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Delmonico Building

Foundations of America

QU201 Prof. Scott Leone

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Delmonico Building

Delmonico’s restaurant is the epitome of elegance, from its interior designs of chandeliers and beautiful tablecloths, to its luxury cuisine. What ties this elegance and beauty all together, is the outstanding exterior of this building, on 56 Beaver Street in New York City, which on the side contains entrance steps made of Stony Creek Granite. This granite ties together the entry way for the offices of the Delmonico Building and the borders of the doors with its beautiful color and texture. Delmonico’s is not only famous for its impeccable design by James Brown Lord, but also for being the first restaurant to have hamburgers, tablecloths, printed menus, instead of verbal “specials” and guests were able to sit at their own private tables while enjoying original creations such as Oysters Rockefeller. Delmonico’s became a staple blueprint for future restaurants.

Delmonico’s was founded in 1827, by Switzerland natives, John (Jean) Del-Monico and Peter Del-Monico. John lived in the United States owning his own wine shop. He imported casks of wine and bottled them himself. Meanwhile, Peter had a prosperous candy shop back in Berne, Switzerland. On December 13, 1827, the two brothers established a café, which served cakes, ices and fine wines. Located on 23 William Street, the center of New York City’s downtown business district, the café become especially favorable to the European community. The restaurant’s name is seen as Delmonico’s, instead of Del-Monico’s. Rumor had it that the artist hired to make the sign mistakenly forgot to hyphenate the last name, but due to the known fact that the brothers were perfectionists, it was discovered that John and Peter named the café Delmonico’s on purpose, and also changed their last names to coincide with it. They did this in order to adapt to United States culture.

In 1831, the Delmonicos continued to expand their business by opening a restaurant right down the street at 25 William Street. This was one of the first restaurants in the United States to specialize in fine Continental cuisine. Because of this high demand for baked goods and luxury meals, the brothers began hiring family members for help. As common as this was to have family businesses, what the Delmonicos did differently was having their wives work in the front as cashiers, which was unheard of. Another rarity for the brothers was owning and operating their own farm on Long Island, New York, which provided many of the fresh vegetables of fruits used in Delmonico’s, since freshness and quality was a priority and promise for the brothers. The brothers didn’t stop there, since only three years later in 1834, another restaurant and hotel was built at 76 Broad Street, due to a tragic fire on William Street that wiped out most of the Wall Street district. Devastated but not broken, the Delmonicos planned to rebuild an even bigger restaurant on the intersection of Beaver, William and South William streets. This location became known as the “Citadel” because of the unique rounded corner. It had beautiful iron balconies and a marble entrance portico with four columns that were from the doorway of a villa in Pompeii. Although there are no Stony Creek Granite connections to this specific building certain attributes of this building later become prominent in the newest Delmonico’s building with Stony Creek Granite steps.

The new and improved Delmonico’s Restaurant was near the new Stock Exchange and held guests such as James Wallack, George Templeton Strong, journalist Richard Grant White, Prince Louis Napoleon (later Napoleon III) and many other lavish celebrities. Not only were high-class clientele constantly seen at the restaurant but it was a chosen place for private entertainment, like balls and assemblies, and for family dinners. Continuing momentum, after losing the restaurant-hotel to a fire on 76 Broad Street, and opening a new hotel at 25 Broadway, the Delmonicos left the hotel business and opened various other locations to focus on. Some locations were the Irving house Hotel, the former Grinnell mansion on 5th avenue, in 1862 until 1876 and going to the business district again by adjoining to the original Equitable Building from 1886 to 1891.

The Delmonico brothers were transforming American eating habits by storm and by 1889, Delmonico’s was the leading restaurant in the city and one of the most famous restaurants in the country. At this time, the kitchens were overseen by Charles Ranhofer, a famous chef who created original masterpieces such as Baked Alaska, Lobster Newberg, eggs Benedict, and later on adding larger variety’s of steak to make Delmonico’s a steakhouse as well to appeal to the changing tastes of the city.

In 1884, grand-nephew of the Delmonico brothers, Charles Crist Delmonico took control of the business. He obtained two properties at 4 and 6 South William Street, mirroring the famous “Citadel” with a vision to replace and create a new restaurant and office building. Charles Delmonico hired James Brown Lord to create the new glamorous building in 1990. Lord and Delmonico had history prior to the creation of the building at Beaver and William Street. Delmonico hired Lord in 1886 to design a new branch for the restaurant and even though it failed, Lord’s work was a successful foreshadow of things to come.

