Delmonico Building, 1926
Charles Sheeler (American, 1883–1965)
Image: 9 3/4 x 6 3/4 in. (24.7 x 17.1 cm); sheet: 15 9/16 x 11 7/16 in. (39.5 x 29 cm)
John B. Turner, 1968 (68.728)
Delmonico's was a fabled restaurant and meeting place for New York City's upper classes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. When its business was negatively affected by Prohibition, it closed its location at Fifth Avenue and 44th Street in 1923. (It reopened at a new address, under new management, in 1929.) The restaurant's building was demolished and a skyscraper was constructed on the famous site. This building, officially named the Central Mercantile Bank Building but informally known as the Delmonico Building, was designed in an Italian Renaissance revival style by the architect H. Craig Severance. Upon its completion in 1926, the architectural critic for The New Yorker called the thirty-six-story tower "a disappointment . . . Every proportion appears to be unfortunate. The central tower, curiously set on no particular axis, has the grace of an overgrown grain elevator."
Sheeler based this print on a photograph he had taken of the Delmonico Building, which was published in Vanity Fair in November 1926. Both the photograph and the lithograph depict the building from the southeast, as seen from the sidewalk, so that the viewer is forced to "look" upward with the artist. With his characteristic compositional approach, Sheeler extracted abstract patterns from his realistic depiction of the urban landscape. The silhouette of the office tower against the sky is an arrangement of diagonals and angles, particularly due to recent zoning ordinances that required "setbacks" on the upper stories of high buildings, in order to allow light to reach the streets below. The Delmonico Building dwarfs the older, more modestly scaled structures that share its city block, and its blank side exteriors indicate where adjacent buildings have been demolished or where even newer architecture will soon rise.