Admiring the French of Fifth Avenue

Now that spring is bursting out all over NYC, it's fitting to take a look at one of the city's most colorful buildings: the Fred F. French Building at 551 Fifth Avenue (near 45th Street). Designed by French's in-house architect, H. Douglas Ives, and John Sloane of the architectural firm Sloane & Robertson, this tower rose in 1927 and housed the offices of French, a developer who brought us Tudor City and Knickerbocker Village as well as classic Art Deco towers such as the Chanin and Graybar Buildings near Grand Central.

In 1992 the French Building was refurbished and restored to its former glory. The facade of simple orange brick sets off the bold bands of brightly colored terra cotta tiles outlining the setbacks rising above. Best of all is the Babylonian-inspired faience frieze up top, which pops with color and illustrates the ideals this city was built upon: Thrift & Industry (twin beehives), Integrity & Watchfulness (two Assyrian griffins) and, at center, Progress (the rising sun). This one went up in the center of our city as hard times approached. As our winter of discontent begins to recede, this building reminds us of some old forgotten things, all of which could prove helpful as we move forward to the future.

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