Each day as I commute to my job, I walk through Grand Central Station. Recently I've noticed the sign for the Graybar Building. Ornate and interesting. I must have walked by it hundreds of times. Always in a rush, never paying any attention. But in the last few weeks I kept thinking, I need to look up what 'Graybar' means. So this week, I did. In fact, I took a lunch hour to walk over to the building and snap some pictures. Both inside the lobby, and from across the street.
The Graybar Building sits next to Grand Central Station. I mean literally, right next to it. There are entrances in the station to the building lobby. Across the street is the Chrysler building. I think with all these other iconic locations, the Graybar Building gets lost. I had never heard of it, yet I walk by it every day. The Building was the first office building in the immediate Grand Central Terminal area of the city. Wow. There are so many today, but then this building dates back to early 1900s.
It was named after its original tenants Elisha Gray and Enos Barton. It has that same classic Art Deco style that I love in the old buildings of New York, complete with an old mail slot. It isn't in use (note the "closed" on the box). I love all the details in the lobby. They have a Moorish feel to them. The floor has tiles like the edges of a rug, look up and you see beautiful rich reds in the ceiling with lantern-like light fixtures. Lots of circles adorn the lobby. No detail seemingly forgotten.
The most interesting part of the building is just outside the front door. The canopy, above the entrance, is held up by 3 large metal rods resembling the ropes (or mooring lines) off a ship. You'll notice cones on the rods which are 'rat guards' that keep rats from climbing on ship when in port. Just below the cones you see that there are 3 cast metal rats. Some say that this is the first nod to New York City being called the 'rat race.' If you look closely, where the cable (or 'hawser') reaches the building there are eight rat heads. (You might need to click on the link as I couldn't quite capture them with my little iphone). So the question is ... are we the people, represented by rats, trying to get in? Or are we already inside trying to get out? The conundrum of New York City.
The most common explanation for the 'rat' architecture is that it represents the shipping business that defined the historical roots of the Graybar company.
Also, at the time of the building's construction the city was much more of a waterfront, or port city. I can honestly say I never noticed the rats. But standing there and looking up; sure enough ... they are metal rats!
There are figures on the building facade. They are bas-relief panels and have an Assyrian look to them. I could't find any explanation or background on what these panels had to do with the building, but I like them.
The Graybar Building is certainly one of the lesser known skyscrapers in the city. I had no idea about it's background, or that it is registered as a Landmark. But I quickly found out as I drifted through the lobby taking pictures on my paisley covered iphone. As I was snapping away one of the security guards shouted at me to stop. I didn't realize that it was threatening to take pictures of clocks. But apparently anything deemed a Landmark is off limits. Good thing I got my snaps in before he chased me out!