On January 11, 1982, a dozen admirers of Art Deco gathered in the Murray Hill apartment of interior designer Henriette Nathan to hold the first official meeting of the newly incorporated Art Deco Society of New York. Interest in the modernistic styles of the 1920s and ‘30s had been growing worldwide since a seminal Paris retrospective exhibition of 1966, and a number of New York’s Deco superstars––Radio City Music Hall, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building––had found shelter under the city’s 1965 Landmarks Law. The revival of interest in Art Deco, however, was still in its early days. Forty years later, Art Deco may be the single most recognizable architectural style in New York City, where more than 80 individual Deco buildings have won Landmarks protection, along with dozens more in historic districts, including a stretch of the Grand Concourse.
In this lecture, Anthony W. Robins––who joined ADSNY while the Society was still getting organized and currently serves as its Vice President––will trace the extraordinary growth of New York’s fascination with Art Deco architecture and its rocky road to acceptance in historic preservation circles. Robins witnessed much of that story while on staff at the Landmarks Preservation Commission, where he wrote the designation reports of half-a-dozen Deco landmarks. He will revisit resounding victories, from rescuing Radio City in the late 1970s to the interiors of the Waldorf-Astoria in 2017. He will also highlight major restorations, from the Empire State Building’s lobby to the Orchard Beach Bathhouse, and recount some of the lamentable losses––from Bonwit Teller, demolished in 1980, to the McGraw Hill Building lobby, stripped to the walls in 2021––serving as a reminder that there is still work to be done.