Although New York skyscrapers bear no restraint in height or a lack of diversity in architectural influences, colorful they are not! What separates the Fred F. French Building from the rest is its warm hue and multicolored decorations.
The only “Mesopotamian” or “Babylonian” inspired skyscraper in Manhattan, The Fred F. French Building, is covered in colored terra cotta. The Babylonian-inspired frieze on top features beehives as Thrift & Industry, Assyrian griffins as Integrity & Watchfulness as, and the rising sun to personify Progress. The spectacular lobby shines with bronze and features the only Near Eastern (Assyrian?) style decor in the city.
The building was constructed to house the offices of Fred French, one of the biggest developers of the 1920s with an almost customary rags-to-riches story. Fred F. French was born in Manhattan in 1883 but grew up in Bronx. His father died when he was just a child, leaving the destitute family in the hands of his wife who managed to educate the children despite the circumstances.
Fred F. French commenced his brilliant real estate career with one bold move: he, hungry and broke, borrowed $500 which he used to buy the Bronx house where he lived and sold it at a profit. He continued to buy and sell properties, applying very simple financial strategy: he always paid investors their original investment plus a 6 percent dividend before taking any profit for himself. He became one of the most prominent developers of his day, with developments such as Tudor City among the many projects to his name.
Although energetic, demanding, and tough in his professional capacity, he was a very private person and a devoted family man.
Fred F. French ran his operations from the Fred F. French Buiding on 551 Fifth Avenue, which was the tallest structure on Fifth Ave when it was built and bears the status of a city landmark today.
- Christopher Gray “Streetscapes: The Fred R. French Building; Refurbishing ‘Mesopotamia'”, New York Times real estate, May 24, 1992
- 551 Fifth Avenue, The Fred F. French Building. Landmark Branding LLC
- James Morrison “Who in the World Was Fred F. French?”, City Journal, Arts and Culture, Autumn 1998
- Carter B. Horsley “THE FRED F. FRENCH BUILDING” City Review
- “Fred F. French Building”, Wikipedia
- Pete Davies “Spring Break: Admiring the French of Fifth Avenue” , Curbed New York, Apr 15, 2009