts architecture was prevalent in Europe and North America from about 1880 to 1920 (it was followed by another important and formative era for New York: Art Deco).
As a starting point of the Beaux Arts called the “Gilded Age”, in which the richest of the rich such as the Vanderbilts, Astors and Carnegies built representative villas for themselves but also at the same time used their wealth to finance public buildings such as museums, libraries or concert and theater halls. Among the most famous architects of the Beaux-Arts era are Richard Morris Hunt, Charles Follen McKim (who designed the New York Pennsylvania Station), Stanford White, Carrère and Hastings, and Paul Philippe Cret.
My tip: For even more architecture, check out my article on Art Deco in New York (this era produced the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, among others) and also check out my TOP 10 Architecture Tours in NYC!
What characterizes Beaux Arts buildings?
- Beaux Arts architecture is characterized by clean lines and symmetrical shapes.
- Classical elements such as columns and relief ornaments are also used.
- The buildings are meant to express order and stability.
These are the most beautiful Beaux Arts buildings in NYC
Metropolitan Museum of Art (The MET)Museum in Upper East SideOur HighlightAdd to myNY added
Probably one of the most famous and renowned museums in the world is the Metropolitan Museum of Art – short: The Met. And for me it is one of the most beautiful examples of Beaux Arts buildings in New York!
The facade of the museum on Fifth Avenue and the Great Hall was designed by the famous architect Richard Morris Hunt. It was opened in December 1902 and has lost none of its elegance and radiance to this day.
Grand Central TerminalOther Attraction in Midtown ManhattanAdd to myNY added
The original Grand Central Depot, built in 1871, needed a redesign in the early 20th century. In 1903, a design competition was launched and Reed & Stem won with an innovative concept that included pedestrian ramps and a ramped street outside the building.
Later, a second architectural firm Warren & Wetmore was hired to design the facade of three triumphal arches. The two firms worked together to create the final design, which paid attention to minute design details such as bronze and stone carvings and different types of marble.
The Grand Central spaces reveal exceptional architectural design, including the use of Guastavino tiles and sculptures of Mercury, Hercules and Minerva on the facade.
There used to be other stations in New York City that were built in the Beaux Arts style – but these were gradually either phased out of service or completely redesigned like Penn Station.
New York Public LibraryBuilding in Midtown ManhattanAdd to myNY added
The New York Public Library, more precisely the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Bryant Park, is one of the most famous Beaux Arts buildings in New York City and also one of the city’s landmarks.
The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is featured on two of my walks through New York, so I’ll also reveal the significance of the two lion sculptures in front of the main entrance! It was designed by architect Thomas Hastings of the architectural firm Carrère & Hastings, who also designed the Frick Collection building.
Hastings’ designs of the New York Public Library included not only the building itself, but also the tables, chairs, lamps, chandeliers, and even the trash cans (!). That’s why everything looks so cohesive to this day.
The exterior facade is made of Vermont marble, quarried at two quarries on Dorset Mountain. It is located in the Green Mountains, which impressed me a lot during my road trip along the east coast of the USA. The architects were very “picky” in selecting the appropriate marble blocks; just 35% of the blocks supplied met Hastings’ extremely high quality standard.
Fun fact: More than 15,000 cubic meters of marble were used, which is 6 times more than was needed to build the New York Chamber of Commerce and the New York Stock Exchange combined.
In 1902, the foundation stone for the building was laid, and on May 23, 1911, after 9 years of construction, the library was opened in the presence of U.S. President William Howard Taft, Governor John Alden Dix and New York City Mayor William J. Gaynor.
It was the largest marble construction in the U.S. to date, even from the outside the building is impressive, a very special atmosphere awaits you when you look at the Rose Main Reading Room. So, be sure to check out this Beaux Arts masterpiece at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street!
The Frick CollectionMuseum in Upper East SideAdd to myNY added
The Frick Collection building on 5th Avenue is another example of Beaux Art architecture in New York. Really cool: there’s a virtual tour of the space, check it out here.
Thomas Hastings was the architect who completed it in 1913-1914. At first it served as a residence for Henry Clay Frick and his wife Adelaide Frick, after her death in 1931 it was thus converted into the Frick Collection. After four years of construction, it was opened in 1935 and is still considered one of the most important places for art in New York.
Washington Square ArchBuilding in Greenwich VillageOur HighlightAdd to myNY added
One of the many structures created by one of NYC’s best-known Beaux Arts architectural firms, McKim, Mead & White, is the Washington Square Arch in the West Village.
This was designed in 1891 to honor the 100th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration and forms the southern end of 5th Avenue. George Washington is immortalized on it with two sculptures at once: one showing him at peace, one during war.
Many details will remind you of Roman triumphal arches, this was also the inspiration of the architect Stanford White. The very high-quality Tuckahoe marble, which comes from the town of the same name in New York State, served as the building material.
Woolworth BuildingBuilding in Financial DistrictAdd to myNY added
The Woolworth Building was designed by architect Cass Gilbert and was the tallest building in the world when it opened in 1913 at a height of 241 meters. It was only possible to build so high using the latest construction techniques.
The building was named after Frank Winfield Woolworth, whose chain of stores brought him considerable wealth. Inspired by his travels through Europe, he saw his future headquarters of his company a lot of marketing potential. I think even more crucial was that he simply wanted to own a building that was taller than the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower (the tallest building in the world at the time).
