In 1914 the American Telephone and Telegraph company commissioned Evelyn Beatrice Longman to create a sculpture named The Genius of Electricity for their new headquarters at 195 Broadway in New York City. The final design was a massive winged nude male figure clutching lightning bolts in one hand and a coil of high-voltage cable wound around his body held in the other.The sculpture was completed in 1916 and hoisted to a pyramid constructed on the top of the building.
It was twenty four feet in height and was cast in bronze and covered with gold leaf. It weighed over sixteen tons. The statue towered over lower Manhattan until 1984. During the 1930’s the name of the statue was changed to The Spirit of Communications – although most people knew it by its nickname, Golden Boy. In 1984 AT&T moved up the island into the famous postmodern building designed by Philip Johnson. There was no perch on the roof, but the massive lobby contained the statue with no problem.
I visited New York about this time and remember seeking out the AT&T building as I walked the streets. Its architecture was still new and exciting. I remember the building, but I don’t think I actually entered the lobby. Now, I wish I had – I wonder if I would have remembered a huge naked gold statue standing there.
The next decades were turbulent times for the telecommunications industry and for Golden Boy. The AT&T building was sold and became the Sony Building. Golden Boy went across the Hudson and for years was displayed at two different locations in New Jersey. AT&T, of course, was carved up by the Federal Government – broken down into the baby bells.
One of these, Southwestern Bell, grew until in 2005 it swallowed its parent and became the new AT&T. Soon, the headquarters ended up in downtown Dallas, in the Whitacre Tower. Finally, in 2009, Golden Boy followed suit and was installed in the lobby of the building.
I stumbled across this history… I don’t know where. I have a book that lists notable Dallas sculptures but it was published prior to Golden Boy’s cross-country journey. Once I learned he was there, I had to go see him.
After I took at look at some melting ice (a sculptural form far more fleeting than bronze and gold leaf); I took a ride on a streetcar, then hoofed it across downtown to the AT&T headquarters.
I looked a little scruffy with my cheap jacket and bag of camera stuff – but garnered no more than a glance from the guard at the huge round desk at the entrance as I circled around taking pictures. The statue dominates the lobby – there is even a really nice curved couch behind the sculpture where you can sit down, relax and stare up at his golden ass. Yes, by the way, he is completely nude and, more or less, anatomically correct.
I had arrived near the end of the day and the lobby was dotted with serious-looking men in expensive suits shuffling on their tailored overcoats for the cold trip home at the end of the workday. The lobby is lined with cellular stores that open outward onto the street. These were full of folks looking for Christmas presents – for themselves or others.
It’s a modern, clean space – the almost-century old statue looks great but maybe a little out of place. Maybe he should be up on top of the building after all. He could spend his days staring across the street to the roof of the Magnolia Hotel down at that other Dallas iconic rooftop sculpture – the Pegasus.
The statue on his perch at 195 Broadway. Photo by Lee Sandstead.
There is another famous statue in the distance. Photograph from Lee Sandstread