FRITZ WILHELM WINOLD REISS (1886–1953)
City of the Future (Panel I), 1935–36
Oil on canvas, 53 x 112 in.
RECORDED: “Restaurant Longchamps, New York City,” American Architect and Architecture (December 1936), p. 64 illus.
EX COLL.: Longchamps Restaurant Corporation, New York, 1936 to about 1967; Shoreham Hotel, New York, 1994 until 2015
One of a set of three painted panels, which were part of a larger nine-part mural design commissioned by Henry Lustig for the interior of a Longchamps Restaurant that opened in 1936 at 1450 Broadway, in New York, one block south of Times Square. The back story of Longchamps colorful and fascinating. Henry Lustig had begun in business peddling fruit on New York’s Lower East Side. He advanced to the wholesale produce business and on the way married Edith Rothstein, sister of Arnold Rothstein. Rothstein, from a highly respected and well off family, was, from childhood, an inveterate gambler, a passion that led him to a career as the acknowledged head of a far flung network of illegal activities which he fashioned into an empire of organized crime as well as legitimate businesses. In 1919, Rothstein arranged for his brother-in-law, Lustig, to open the first Longchamps Restaurant on a property Rothstein owned at 78th Street and Madison Avenue. Lustig, also a gambler who owned racehorses, named his premises after the famous racecourse outside of Paris. Rothstein was murdered in 1926, though he and Lustig likely fell out before that. (Truth is hard to separate from myth in discussions of Rothstein. Called “the Brain,” he is widely understood to have been the model for Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby, as well as the model for characters in The Godfather and HBO’s Boardwalk.)
With the end of Prohibition in December 1933, Lustig opened a series of Longchamps restaurants at high profile locations around Manhattan. The restaurants were intended to be elegant, serving sophisticated food and drink in glamourous surroundings to a reliable crowd of “regulars” who had money, but also accessible to middle class patrons looking for celebratory meals. Lustig hired top architects, Louis Alan Abramson and Ely Jacques Kahn. In fact, Kahn had designed 1450 Broadway, a 42-story office building called “The Continental” that opened in 1931 (and remains to this day). These were the years of the Great Depression and Lustig was commissioning interiors for patrons who wanted to wine and dine in settings worthy of a Busby Berkeley film.