Monday, February 27, 2017
The Niagara Mohawk Building in Syracuse, New York.
It is a steel frame and masonry building constructed in a ziggurat form with a seven-story tower at the center of its east-west axis. Its exterior sheathing includes brick and cast stone, black glass, and chrome. In the center of the tower above the sixth floor is a stainless steel sculpture 28 feet high and 20 feet across. The piece, "The Spirit of Light" (also known as "The Spirit of Energy"), was designed by Clayton B. Frye. It was fabricated by Mackwirth Brothers of Buffalo using a stainless steel alloy developed by the Crucible Steel company in Solvay, New York. It is believed to be the first time such steel was used on a building. The sculpture was installed by Joseph Cashier & Sons of Syracuse.
Construction of the building was begun in late 1930 and completed in 1932. It is often called an Art Deco masterpiece.
It's not clear who the architect was. We know that the firm of Bley & Lyman of Buffalo was given the commission. Some sources say co-owner Duane Lyman was the primary architect, others that it was Bley & Lyman staff architect William Lansing. Others say it was Syracuse architect Melvin King, although this seems unlikely.
The building's striking lighting was highly innovative. Helium lights (invented in 1911) supplement conventional incandescent lamps in dozens of locations. Floodlights concealed in the facade single out the head of "The Spirit of Light", while others skim the statue's wings. But the most unusual feature was in the comers and the center panels of the tower. The architects designed narrow, vertical rooms walled with tons of heat-resistant glass. Several thousand-watts floodlights were placed in each "room", making them glow at night like enormous jewels. The panels get so hot that the first drops of rain sizzle when they hit the glass.
Four sand-blasted vitrolite murals are displayed on the walls of the lobby. Vitrolite, also known as "Carrara glass", "Sani Onyx", "Sani Rox", "vitreous marble", "structural glass", and "pigmented structural glass", was invented in 1900 by the Marietta Manufacturing Co. It's not glass, but a ceramic material. It's fused at 3,000F, rolled into a slab, annealed, toughened, and fire-polished. It has the reflectivity of glass, but the toughness of stone. (Its crushing strength is about 40 percent greater than marble.) These four murals depict "Illumination", "Transmission", "Generation" and "Gas". The illustrator's name is lost. The images were sandblasted into the vitrolite, and then painted. They were manufactured by the Ettlinger Co. of Buffalo.