A Manhattan icon


We get up close and personal with the Essex House sign

A Manhattan icon

It’s as iconic as the Bat-Signal. The illuminated red Essex House sign, on top of the 44 storey building at 160 Central Park South, anchors one end of the great green landmass in the middle of Manhattan, and represents the starting post for Midtown and the steel, glass and concrete canyons of Gotham. For us, it is New York City. So much so, that we wangled roof access to shoot this super close up shot of it. We could have gone even higher, but as the security guard warned us, “you’ll be on your own – I’ve been up once, and it’s scary as hell.”

No, it’s not the cinematic beauty of the Chrysler or the Empire State, but it’s been there like a beacon since it was first erected on the roof in 1932, and New York City just wouldn’t be the same without it. Construction of the building itself began on 30th October 1929, one day after the Wall Street Crash. Over the years, the Essex House hotel has been owned and operated by the US Government, Sterling National Bank & Trust Co, Marriot Hotels, Japan Air Lines, Starwood and the Jumeirah Group. Currently, it’s a Marriot again. No matter who the owner, the sign on the top has remained the same.

We haven’t always been enamoured with the hotel downstairs – although what was originally an art deco sibling to the St Regis has had its moments over the years – but that’s beside the point. The sign has always been there for us, come rain, shine, snow or polar vortices. On fine days, during long walks back downtown from the museums of the Upper East Side, it signifies an abrupt change in the style of the city. And at night, whizzing around Columbus Circle in a taxi, looking up at it glow through rain streaked windows, it’s a magical, transporting talisman of sorts – yes, we’re in New York, but it could be just about any time from the jazz age to today. It’s not fancy LED. And it’s not neon. It’s just an old fashioned bunch of flat coloured panels on a scaffolding with some lamps pointed at them. But that sign is a total, timeless beauty. Long may it shine. C

Essex House, 160 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019 USA
+212-247 0300; marriot.com