Standard Life Building: The towering Art Deco of 1929

standard-life-building

When I arrived at the historic King Edward Hotel (now known as the Hilton Garden Inn) last Tuesday afternoon, I opened the drapes to check my view, and spied the Standard Life building.  Little did I know at the time where that one photograph would take me, or that the last option I would choose to discover the answers to my confusion would be right back to Preservation in Mississippi‘s E. L. Malvaney.

I started with the newspaper archives, as is my habit these days, because it is just so fascinating to read about history from the perspective of what was just “news” at the time it was written.  The first thing I found was this:

A Century of Progress

A great many people of Jackson have not been financially able to go to Chicago to see the great world show.  The next best thing to seeing A Century of Progress would be to go to the office of the Highway Commission and see the great number of people they have employed.  We understand, when you see this show, if you visit it first in the day time and then visit the same place at night, you will see just as many people on the night shift as you saw on the day shift.

The only surprising thing about it will be that the Standard Life Building is strong enough to hold up as much weight as there is on that floor.

When you enter the building, you might think that Jim Farley had arrived. (The New Deal. Jackson, Mississippi. October 20, 1933, p. 3)

So, who was Jim Farley, and what did he have to do with the Standard Life Building?  I will get back to that later, because this is one of those convoluted trips through time.  Meanwhile, go back to 1929, and the only thing I can find searching Standard Life was that it was the first completed of three skyscraper projects in Jackson in 1929.  According to the Biloxi Daily Herald (Dec. 31, 1929, p. 8), the Standard Life building was open for occupancy, and had “set a world’s record pouring concrete” (Clarion-Ledger, Nov. 17, 1929, p. 32).

Next up, I headed to the MDAH Historic Resources Inventory, and hmmm…there is no Standard Life Building listed in the named list…that seems odd.  I put in a search for Standard Life and it took me to Plaza Building (Standard Life Building, Banker’s Trust Building), a 1929 Art Deco building on Congress Street that did not look like the Standard Life Building and listed the architect as N. W. Overstreet, when I knew it was supposed to be Claude H. Lindsley.  It was also listed as being remodeled 1981, when the Standard Life Building was remodeled in 2010 to convert it to apartments…back to the list.  That took me to Tower Building [Standard Life Building], 1929 Art Deco, and a photograph I recognized, with Claude H. Lindsley as the architect.  Now back to the newspapers, where Tower Building gets a lot of news.

Only now, it is Jackson’s newest Tower Building that breaks the world’s record for the fastest concrete work (Clarion-Ledger, Sept. 10, 1929, p. 10).  Huh?  Greenwood’s Commonwealth (Apr. 9 and 17, 1929) described the Tower Building as  22 stories of reinforced concrete and brick with terra cotta or stone trim, set-backs at 13th, 15th, and 17th floors, Gardner & Howe as structural engineers, and O. M. Grim Construction Company as builders.  Now I did what any self-respecting Mississippian who wanted to know something about an historic Mississippi building would do: I checked the Preservation in Mississippi blog.  Lesson learned: I should have started here.

The Tower Building was the name assigned by newspaper editors when the building did not yet have a name according to MIP‘s E. L. Malvaney (Newspaper Clippings: Jackson’s Art Deco Icon at the Beginning, August 1, 2012).  When the Standard Life Insurance Company relocated from the “new 12-story building” constructed by Plaza Investments into the Tower Building, they changed the name.   The first newspaper reference I find connecting the building with the Standard Life Insurance Company is in 1964 when the Clarion-Ledger noted the the home of the company as Mississippi’s tallest skyscraper and the photograph pictured the former Tower building.

 

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Hotel King Edward

hotel-king-edward

Suzassippi slept here…

I was in Jackson Tuesday night and Wednesday for Advocacy Day at the Capitol.  I decided to stay at the historic former King Edward, now operated as a Hilton Garden Inn.  Can you believe in that gorgeous lobby with the columns and opulence, I did not take a single photograph?  We were having too much fun in the Bar & Grille, where we spent a little time after the networking event (held at the Parlor Market up the street).

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Grandjean Bridge: New Orleans City Park

1938-wpa-bridge-colorized

The Grandjean Bridge, named for George Grandjean, park commissioner and designer of the original lagoons, is one of nine bridges built by the WPA in New Orleans City Park.  Constructed in 1938, the bridge is located behind the New Orleans Museum of Art and serves as entrance to the sculpture garden.

It is the only concrete rigid frame bridge among those constructed in the park.  The rigid frame design originated in Europe and began to see use in the US in the 1920s (Mead & Hunt, 2016, Management Plan for Bridges in City Park, New Orleans).  Engineer Richard Koch with George Rice designed 8 of the 9 bridges constructed by the WPA.  Research could not document their involvement with the Grandjean bridge, however.  The concrete rigid frame design was the “last major development in concrete reinforced bridges” and is built by “substructure and superstructure joined in a monolithic, cast-in-place unit” (Mead & Hunt, 2016).

