New York's inside style

The Ford Foundation Building in Manhattan.
The Ford Foundation Building in Manhattan.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES
The City Hall station (above); and the Williamsburgh Savings Bank.
The City Hall station (above); and the Williamsburgh Savings Bank.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES
The City Hall station; and the Williamsburgh Savings Bank (above).
The City Hall station; and the Williamsburgh Savings Bank (above). PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

New book aims to uncover the ornate, lavish and mostly public interiors of New York's buildings

NEW YORK • New York is arguably more famous for its skyline than its interiors, but the publication of the book, Interior Landmarks: Treasures Of New York, might begin to change this. Behind some of the most innocuous facades in the city's five boroughs are a dazzling array of over-the-top, lavishly ornate interiors. The best news of all: Most of the interiors are public. Here are eight of them.

1 FORD FOUNDATION BUILDING, MANHATTAN

This building, built in 1967 on Manhattan's East 43rd Street, proves that modern office buildings need not be austere.

All you need is a 51m-tall indoor garden and, presto, you have got a lush, luxurious interior.

The only hiccup: Many of the original tropical plants perished over time and were replaced by subtropical flora.

2 CUNARD BUILDING, MANHATTAN

No, this is not a Renaissance cathedral. It was not even built during the American Renaissance.

The Cunard Building lobby, encrusted with sculpture, murals, ornament, coffers and gilding galore, was built in 1921 when cars had already begun to clog New York's streets and the ocean liners that created Cunard Steamship's fortune were about to begin sinking into obsolescence.

3 UNITED STATES CUSTOM HOUSE, MANHATTAN

Completed in 1907 by architect Cass Gilbert, the Custom House collected tariffs on imports.

New York was then the US' leading port and the Custom House is correspondingly grand: The coffered ceiling of the Collector's Office is gilded, the cavernous entry hall is covered in murals and the massive rotunda features original paintings by Reginald Marsh.

4 WILLIAMSBURGH SAVINGS BANK, BROOKLYN

The original, 28,500 sq ft Williamsburgh Savings Bank building was built in 1875. A second dome was added in 1908 for "women depositors", who had recently become a major portion of the bank's clientele and for whom the original dome was apparently too masculine.

After falling into disrepair during the second half of the 20th century, the building was turned into an event venue last year.

5 CITY HALL STATION, MANHATTAN

Once the southern terminus of the "Manhattan Main Line", this station was closed in 1945.

Following talk of returning it to public use in the 1990s, security and logistical concerns blocked the project. The only people allowed to gaze through the station's gorgeous, leaded-glass skylights are participants of Transit Museum tours.

6 GOULD MEMORIAL LIBRARY, BRONX

Designed by the famed architecture firm McKim, Mead & White, Gould Memorial Library was donated by the daughter of railroad baron Jay Gould to become the centrepiece of New York University's Bronx campus.

The years were not kind. In the 1960s, the library was relocated and the building fell into disuse. In 1969, a nearby explosion blew out the then-deserted building's Tiffany window. It was not until 2004 that the library, now owned by Bronx Community College, was restored.

7 DIME SAVINGS BANK, BROOKLYN

This striking 1908 interior (revised in 1918 and again in 1932) was used as a bank for more than 100 years.

While the design was supposed to convey stability and trustworthiness, more than anything, it looks like a Liberace-inspired fever dream.

In May this year, the building was sold. Its next purpose remains to be seen.

8 SURROGATE'S COURT, MANHATTAN

Originally intended to replace City Hall (the idea was scrapped after a public outcry), the building was constructed on a monumental scale.

The lobby is all marble - Siena for the walls, pink and beige for the floor - as is the arcaded, colonnaded lobby a floor above.

BLOOMBERG

•Interior Landmarks: Treasures Of New York ($101.39) is available for order from Books Kinokuniya.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2015, with the headline 'New York's inside style'. Print Edition | Subscribe