Fred F. French Building, New York, NY
Historic lobby pendant restoration and lighting re-engineering.
Frederick Fillmore French (1883-1936) was a real estate tycoon in 1920s New York City. Owing to the unlivable conditions of his properties he is indirectly responsible for the City’s infamous rent control laws. Ironically, with its glorious Art Deco terra cotta faience and metalwork, his eponymous 1927 Manhattan skyscraper helped to cement the international reputation of Fifth Avenue.
Regal is the 38-story building’s foyer and lobby, resplendent with polished marble walls, patterned floors, mosaics and ornate ceilings finished in bright blue and gold leaf. Since the building’s dedication, exotic, internally lit pendants—unique across the City—have illuminated this evocative, coffered, L-shaped lobby.
The fixtures were ravaged by dirt, abuse and time. The owners desired 1) to completely restore these masterpieces of glass and metal, 2) increase their ease of maintenance and 3) modify them to uplight and highlight the beautiful ceiling motifs. Rambusch recreated the 1/2-inch plate glass, acid-etched sabers, many of which had broken over the years. The units were gutted and 100,000-hour induction lamps installed to edge-light the glass. Two types of concealed LED sources light both the foyer and the hand-textured metal of the fixture itself. After cleaning off decades of grime, the metal was hand polished and umber incrementally applied to build up a rich finish. This subtle treatment was lacquered and baked to create a permanent protective seal.
Once the symbolic lanterns of a New Babylon, they now hang as they did in their day: extraordinary fixtures, the last of an era before incredible handcraftsmanship reluctantly yielded to mass production.
Note — The Fred F. French Building is a striking conglomeration of design references. Using rich materials, its style, according to French's house architect, H. Douglas Ives, was "Mesopotamian.” Difficult to see atop the 38-story building is a polychromed bas-relief inspired by Assyrian art. This sculpture was fabricated by the Federal Seaboard Terra Cotta Corporation of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, to the design of Leif Neandross, a painter and ceramicist who was The Rambusch Company’s chief designer at the time. This symbolic edifice was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.