It all happened in the structure we now call The Herald Square Hotel. This was not the original home of LIFE. No…LIFE had been housed in two different offices before coming to this location. The idea of constructing a home for LIFE magazine was conceived in the early 1890’s and the work was begun in 1893. Upon completion in 1894 the permanent home of LIFE was open for business. But…was this to be any ordinary office structure? Certainly not!
John Ames Mitchell, the founder and editor of the magazine took great pains to employ only the best artists, writers and creative staff. Knowing the mercurial habits of this genre of people he equipped LIFE’S home with little homes within. These bachelor apartments on the upper floors served to house the men who worked on the magazine. They also became studios where such legends as “The Gibson Girl” were born. In fact, between the offices and the apartments and the studios, this site was not so much an office tower as it was an esthetic maternity ward and where beauty and wit, humor and insight were born and reborn every week.
Not just anyone could create the proper setting to nurture such an atmosphere. Mr. Mitchell employed only the best on his magazine staff and he would have only the best create its new home. The architectural team of John Mervin Carrere and Thomas Hastings, both exponents of the Beaux Arts school were contracted for the job. Perhaps it was divine intervention that lead them to a partnership with Philip Martiny. Mr. Martiny, recognized as one of the greatest and most prolific sculptors of his time created a winged cherub which was to become the symbol of LIFE throughout it’s entire existence. His original sculpture, Winged LIFE, still graces the doorway of 19 West 31 Street.
The statue was re-furbished by the application of gold leaf to restore it’s life so that it is still as captivating and enigmatic as it ever was. With it’s form of innocent childhood and wings of an angel it captures the innocence of another era. Its likeness was to be repeated on or in almost every issue of LIFE ever printed. It became an omnipresent reminder of the magazine’s standards and goals. Soon, it had become more than mere ornamenta tion. It was as vital a part of the structure as any beam or nail, brick or window. In fact, “WINGED LIFE” as it was known became a demi-god in it’s own temple. It perches sternly above the main entrance and watches, with proprietary pleasure, the comings and goings in its home. For one hundred years it has bestowed blessings from its slightly pouty little lips on all who have passed under: The great writers and artists, the humble merchants, the proud and haughty models and courtesans, the tourists and the curious; it has winked at chicanery, frowned on deception, smiled at romance and accepted one and all because, after all…they’re only human.