Characteristic defining features of the Grandjean bridge included

…integrated curved wing walls…crowned parapets/railings…beveled pier caps…aesthetic treatment seen in bold font in Art Deco style letters in the concrete endposts…

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Rain Goddess

rain-goddess

Rain Goddess

Enrique Alférez was the son of a Mexican sculptor.  He came to the United States and studied with sculptor Lorado Taft in Chicago, moving to New Orleans in 1929 (New Orleans City Park).  Alférez’ works are seen throughout City Park and other locations in New Orleans.

 

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McFadden Cabin: New Orleans City Park

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The Works Progress Administration (WPA) is seen in many of the artistic and functional structures of New Orleans’ City Park.  The McFadden Girl Scout Cabin was donated to the park by William McFadden and constructed in the early 1920s, specifically for the Girl Scouts.  Architect Richard Koch and landscape architect William S. Wiedorn designed the Arts and Crafts style cabin (Works Progress Administration in New Orleans City Park, neworleanscitypark.com).  It was “improved by WPA 1935-1936.”

…a simple, one room structure that has great artistic integrity, including scissors roof trusses, stone work, window shutters, clay tile floors. Tucked under large live oak trees with hanging Spanish moss on the City Park lagoon, the girls are transported in time when the shutters and doors are pushed open. (Girl Scouts Louisiana East, gsle.org)

McFadden was born in West Virginia in 1869, and at age 19, began working in the Mackintosh Hemphill Steel Foundry in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  By age 40, he was president of the company.  He resigned shortly after due to illness from his lungs having been affected by work in the steel mills and moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas, preparing to die.  He did not die, and went on to become a multimillionaire in the oil business of Oklahoma.  In 1920, he married Helen Charlotte Williams Levi of New Orleans, where they lived and constructed the McFadden Mansion.  The mansion and land was sold, becoming both City Park and the Christian Brothers school, and the McFaddens moved to Ft. Worth, Texas, where he lived until his death in 1956.  McFadden apparently had a heart for Girl Scouts as he also funded a private camp for scouts.

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Fountain of the Four Winds

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Enrique Alférez created the Fountain of the Four Winds sculpture and fountain in 1936-1937 for the Shushan Airport–later New Orleans Airport and currently, Lakefront Airport. Alférez served as director of the sculpture program for New Orleans WPA artists (Works Progress Administration), and was also responsible for the bas reliefs in the airport interior.3

The four nude figures stirred controversy in the 1930s; in fact, Alférez is said to have stood guard at night with a rifle in order to protect the sculpture from vandalism.  Ultimately, Eleanor Roosevelt intervened and demanded the sculpture remain as Alférez created it.  All but the North Wind figures are women.  Alférez’ daughter explained that when her father was 12 years old, he joined Pancho Villa’s revolutionary army and gathered wood and water for the women who fed the soldiers and who often joined in the fighting–women who, he said, were the real backbone of the Mexican Revolution. (Fountain of the Four Winds. Retrieved from Friends of New Orleans Lakefront Airport)

The fountain is in the process of restoration.  To see it in 1938, with water, click the link above and scroll to the photographs at the bottom of the article.

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Flight Over Bali: Xavier Gonzalez

bali

Xavier Gonzalez is pictured sitting in front of the mural Bali, holding a paint brush.  This mural is missing from those in the former Shushan Airport of New Orleans.  Some evidence exists that it may have been destroyed (either accidentally or intentionally) in efforts to remove it from the wall during the conversion of the airport to a 1960s era nuclear fallout shelter.  As the murals were uncovered during the 2013 restoration, only pieces of this mural were found stuck to the wall.  The murals were attached in a process where the canvas was attached to the wall with adhesive, and it may have been damaged during the attempt to remove it.

When the Royal Netherlands Indies Airways (KNILM) began service from Sydney to Batavia (present-day Jakarta) in 1938, their advertising logan was “dinner in Darwin (Australia), luncheon in Bali, then Batavia for dinner.”  Batavia was the “capital of the Dutch East Indies” during the colonial era.

Airplane passenger service from airlines in the Netherlands and Europe began serving Bali, related to the Singapore-Sydney and Batavia-Sydney routes.  The Fokker (barely visible in the upper right corner of the photograph, was the airplane used in the 1920s and 1930s for this route.  Plans are to recreate the Bali mural from the photograph, and hope that it may yet surface, even if in pieces.

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Flight over Egypt: Xavier Gonzalez murals

egypt

I think of all the Xavier Gonzalez murals painted for the New Orleans airport in 1938, the flight over Egypt might be my favorite story–though not necessarily favorite painting.  I think there are aspects of all of them that make each unique in its own way, and I have come to appreciate the vision of Gonzalez in how he decided to portray the wonders of aviation as newly introduced to the world.  By 1938 when Gonzalez undertook the murals, flight was emerging from its infancy, and commercial flying was moving into the skies.

flight-over-egypt

The mural is described as a French biplane cruising over the great statues of Memnon, with the Nile River in the foreground, Egyptian columns with ‘lotus capitals’ to the right, and the ancient temples and tomb in the distant background (Save the Murals, Egypt, Friends of New Orleans Lakefront Airport).

