The Gilsey House is not a particularly famous building in the Manhattan cityscape. Completed in 1869 as a hotel (the first hotel to offer telephone service to its guests), it is now a residential building somewhat overshadowed by the Empire State Building behind it, as the picture shows. However, I was drawn to it because it reflects a style I had not seen in New York particularly often (a style, I have learned, that is called Second Empire Baroque). The clock, positioned to face directly into the intersection of 29th Street and Broadway almost immediately catches attention – particularly at night, when it is illuminated. The structure is a cast-iron facade, and indeed, the heavy ornamentation and many pillars give the building a sense of weight and strength not seen in other, more modern buildings.
While the first four levels of the Gilsey House are identical, the structure changes at the top. The change begins to occur on the fourth floor, where the centre windows (below the clock) are all arched, rather than flat. However, it is in the final two floors that the conventions below are broken, giving the building a much more interesting cap. To begin with, the clock is heavily ornamented giving the impression, it was discussed in class, of a face. Additionally, the slate shingle roof is exposed around the clock, creating a stark contrast between the white of the clock and ornamentation and the darkness of the slate roof. This pattern continues along the roof levels, drawing out ornamentation like the arches and columns over some windows on the side, and the enormous white pillars that do not taper off like the rest of the roof does, giving the impression of flying buttresses without anything to buttress. In all, the Gilsey House seems to have been designed to catch the eye in a way that is almost tacky compared to the bare buildings of the modernist style. That said, of course, it worked – the Gilsey House dominates the corner it stands on, and one cannot help but look up when crossing 29th Street at Broadway to see the time in the enormous clock.