The sixteen-story Steinway Hall was constructed in 1924-25 to the design of architects Warren & Wetmore for Steinway & Sons, a piano manufacturing firm that has been a dominant force in its industry since the 1860s. Founded in 1853 in New York by Heinrich E. Steinweg, Sr., the firm grew to worldwide renown and prestige through technical innovations, efficient production, business acumen, and shrewd promotion using artists' endorsements. From 1864 to 1925, Steinway's offices/showroom, and famous Steinway Hall (1866), were located near Union Square.
After Carnegie Hall opened in 1891, West 57th Street gradually became one of the nation's leading cultural and classical music centers and the piano companies relocated uptown. It was not until 1923, however, that Steinway acquired a 57th Street site.
Designed in a restrained neoclassical style, Steinway Hall is L-shaped
in plan, with a front portion clad in Indiana limestone that
terminates in a set back, four-story colonnaded tower, and a central
campanile-like tower with a steep pyramidal roof and large lantern.
The main facade s base is embellished by a music-themed sculptural
group by Leo Lentelli and by a frieze with medallion portraits of
distinguished classical composer-pianists.
The style, materials, setbacks and massing, picturesque towers, and decorative elements add distinction to the building and make it a monumental architectural presence along the West 57^ Street cultural corridor. Warren & Wetmore was best known for its designs for hotels and railroad-related buildings, most notably Grand Central Terminal. Steinway, the city's only remaining piano maker, has continuously utilized the building's lower four stories, as well as the famed "basement for artists' concert grand pianos.
The upper twelve stories also have an illustrious history, rented to many organizations associated with music and the arts, such as the Oratorio and Philharmonic Societies of New York; Columbia Artists Management Inc.; Louis H. Chalif Normal School of Dancing; Musical America; Colbert Artists Management; and Kohn Pedersen Fox, architects. The Manhattan Life Insurance Co. owned the building from 1958 to 1980, and was headquartered here until recently.
Steinway & Sons closed its office/showroom on 14th Street in 1925, and constructed new Steinway Halls in New York and London. With the stock market crash in 1929 and the resultant collapse in the market for luxury goods, Steinway in the 1930s focused on the sale of pianos to radio stations and the development of smaller "S" grand pianos for those of modest means.
Begun just after the first Academy of Music burned, Steinway Hall was New York's largest musical venue (with around 2000 seats in the main hall, a smaller hall with 400 seats, and studios and music lesson rooms), as well as one of the few large American concert halls devoted to classical music. It has been stated that "no larger auditorium - before or since - has ever been built by a musica! instrument manufacturer."'" Inspired by such earlier examples as the Pleyel (1839), Paris, and Chickering Hall (1862), Boston, Steinway Hall was for a quarter of a century one of America's most famous auditoriums, used for concerts, lectures, and political and civic gatherings. A^ng '.s Nand&oo/: in 1892 noted that "Stein way Hall.. . has been the cradle of classical music in this country; every prominent orchestral organization has been heard within its walls, and so have the most eminent vocalists and instrumentalists."
After the opening of Carnegie Hali (1889-91, William B. Tuthill), at West 57"* Street and Seventh Avenue,'^ and its ascension as the city's premier classical music venue, New York's classical music center (including the piano companies) gradually relocated uptown.'^ Steinway Hall's main auditorium space was closed in 1890 and converted for business use by the Steinway firm, though the smaller recita! hall remained in use. The Steinway property was sold in 1923 to the S[amuel]. Kiein Union Square Realty Corp., and closed In 1925. The 14"* Street portion was razed, but the altered Steinway Hall portion on 15"* Street survived until the 1980s.