A “first” in Egyptian flight (which in 1910 was still under British administration) was the 1910 Heliopolis Air Meet (Leiser, G. 2010. The first flight above Egypt: The Great Week of Aviation at Heliopolis, 1910. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 20(13), 267-294). Twelve pilots and 18 planes entered the competition (some pilots brought more than one plane), including 2 French Bleriots, 4 French Voisins, 2 French Farmans, 2 French Antoinettes, 1 American Curtiss, and 1 German Grade.  The Bleriot and the Antoinette were both monoplanes.  That left only the Voisin biplane and Farman biplane as the possible plane depicted by Gonzalez.  Photographs of both planes indicate the plane was a Voisin, although Gonzalez may have used a model that occurred a couple of years later than 1910.  One of the Voisins was flown (or “driven” as was often said then) by Baroness de la Roche, on her first public flight (Trica, A. C., March 1910. Foreign news. In Aircraft, Volume 1. New York: New York).

The Statues of Memnon depicted are:

…twin monolithic quartzite statues of pharaoh Amenthep III, c. 1400 B. C. (Fred Stross, 1973, University of California-Berkeley)

Although the Colossi of Memnon are located further south of Heliopolis (Cairo) near Luxor, the flight routes of the air meet extended out into the desert away from the city, and might have extended as far as the statues.  That would seem to be the reason for inclusion, other than artistic license, although they did not directly front to the Nile.  Davis Roberts sketched the statues of Memnon on location in 1838, with the temples and tomb in the background, and lithographer Louis Haghe produced the print.

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Davis Roberts, 1838, Retrieved from US Archives

 

 

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Paris and the Lindbergh Landing: Xavier Gonzalez Mural

flight-over-paris

Fifth in the series of murals painted by Xavier Gonzalez in 1938 for the newly opened Shushan Airport in New Orleans, Paris and the Lindbergh Landing shows Lindbergh’s arrival in Paris following his 1927 New York City to Paris trans-Atlantic flight.  His plane, the Spirit of St. Louis is depicted along with the planes of the French fliers who welcomed his entrance to Paris.

Following a sleep after the 33 hour non-stop flight, Lindbergh answered reporters’ questions.

…there came into view the hills of Ireland, and the worst was over…By dusk he had reached the French coast, then darkness, then the sweep of powerful searchlights guiding him to his goal.

Finally the brilliant illuminations of Eiffel Tower caught his eyes and he knew he had made Paris. A few minutes later, gracefully as a butterfly alighting upon a flower, his silvery ship of the air glided out of the darkness of night into the glare of searchlights switched on to show him the landing field. (“Phones to Mother Upon Awakening from 10-hour Sleep” The Reading Times, 23 May 1927, p. 1-2)

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The Lindbergh-Paris mural was one of three left exposed in the Levee Board offices following the 1960s renovation of the airport.

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New York Metropolis

new-york

The wealth and power of modern civilization seem symbolized by Manhattan’s famous sky-line, towering in the distance across the Hudson River, against the glorious background of the rising sun. The commerce and industry of the Metropolis are proclaimed by the docked ships and factories in the foreground, with power plants, warehouses, tanks and elevated railways indicating the great activity of the port. Suggestive of vast engineering project, the new George Washington bridge spans the Hudson with a single sweep of over two-thirds of a mile between its towering pylons. Overhead, the proud Akron glides above the city before commencing its voyage to the Panama Canal.  It is being given a great send-off by a squadron of airplanes, two of which can be seen in the picture. (Friends of New Orleans Lakefront Airport)

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The Akron was manufactured in 1929 and launched the first voyage in 1931.

Springing upward into a mass of gray clouds scuttling across the sky, the U. S. S. Akron, largest airship ever built, started on her ninth and last test flight at 6:50 a.m. today.  The voyage, an endurance hop, was to last at least 48 hours. “Akron Airship is on Last Test Hop”, New Castle News, 16 Oct 1931, p. 1)

In January 1933, the Akron departed Lakehurst, New Jersey for Panama, stopping off in Balboa to investigate a potential air base site.  The Akron crashed off the coast of New Jersey in April 1933 following an encounter with severe weather.  A German merchant ship, Phoebus, saw the descending lights and altered course.  They were able to pull four men from the water. One died without regaining consciousness, but the other three survived.  A total of 73 perished from drowning or hypothermia.

Like the other murals of the work Xavier Gonzalez completed for then-named Shushan Airport, New York Metropolis provides another look into the world of early flying for commercial and military use.  The Akron was developed by the US Navy, and shortly after, the sister ship Macon was completed.  The loss of the Akron and major loss of life derailed hopes for rigid-sided airship use.  The Macon was damaged and sank 2 years later; however, the use of life preservers on the airship had begun after the loss of the Akron, and 70 of the 72 men aboard the Macon were rescued.

It was revealed that no life preservers were aboard the Akron when it put to sea last Monday night. One officer, who has flown 200 hours in the Akron, said he never had seen a life preserver aboard.

Life preservers, because of their weight, were not considered an essential part of the dirigible’s equipment. A life raft and one parachute were aboard as safety devices when the ship plunged into the Atlantic. (“Navy starts its probe of Akron airship crash”, Delaware County Daily Times, 10 Apr 1933, p. 1, 14)

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