James Brown Lord, born and raised in New York, graduated from Princeton in 1879 and teamed up with the firm of William A. Potter. He assisted in the design of the Union Theological Seminary (built by the Norcross bothers 1882-1883, W.A. Potter & J.B. Lord), joined with Stanford White and Bruce White to design the King Model Houses. and later on solely designed many hospitals, like St. Luke’s and the Society of New York Hospital. These credentials shone through when Lord and Delmonico laid the cornerstone for the new Delmonico Building on July 10th, 1890.

On July 7th, 1891 the new building was open to the public. The first floor had cast-iron and steel frames that held a floor café and restaurant. The second floor was for ladies’ dining rooms and private parties. Further up to the eighth floor was the kitchen and between these were offices. Lord pushed the Renaissance Revival style through all to the exterior. He uniquely designed the corner as a separate front, which is flanked on either side with immense walls with giant arcades. The focus is on the three-bay-wide rounded corner façade with had columns and a semi-circular entrance. This idea creates the impression of a balanced, symmetrical design when viewed from the intersection of Beaver and William(s?) Street while also adding appropriate details to the side streets for the various functions it had. Two of the Pompeiian columns from the original building were used and became good luck charms as people touched them in passing into the restaurant. The color was radiant, which orange iron-spot brick with terra cotta. By section, the first and second stories are faced with light brownstone, called “Belleville Rock” on top of a brick and granite foundation. The main restaurant entrance is distinguished by a rounded portico with Corinthian columns which have “Delmonico’s” on them. The doorway has historic paneled wood. The office entrance, of Stony Creek Granite interest, has stucco framing with splayed stone jambs that were decorated with classical moldings. The stoop in front of the doorway is pink Stony Creek Granite which beautifully matches the granite walls around the planter to the west of the entry. The midsection is also brick with brownstone and terra cotta along with a curved corner that’s decorated with foliated spandrel panels. In the upper section, original brick chimneys can be seen along with slender pilasters and a brick penthouse. Timeless and breathtaking, the building continues to be an architectural staple for unique positioning, use of stones and brick and spirit.

In 1893, this beautiful building became the only downtown location of the Delmonico’s. Management continued to trickle down the family tree, as members such as aunt Rosa Crist Delmonico and sister Josephine Crist Delmonico. However, during the 1910’s huge expenses and poor management causes tension between Josephine and other family members, who were minority stockholders in the Delmonico’s restaurant. The situation became worse as the First World War undertook the entire nation. The war created shipping problems making the prices for food and necessary items too expensive, but also shining light on the opportunity to cater to the United State’s maritime’s need for office space downtown. In August of 1917 the Delmonico family settled together to sell the building to the American Merchant Marine Insurance Company. The Delmonicos continued to lease within the restaurant section of the building, but when the war created “meatless” and “wheatless” days in November of 1917, it became too difficult, so operations were officially finished. The uptown restaurant was still running until 1923 when prohibition shut it down along with real estate values rising in the Grand Central district. When the downtown, Beaver street, restaurant closed, it was a disappointment to all. It was as if history could no longer grow and morph in this piece of architecture, and the building was now becoming a part of history itself. The last to own the building was Time Equities, Inc. in November of 1995.  Owners prior to this purchase include restaurateur Oscar Tucci, which had the first and second floors running again as restaurants and following acquired by the City Bank Farmers Trust Company. It seemed like everyone wanted the luck and success the Delmonico’s restaurant has.

Currently, the Delmonico’s Restaurant is back in business, with a successful future to come. On its website, the current Delmonico’s team continues to praise its history and journey while also maintaining original menu options from the 1800’s.

In February of 1996, the Landmarks Preservation Commission found the building (with the link at the bottom of the page) “has special character and special historical and aesthetic interest and value as part of the development, heritage, and cultural characteristics of New York City” and designated the Delmonico building as a Landmark.

A video on the artistic history of Delmonico's:







Delmonico's Placemark

Last Updated on Monday, 28 November 2011 14:01  


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