Steinway Hall on West 57th Street
For a number of years after the closing of the Steinway Hall auditorium, Steinway & Sons contemplated moving uptown to the music center developing on West 57^ Street near Carnegie Hall. It was not until July 1916, however, that the firm found a site adequate for its needs. Steinway announced its intention to construct a new building with the Boehm), one of the earliest American schools to instruct teachers in dance, was built at 163-165 West 57* Street," it was said that the neighborhood "abounds in structures devoted to the cultivation of the arts.'"^ As indicated in the Federal Writers' Project's in 1939, "the completion of Carnegie Hall in 1891 established the district as the foremost musical center of the country. Manufacturers of musical instruments, especially pianos, opened impressive showrooms along Fifty-seventh Street."
These included Chickering Hall (1924, Cross & Cross), 29 West 57 Street, headquarters of the American Piano Co. which "manufactured its own line of pianos and held a controlling interest in the companies Knabe, Chickering, and Mason & Hamlinand Steinway Hall.
Later History of Steinway Hall
The speculative investment of Steinway Hall never proved lucrative for Steinway & Sons, yielding only about two percent yearly, and as early as 1947 its sale was considered.^ President Henry Z. Steinway finally decided that the building "was a luxury that the company could no longer afford."^
The Manhattan Life Insurance Co. purchased Steinway Hall for three million dollars (about the same as the construction cost) in April 1958. The purchase was arranged by Thomas E. Lovejoy, Jr., president of Manhattan Life (1950-68 and 1971-73) whose wife was a cousin of Mr. Steinway/' Under a twenty-year leaseback agreement (renewed in 1978), Steinway & Sons continued to occupy its space in the basement and on the first, second, and part of the fourth stories of Steinway Hall. After Steinway also sold one of its plants in Long Island City, it used the combined sales monies to invest in one consolidated factory there, which was "one of the most expensive and elaborate construction projects in the piano industry."
The Manhattan Life Insurance Co. was founded in 1850. The company's success and growth was evidenced in its fifth home office (1893-94, Kimball & Thompson, with Charles Sooysmith, engineer; demolished), 64-66 Broadway, the tallest skyscraper yet constructed in New York.^ The company sold that property in 1928 and acquired a building at 120 West 57* Street; the Depression delayed renovations, however, until 1936. Expansion throughout the 1950s forced Manhattan Life to seek new space, and the company leased offices on the third story of Steinway Hall in 1957 forits accounting and premium collection divisions. After Manhattan Life acquired Steinway Hall, the company called it the "Manhattan Life Building."
During the period fromSeptember 1958 to April 1959, the remaining departments of the insurance firm were relocated into the building, with Manhattan Life occupying about one-third of the total space. Wanting to "make the building more readily identifiable the facade was altered to show the company's name, the year of its founding (1850) and a replica of the Statue of Liberty done in relief The Statue has long been a prominent part of the company's logotype."** The logo was displayed on limestone panels that covered over the Leo Lentelli sculpture on the building's base (until 1990). Manhattan Life's headquarters remained in the building until 2001 (the company was a tenant after 1980).
In 1972, Steinway & Sons entered a new phase of corporate ownership when it was taken over by CBS, under chairman William Paley. CBS sold Steinway & Sons in 1985 to Steinway Musical Properties, Inc., controlled by John R. and Robert M. Birmingham of Boston, who were investors and heirs to a fuei oil fortune. Steinway & Sons was acquired in April 1995 by a Los Angeles investment group and merged with Selmer Co., Inc. Steinway & Sons became a subsidiary of Steinway Musical Instruments, Inc., a holding company in Waltham, Massachusetts, whose entities specialize in the design, manufacture, and sale of musical instruments.^
Steinway Hall was conveyed in 1980 by Manhattan Life to 111 West 57* Street Associates (Bernard Mendik, principal). Mendik sold his interests in 1985, but the ownership entity's name remained the same. The building was reacquired by Steinway & Sons for $62 million in May 1999, including a 99-year lease on the land, which was retained by 111 West 57* Street Associates. Prior to the sale, an executive of Steinway Musical Instruments, Inc., considered Steinway's "the most successful piano retail store in the world. Today, Steinway is the only piano manufacturer remaining in New York City.