The building at City Hall Park was a steel frame structure, and the facade used white limestone-colored terra cotta tiles to accentuate the piers and create a visual verticality. To this day, you can see these embellishments included. You can easily recognize the Woolworth Building with its now greenish top and ornate towers in the skyline of New York.
James A. Farley BuildingBuilding in ChelseaAdd to myNY added
One of the largest Beaux-Arts buildings in New York is undoubtedly the James A. Farley Building on 8th Avenue. It is located directly across from Madison Square Gardens and consists of the Moynihan Train Hall and the U.S. General Post Office, among other buildings.
Opened in 1914, it is another building with which the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White left its mark on New York City.
Morgan Library & MuseumMuseum in Murray HillAdd to myNY added
The Morgan Library & Museum has been designated as an architectural landmark on several occasions, as it is a New York City landmark for its architecture as well as its interior.
It was originally the home of financial magnate J.P. Morgan and was built under Charles Follen McKim by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White from 1902 – 1907. It is located in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Midtown and can be classified as Beaux Art because it is a sub-style of Neoclassical architecture.
Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the opulent decorations are not as striking as those of the New York Public Library.
Brooklyn MuseumMuseum in Park SlopeAdd to myNY added
The Brooklyn Museum is another Beaux Arts building for which the architects of McKim, Mead & White are responsible. The gallery wing and light-filled courtyard on the northeast side of the Brooklyn Museum also bear the name Beaux Arts Court.
One of the largest and oldest art museums in the U.S., it was founded in 1823 under the name Brooklyn Apprentices’ Library. Over time, the decision grew that the many different art movements and forms should come together in a new building. Had the building plans of the time been implemented as they were, it would have become the largest single museum building.
Grand Army PlazaBuilding in Park SlopeAdd to myNY added
The beautiful triumphal arch at the Grand Army Plaza is officially called “Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch” and is dedicated to the victims of the Civil War of the USA. It was built from 1889 to 1892 and the architect behind this Beaux-Arts structure is John Duncan, who also planned the General Grant National Memorial.
The detailed sculptures were created by the most famous Beaux-Arts sculptor Frederick William MacMonnies, who also worked on the Washington Square Arch.
General Grant National MemorialOther Attraction in Morningside HeightsAdd to myNY added
One of the most famous landmarks of Morningside Heights in New York is the General Grant National Memorial. This site is the largest mausoleum in North America and the final resting place of President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia.
Built under planning by architect John Duncan, the Beaux-Arts mausoleum was originally intended to be located in Central Park. But landscape architect Samuel Parsons Jr. convinced Grant’s widow that Riverside Park was more suitable. The memorial has its place here on one of the highest elevations in the park.
It is a beautiful place to walk and learn about Grant’s legacy and the history of the Civil War.
Bronx ZooOther Attraction in BronxAdd to myNY added
However, the architectural style influenced not only office and public buildings, but even the Bronx Zoo. Sculptors Alexander Proctor, Eli Harvey and Charles R. Knight created many of the ornaments and animals on the various enclosures around the Bronx Zoo’s Astor Court. This was designed by architectural firm Heins & La Farge and built from 1899 to 1910.
Bryant Park StudiosBuilding in Midtown ManhattanAdd to myNY added
Just off Bryant Park, next to the New York Public Library, is another Beaux Arts-style building: Bryant Park Studios. Like many others on this list, it is an official historic landmark.
It is an office building with some space that can be booked for exhibitions. Bryant Park Studios opened in 1901, and the architect was Charles Alonzo Rich, who designed it in the Beaux Arts style with his architectural firm Lamb & Rich.
Just a few steps from here stands the American Radiator Building, which is one of the most beautiful Art Deco buildings in New York City.
The AnsoniaBuilding in Upper West SideAdd to myNY added
The Ansonia is a very impressive residential complex on the Upper West Side. Originally opened in 1904 as a hotel with more than 1,200 rooms, it has been one of New York City’s official landmarks since 1972.
The architect behind The Ansonia is Paul E. Duboy. European influences designed it in the Beaux Arts style. The amount of detail on the balconies, overhangs, and facade is super-impressive. If you have the John Lennon memorial in Central Park on your itinerary, you should definitely check it out!
Fans of the How I Met Your Mother series will find the building familiar: Zoey Pierson – George’s ex-wife – lived here.
What is Beaux-Arts architecture?
Beaux Arts architecture was prevalent in Europe and North America in the period from about 1880 to 1920 and loosely translates as “the fine arts.” It is characterized by a combination of classical, symmetrical forms combined with sculptural elements.
What are the most famous Beaux-Arts buildings in New York?
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grand Central Terminal, and the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library at Bryant Park are among the most important buildings of this era.
What movement came after Beaux-Arts?
The Art Deco style was influential in the post-Beaux-Arts period, albeit only from about 1920 to the late 1930’s. This style produced icons such as the Empire State Building and Chrylser Building, and many more defining buildings.
There are so many that I’ve compiled them here in my article about Art Deco Buildings of New York. Check it out right now!
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I'm a true New York fan! Not only have I visited the city over 25 times but also have I spent several months here at a time. On my blog I show you the best and most beautiful spots of the city, so that you have a really good time! You can also find lots of insider tips in our New York travel guide. Also check out my hotel finder for New York!