Inspired by theater and the jazz age, Ralph Walker helped shape the New York skyline during the Roaring Twenties. He saw buildings as a blank canvas, calling his work “art devoted to interpreting human needs”.

New York Telephone Company Stella Tower
Carriage driver passing the Bell Telephone Building at 435 West 50th Street in the mid=70s. Photo: Edmund Vincent Gillon/MCNY

By the time Stella Tower was completed at 425 W50th Street (between 9/10th Ave) in 1930, The New York Telephone Company – its original owner – had already found another, larger home, made necessary by the growing demand for this exciting new invention. In 2013, it was converted to luxury condos selling for anything from $1.5 million to more than $9 million.

Renamed after Walker’s wife, Stella, the Hell’s Kitchen building is considered one of the architect’s signature legacies – pure art deco. There are intricate carvings and ornamentation in the brickwork.

Stella Tower is considered one of Walker’s signature expressions of art deco in architecture

Inside, the grille in the lobby has been carefully preserved so it retains the original glamor intended by Walker. The interior was designed to leave a lasting impression – one similar to attending a lively jazz concert or the theater. And the luxurious chandelier reflects that. 

Verizon Wireless still owns the lower floors. This photograph, though taken around 1975, feels much older – mainly thanks to the presence of a horse and carriage and vintage cars.

This story originally appeared as a Photo Finish feature in Issue 5 of W42ST magazine in April 2015.

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