New York City’s Rich History Behind Architecture Told by Daytonian in Manhattan’s Tom Miller

Tom Miller
Tom Miller

Born and reared in the Midwest, Daytonian in Manhattan blogger Tom Miller relocated to New York City in 1979. For years Miller has made a study not only of the vintage architecture of Manhattan; but of the personal histories that played out within the buildings. Beginning in 2009 Miller began the daily blog, Daytonian in Manhattan, documenting the stories behind the buildings, statues and other points of interest that make Manhattan fascinating. He is also currently putting the finishing touches on a book, Seeking New York, which is scheduled to hit the bookshelves in Spring 2015.

VT: So, you write about the history and stories of the various buildings and landmarks in New York City; what sparked your interest in this?

TM: I have always been interested in vintage architecture and New York City is an endless wealth of wonderful buildings. But an even greater fascination are the human histories that played out within them.

VT: When conducting your research behind some of the older architectural featured buildings, can you tell us about any story that really left a lasting impression on you?

TM: There are so many haunting stories; but those of the simple working girls are often most poignant. Like Mary Herman who worked for the Triangle Waist Company on March 25, 1911. Mary worked on the 9th floor when the now infamous fire broke out. As the floor filled with smoke, she rushed to a door which to her terror was locked. Mary was one of 145 girls who perished that day from the fire or from throwing themselves from the windows to the pavement.

VT: Can you tell us some details about some of the more well known Manhattan structures today that people would be surprised in hearing?

TM: Most people probably never realize that the façade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was never completed. Money problems prevented the carving of the great sculptural groupings planned for the cornice. Today the piles of unfinished blocks of stone are in sharp contrast to the refined Beaux Arts structure; yet few people pause to notice them.

VT: What have you learned to be some of the more common styles of architecture that make up the various commercial and residential buildings in NYC?

TM: Manhattan has examples of architecture ranging from the pre-Revolutionary era through, obviously, today. The most common styles, I suppose, would be the Italianate rowhouses of the 1870s-80s; the Renaissance Revival commercial structures of the turn of the last century; the iconic Art Deco buildings like the Chrysler, Empire State and Rockefeller Center Buildings; and the surviving Beaux Arts mansions on the blocks east of Central Park.

VT: As you have gained all this knowledge and research, are there any favorite places or structures that you like and why?

TM: That’s a tough question. But one of my favorite spots in Manhattan is the Terrace in Central Park with the magnificent esplanade spilling down to the Bethesda Fountain. This exquisite piece of architecture and landscape planning is quintessentially Victorian and unchanged. The arcade under the terrace, with its unequalled ceiling of Minton tiles, is not to be missed.

VT: Any sites or buildings, historical or current, that you highly recommend people to come out and witness for themselves?

TM: For anyone who has not visited the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, I highly recommend a visit. The extraordinary marble entrance hall, the arched-marble corridor behind it (reportedly the longest such hallway in the world outside the Vatican), and the lavishly carved and decorated reading and other rooms are a national treasure, by my assessment.


For more on the history and untold stories of New York City’s architecture and landmarks, check out Tom Miller’s website DAYTONIAN IN MANHATTAN

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