Steinway Hall Tenants
Throughout its history, the twelve upper rental stories of Steinway Hall have housed many organizations associated with music and the arts, greatly contributing to West 57* Street as a cultural center. As the Federal Writers' Project's JVetv For% Ciry reiterated in 1939, the building's "lower stones are devoted to [piano] displays; the remainder house sales offices, headquarters of musical organizations, shops of specialized instrument manufacturers, studios, and a concert hall."
The Louis H. Chalif Normal School of Dancing and Columbia Artists Management Inc. (CAMI) had intertwined histories in Steinway Hall and another cases).
57th Street Portion
Base The three-story base consists of a large amount of smooth limestone ashlar wall, above a polished pink granite watertable, pierced by three openings. A large central multi-pane showcase window, with historic bronze framing and convex bottom portion (a later alteration), is flanked by Ionic columns and is surmounted by an entablature, set within a surround with pilasters supporting a molded round arch. At the base of the window is a brass plaque with the inscription "Steinway & Sons Pianos."
Within the round arch is a sculptural group by Leo Lentelli, executed in cement, depicting the Muse of Music placing a laurel wreath upon the head of Apollo, flanked by a mask and an infant. (The sculpture was covered over by limestone panels bearing the logo of the Manhattan Life Insurance Co. from c. 1958 to 1990; damage to the sculpture was recently repaired. A keystone ornamented with a female head was originally part of the arch; this was removed c. 1958). The two flanking entrances have molded surrounds with entablatures and lead to semi-circular vestibules through large double paneled oak (now painted) sliding pocket doors.
The eastern vestibule has a step and floor of polished pink granite; limestone pilasters, comice, two decorative panels with festoons and musical instruments, a molded entrance surround similar to that on the exterior facade, and a coffered domed ceiling; double brass and glass doors and multi-pane transom, set within an historic enframement; a bronze plaque with the inscription "ERECTED A.D. 1925"; and the letters "Steinway & Sons." The western vestibule has a floor of polished pink granite, with a comer section with black-and-white-checkerboard pattern terrazzo; limestone comice, molded entrance surround similar to that on the exterior facade, and coffered domed ceiling; double painted wooden and glass doors set within an historic enframement; and the letters "The Economist Newspaper Group."
To the west of the western entrance are the letters "Manhattan Life Insurance Company," and to the east of the eastern entrance are the letters "Steinway & Sons." A flagpole has been installed above each entrance. The base is capped by a frieze bearing laurel festoons and medallions with portraits of distinguished classical composer-pianists (Brahms, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, and Grieg) flanking a central plaque originally bearing the name "STEINWAY" (later "FOUNDED 1850" (Manhattan Life), now "THE ECONOMIST"), capped by a projecting band course ornamented by a Greek fret motif.
Two stone courses below the frieze was (from c. 1958 to 1990) the inscription "THE MANHATTAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY"; the stone was recently replaced. Midsection The midsection is comprised of the fourth through the twelfth stones.
It is pierced by windows and is terminated by a decorative band course (that continues along the side facades) and a balustrade/parapet ornamented with three large cast-stone urns (an urn originally located at the southeast comer has been removed). There are also urns at the northeast and northwest comers of the same story. The balusters and urns were originally unpainted and are currently painted gold. A large flagpole has been placed above the balustrade. The side facades are pierced by windows, except for the lowest two exposed brick-clad stories on the eastern facade,' which are buttressed.
Upper Section The three-story main portion of the tower (thirteenth through fifteenth stories), with chamfered comers, is ornamented with two-story Ionic colonnades on the front and side facades, with spandrel panels bearing medallions, that support entablatures. The fifteenth story is terminated by parapets. The set back sixteenth-story penthouse has round arches with keystones on the front and side facades, within which are doors and multi-pane fanlights (a large metal vent obscures those on the 57* Street facade), and a hipped roof covered with standing-seam copper, with a comice decorated with anthemia and cresting along the ridge. An angled chimney rises from the southeast comer, anchored by a flying buttress.
- From the 2001 NYCLPC Landmark Designation Report