Deco Blog

    Still Digging Deco 

    So I’m in New York over the weekend attending a writer’s conference in which we were exposed to all the new things going on in the publishing world including Print on Demand, E-books and (whattya know?) blogging.

    The conference was held at the Grand Hyatt in midtown Manhattan right across the street from the classic centerfold from the art deco age; The Chrysler Building. I first became aware of art deco by watching “WKRP in Cincinnati,” a program I was drawn to as a young man because it was supposedly set in Ohio, my home state. It seems like every other show or movie I watched as a kid was placed in New York or Los Angeles, so naturally I was intrigued.

    The pretend radio station was headquartered in a fictitious place called the “Flem Building,” and in one episode the joint had a date with the wrecking ball. Jan Smithers played the role of Bailey Quarters, the young idealistic newbie at the station who got wind of the plan to knock down the Flem and she urged the station manager to stage a campaign to save it.

    Her reason for wanting to exercise this bit of architectural preservation was because the building was an outstanding example of art deco and she gave an impassioned speech for why it was so important.

    I have no recollection of the speech, but I did develop a crush on Bailey who was kind of an office nerd as compared to the blonde bombshell Jennifer Marlow, played by Loni Anderson – before she became Mrs. Burt Reynolds and then Mrs. Ex Burt Reynolds, but I tangent.

    Flash forward many years into the future which is now actually in the past and I’m shopping at one of my favorite funky furniture stores that specializes in Mid-Century Modern. At this point I’ve decided I’m a Modernist after dabbling briefly in antique collecting and experimenting with a craftsmen style four square. Anyway, I’m in there looking at furniture designed in the 1950’s by Eames, Saarinen, Paul McCobb and Heywood Wakefield and the slightly snarky salesman, tells me he used to specialize in art deco.

    “Deco?” I say. “Why deco?”
    “Well, it was the first modern. It was modern before modern,” he says.

    He then starts yammering on about the machine age and deco fans who insisted on dressing in the style of the 1920’s and referring to some of them as “a bunch of weirdoes.” I’d never heard about this modern-deco connection before and being the suspicious type, I decided to investigate.

    I found out that most people who write about the subject agreed with Mr. Snark. I also found out that deco’s influence reached across the planet by swaying fashion, industrial design and the fine arts. Remember those old locomotives and ocean liners with the streamlined look? Deco. How about the swooping fenders of a 1930’s era Delahaye? Deco. Ever see pictures of the babes of the 20’s and 30’s wearing long, slinky dresses? Deco.

    I stayed at my brother in law’s place that weekend and rode the train from Connecticut into the city – such a civilized way to travel. So I’m riding the train and reading the New York Post where I learn that Walt Chrysler bought what would become the Chrysler building with the idea of moving his car company from Detroit. In keeping with the automotive theme, exterior accoutrements on the 31st floor resemble radiator caps and the steel gargoyles on the 61st floor look like hood ornaments. Stainless steel was used on the exterior façade at the top – that’s what makes it so shiny.

    Let that sink in for a sec. Stainless steel. Like all of our freeking modern appliances today. See the connection? Anyway. Chrysler’s move from the motor city never happened but Walt did live there for awhile and rented out the rest of the space. Detroit got to keep Chrysler which is now, um, troubled and NYC got to keep the Chrysler building – built in 1930 and still drop dead gorgeous. At least, that’s my point of view.

    Scott Sowers

Deco / Modern Links


Paul McCobb:

Heywood Wakefield:


The Chrysler Building


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