New York City’s Landmark Preservation Commission wasted no time in setting a date to consider landmark status for The Seville Hotel (now the James Hotel) and the Emmet Building. The buildings stand across the street from each other at 29th Street on Madison Avenue.
The Seville Hotel (James Hotel Nomad)
On the southwest corner of the intersection, the former Seville Hotel designed by Harry Allan Jones is a distinct example of Beaux-Arts-style architecture. It was completed between 1901 and 1904; an annex designed by Charles T. Mott was added in 1906-07.
The elegant Beaux-Arts hotel features red brick and limestone façades with a rusticated base, alternating bandcourses at the second and third stories, decorative cornices and projecting bays from the fourth to the tenth stories. One of these bays is located at the building’s chamfered corner, which is clad in limestone along the building’s full height. The façade is extravagantly detailed with three-dimensional sculptural ornaments, such as rounded copper bays, cartouches and large third-story panels with foliage and lion heads.
Architect Harry Allan Jones, trained at Columbia and the Ecoles des Beaux Arts in Paris, was noted for fashionable home designs in historic styles. Two of his most famous works can be seen today at The Kusciuczko Foundation (15 Est 65th Street) in Regency style and The Andrew Freedman Home (1125 Grand Concourse) reminiscent of Renaissance Rome and the Palazzo Farnese.
When the Seville was built the neighborhood was primarily residential, and the hotel was named for developer Maitland E. Graves’ love for Seville, Spain. Later the hotel would be renovated as the Carlton Hotel, and most recently, it was renamed the James Hotel NoMad and renovations are once again being completed.
Urban legend has it that Harpo Marx once worked as a bellboy there and wrote several skits based on his experiences. A century-old bar that once served Frank Sinatra was brought in as part of the “Carlton” renovations, which also included the restoration of a Tiffany-style glass skylight that had been covered in tobacco tar, dirt and debris, and perhaps painted over to deter air raids during World War II. “This is the single most important turn-of-the-century glass being provided for the public,” said Patrick Clark of Sunlites Stained Glass, which dismantled and restored the fixture, according to The New York Times.
The Emmet Building
Across the street on the southeast corner of the 29th Street and Madison Avenue intersection, The Emmet Building was designed by Barney & Colt in Neo-French Renaissance style and was completed in 1912.
The Emmet Building was lavished with white neo-Gothic terra cotta ornamentation which managed to be at once stylish and whimsical. Four larger-than-life-sized carved limestone Medieval figures stand above the second floor cornice under ornate terra cotta canopies; two on the Madison Avenue side and two on the 29th Street façade. Legions of terra cotta gargoyles, more mischievous than frightening, decorate the façade with expressions of surprise or playfulness. The lobby was finished in Sienna and Numidia marble, mosaic floors, bronze elevator doors and surrounds. The street level exterior was a medley of limestone, cast iron ornamentation and green marble-clad pillars rising two stories. After 100 years, the exterior has remained astonishingly unchanged and was fully and painstakingly restored in 1991.
The Emmet Building was constructed by Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet who had resided in a brownstone on the location. Having acquired adjoining properties, Mr. Emmet decided not to move uptown as his fashionable neighbors followed the trend, but instead, he built a commercial building on the spot and lived on the entire top floor. In the days when the topmost floor of commercial buildings was reserved for housing the building superintendents or janitors, Emmet’s lavish apartment built on the 16th Floor would be “the first time in the history of city architecture” that an elaborate home was situated atop a commercial building, according to the architects.
“Dr. Emmet’s rooms,” said The New York Times, “will consist of a study, library, dining and breakfast rooms, drawing rooms, conservatory, sleeping apartments with bathrooms, in one of the latter being placed a deep swimming plunge. A kitchen and servants’ quarters are also provided.” It also included an 18 by 36 foot library, a solarium, and a roof garden with fountain, plants, marble seats and pergola.
Like his apartment, Dr. Emmet was extraordinary in many ways. He was internationally known in the field of women’s medicine, writing such books as The Principles and Practice of Gynaecology. In addition, he amassed the foremost collection of American prints and autographs in the country, he spent decades ferociously fighting for Irish home rule, and was President of the Irish National Federation of America. He was given Notre Dame’s Laetere Medal for his work benefiting humanity, and Pope Pius X conferred upon him the title of Knight Commander of St. Gregory the Great making him one of the few Papal Counts in America.
If you haven’t taken notice of these two great architectural pieces, look up the next time you’re at the corner of 29th and Madison. It’s this great legacy of beautiful architecture and craftsmanship that make NoMad so beautiful . . . and surprising. The historical memories on every block are pretty exciting too.