New York’s most fashionable addresses

With WAG’s September-themed issue devoted to “fashionable inspirations,” it seemed a case of perfect timing to head down to the Museum of the City of New York to catch “Elegance in the Sky: The Architecture of Rosario Candela.”

Candela (1890-1953) was a Sicilian-born architect who played a key role in shaping luxury living in 20th-century Manhattan. He’s perhaps best-known for designing the distinctive prewar apartment buildings lining some of the city’s most iconic streets, including Park and Fifth avenues and Sutton Place.

Candela’s work included elegant-yet-understated high-rise apartments such as 960 Fifth Ave., 740 Park Ave. and One Sutton Place South. Signatures were set-back terraces and neo-Georgian and Art Deco ornament that came to define the look of New York urbanism in the period between the two World Wars – and how its wealthiest residents lived.

The exhibition, compact yet well-rounded, explores his legacy through photographs, ephemera, graphics, furnishings and digital animation. It all adds up to an artful exploration of how Candela and his associates inspired some of the most prominent New Yorkers to move from their private homes to these luxurious mansions in the sky. The glamorous exhibit is filled with names such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, John D. Rockefeller Jr., Dorothy Draper, Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Arden, Charles Lewis Tiffany and J.P. Morgan.

In advance materials, Whitney Donhauser, the Ronay Menschel director of the Museum of the City of New York, said, “Rosario Candela transformed early 20th-century Manhattan in ways that still have great influence on the city today. ‘Elegance in the Sky’ tells the story of an architect who was truly gifted but it also tells a story about the ‘American Dream’ – about an immigrant who came to the epicenter of a new country to become a successful and influential entrepreneur.”

As advance materials also share, “Candela came of age professionally in an era when the city’s 19th-century mansions and townhouses were being torn down and their residents adapting to apartment living. Working within a community of fellow architects, real estate developers, builders and interior designers, Candela met that demand by creating residential buildings that mixed single-story, duplex and triplex units, all with spacious and graceful plans. Some apartments even offered private, multistory ‘maisonettes’ at street level. Promoted with alluring marketing schemes, these structures established new standards of chic urban living for some of New York’s wealthiest citizens. Even today, almost a century after they were built, Candela’s buildings rank among the most prized in the city, and the phrase ‘designed by Rosario Candela’ remains a real estate magnet.”

WAG found the exhibition quite an elegant step into the past, while also savoring the contemporary images that clearly show Candela’s enduring style. (A testament to his legacy, the Sept. 16 walking tour of highlights of his work has already sold out).

The exhibition was curated by Donald Albrecht with assistance from Becky Laughner and was designed by Peter Pennoyer Architects with graphic design by Tsang Seymour. It continues through Oct. 28 at the museum, at 1220 Fifth Ave. (at 103rd Street).

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– Mary Shustack

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