Aug 9, 2013

Sea Longing at the Cunard Building, 25 Broadway

The Cunard Building at 25 Broadway, while no longer housing the grand "Ticketing Hall" for the great ocean liners, still evokes dreams of a long voyage at sea. Designed by architect Benjamin Wistar Morris with Carrere & Hastings and completed in 1921, the grand neo-Renaissance building at the top of Bowling Green solidified the company's position as a leader of transatlantic travel and  commercial shipping. In 1917, the company had built an equally impressive European headquarters in Liverpool.



The Great Hall, once a bustling scene for those making arrangements for sea voyages, sported high vaulted 65-foot ceilings with detailed paintings of marine life. It must have been grand to stand in line for tickets here and look up at the Roman-like display of seahorses, seashells, mermaids, dolphins, and flying birds, but even more thrilling to board the Cunard ocean liners themselves - the RMS Carpathia, the ship that brought the Titanic survivors home, and later, the Queen Elizabeth.




After Cunard moved away from 25 Broadway, the building became a rather ordinary post office, though the public continued to enjoy limited access to the spectacle of the Great Hall. At this writing, the building is shuttered to the public.



Longing for the sea is one of the major leitmotifs in New York literature, a watery desire born of the geography of the city at the edge of the sea and harbor. From an early age, New York City native Herman Melville was born to set sail and see the world, and he remains one of the best spokespersons for sea-longing. In Chapter One of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851), Melville describes sea-longing as a holy or mystical calling. Buildings such as the one at 25 Broadway continue to serve as a reminder of New York's maritime heritage and its strategic geography, but also the sight of Triton sounds in us a deeper trumpet call.



"Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning." - Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851).

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple.

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