WINOLD REISS (1886–1953)
City of the Future (Transportation), 1936
Mural panel from Longchamps Restaurant, 1450 Broadway at West 41st Street, New York
Oil, gold leaf, and gold paint on canvas, 56 1/2 x 182 in. (overall)
EXHIBITED: New-York Historical Society, New York, July 1–October 10, 2022, The Art of Winold Reiss: An Immigrant Modernist, pp. 39, 171 no. 131 illus. in color
This oil painting by Winold Reiss was part of a nine-part mural design commissioned by Henry Lustig for the interior of a Longchamps Restaurant that opened in 1936 at 1450 Broadway, in New York, one block south of Times Square.
The back story of Longchamps is colorful and fascinating. Henry Lustig had begun in business peddling fruit on New York’s Lower East Side. He advanced to the wholesale produce business and on the way married Edith Rothstein, sister of Arnold Rothstein. Rothstein, from a highly respected and well-off family, was, from childhood, an inveterate gambler, a passion that led him to a career as the acknowledged head of a far-flung network of illegal activities which he fashioned into an empire of organized crime as well as legitimate businesses. In 1919, Rothstein arranged for his brother-in-law, Lustig, to open the first Longchamps Restaurant on a property Rothstein owned at 78th Street and Madison Avenue. Lustig, also a gambler who owned racehorses, named his premises after the famous racecourse outside of Paris. Rothstein was murdered in 1926, though he and Lustig likely fell out before that.
With the end of Prohibition in December 1933, Lustig opened a series of Longchamps restaurants at high-profile locations around Manhattan. The restaurants were intended to be elegant, serving sophisticated food and drink in glamourous surroundings to a reliable crowd of “regulars” who had money, but also accessible to middle class patrons looking for celebratory meals. Lustig hired top architects, Louis Allen Abramson and Ely Jacques Kahn. In fact, Kahn had designed 1450 Broadway, a 42-story office building called “The Continental” that opened in 1931 and survives to this day.
For his interiors, Henry Lustig turned to Winold Reiss. Reiss was, in effect, Lustig's in-house designer. From 1935 to 1951, Reiss designed and decorated nine Longchamps locations: 59th Street and Madison Avenue (1935); 42nd Street near Grand Central Terminal, 12th Street and Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village, and 41st Street and Broadway, Times Square (all 1936); Broadway and Chambers Street opposite New York City Hall, 79th Street and Madison Avenue (1938); the Empire State Building (1939); 49th Street and Madison Avenue, behind Saks Fifth Avenue and St. Patrick’s Cathedral (1941); and one in Washington, D.C. (1951).
The interior of Longchamps at 1450 Broadway honored New York City’s past, present, and future. The cavernous restaurant—one of the largest in the Times Square theater district—was divided into epochal themes: the “Old Amsterdam Oval Bar,” the “Cocktail Lounge of Old New York,” the “Restaurant of the 21st Century,” and the “Album of New Yorkers Room,” with each section featuring Reiss murals and pictures appropriate to their themes. For the “Restaurant of the 21st Century” Reiss produced a nine-part City of the Future wall mural cycle, of which this panel is a centerpiece. Reiss turned to specific contemporary prototypes for this segment of the mural. Silhouetted in gold leaf and paint, the New York skyline as seen from the Hudson River stretches from north to south, with the spires of the 77-story Chrysler Building (opened 1930) and 102-story Empire State Building (opened 1931) pushing skyward.
In the air above New York soars a flying boat modeled after the Sikorsky S-42 Clipper, at the time, the most advanced aircraft in the world. The S-42 was the brainchild of Juan Trippe of Pan-American World Airways, Charles Lindbergh, and Igor Sikorsky. It made its maiden flight in March 1934. A total of ten were built exclusively for Pan American Airways for its long-distance trunk routes from East Coast airports and Miami to destinations in the Caribbean and Latin America. (Later in the 1930s, some of these aircraft were reassigned to Pacific and European routes.) Thirty-two passengers and a crew of four flew at a cruising speed of 160 mph up to a range of 1,200 miles.
Cutting-edge ground transportation technology was represented by a pair of Zephyrs: the Burlington Zephyr of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad, introduced in 1934, and the Lincoln-Zephyr automobile, launched at the 1936 New York Auto Show. When the stainless steel-clad Burlington Zephyr was released by the Budd Company in Philadelphia in April 1934, it embarked on a promotional tour of cities in the Northeast and Midwest. Over 100,000 people toured the futuristic train set when it was parked at New York City’s Pennsylvania Station. The tour was capped off in May when the Zephyr set a railroad speed record in a highly publicized non-stop “dawn-to-dusk” thirteen-hour dash between Denver and Chicago at an average speed of 78 mph. The 1936 Lincoln-Zephyr, the first successful streamlined automobile in America and now considered an automotive design icon. Even in the depths of the Great Depression, the Lincoln-Zephyr quickly became a ubiquitous status symbol for middle-class consumers, selling 15,000 units during its first year of production.