East River from the Shelton Hotel
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svdgrift's picture


Georgia painted so much more than flowers and skulls.

Let me take you back to early 20th century Manhattan, when jazz was still cool and any building above 33 stories was considered super tall. In 1920, James T. Lee, grandfather of Jackie Kennedy, had this great idea. He commissioned architect Arthur Loomis Harmon to design a 34 story hotel on 49th and Lexington. When it finally opened in 1924, the Shelton Hotel was the tallest hotel in the world, counting 1200 rooms, a library, lounge and various sports facilities like a billiard room and a squash court. Architectural critics gushed how this building set an example for future skyscrapers. The hotel even received awards from the Architectural League of NY and the American Institute of Architects.

Initially the Shelton was designed to function as a men's-only residence, but in 1924 Lee changed his mind and ladies were welcome after all. This did mean everyone had to share bathrooms in the hallway, but apparently the rich and famous weren’t that bothered? A lot interesting stuff happened at the Shelton, both good and bad. Harry Houdini performed one of his famous escape-from-an-underwater-coffin-tricks at the hotel pool. But also actress Pauline Armitage committed suicide by throwing herself off the 14th floor. 

The hotel had only few permanent residents, of which Georgia O’Keeffe and her husband Alfred Stieglitz were two. The couple moved into their apartment on the 30th floor in 1925 and didn’t leave until 1936. That’s where she painted this bird’s-eye view of the East River waterfront.