The Galleria

115 EAST 57th STREET

Developer: Madison Equities

Architect:

David Kenneth Specter

Erected: 1973

57th Street angled entrance to mixed-use tower at 115 East 57th Street

Entrance to the Galleria is at left and small plaza at right belongs to adjoining office tower at 135 East 57th Street

By Carter B. Horsley

One of the city's most daring and innovative buildings, the 57-story Galleria was the city's first very complex mixed-use building.

It includes a public galleria, 8 floors of offices, a health club and 47 floors of condominium apartments in a package that is as dramatic and elegant at its base as it is awkward and strange at its top.

Complex atrium in the GalleriaThe centerpiece of the building is its 8-story atrium, shown at the left, with its north and south cantilevered sides and smaller atria on the sides. This space, which includes the entrance to the building's commercial spaces, also was designed to contain a restaurant and some boutiques. Despite the spectacularly angled and very dramatic entrance, the space has never been very successful.

The rakishly angled entrance on 57th Street, shown above, was, and is, very daring and was a brilliant solution, especially in such a rectilinear city as New York with its quite rigid and conservative building codes and community activists.

The commercial entrance descends from the street beneath the angled glass overhang and the entrance to the residential portion of the tower is just to the east, but elevated and much more formal with a richly colorful wall hanging and a terrace that overlooks the tall space. Some of the atrium's hanging lights should be motorized to move up and down randomly to create more interesting and changing lighting. The space is quite cathedral-like and awesome.

Many of the apartments were distinguished by the city's first major use of "wintergarden" rooms that basically were glass-enclosed, curved roof balconies that open onto living rooms.

The unusual top of the tower was especially designed as a 16,000-square foot quadruplex penthouse for Stewart Mott, a General Motors heir with an interest in gardens, who eventually decided against moving into the building.

Odd geometry of penthouse at the Galleria

The building's pre-Deconstructivist top is strange, if not ugly. If it had smokestacks, it might look like debris from a scuttled battleship with its flying bridges and turrets. The look resulted from the complexity of Mott's layout.

Mott, whose landscaping demands required added structural strengthening for the tower, subsequently did not move into his spectacular dream penthouse. That added a bit of intrigue to the midtown skyline, albeit with little deference to its noble neighbor to the immediate west, the great Ritz Tower on Park Avenue (see The City Review article), designed by Emery Roth, and 135 East 57th Street, the concave office tower with a tempietto in its plaza at the Lexington Avenue corner (see The City Review article), a building designed for Madison Equities by Kohn Pedersen Fox.

The apartment was eventually occupied, only to be put back on the market without much success for quite a long time. In late 1997, David Copperfield, the magician, bought it.

A fine feature of the building is that all tenants have use of a very large roof terrace and entertaining room, complete with fireplace, just beneath the penthouse. Several of the upper floor apartments have large recessed balconies. The wintergarden apartments are only on the south facade.

Because the tower portion of the building is recessed deeply from 57th Street and because the site is wedged between two other skyscrapers, the tall tower is not highly visible from the street.

But if the busy top is awkward, the building's base is one of the most spectacular and imaginative in the city's history.

The building's 57th Street frontage is scooped inward within a handsome granite frame ribbed with boldly colored steel ribs at a sharp angle that mirrors the large, angled skylight that covers the building's cantilevered atrium that separates the 57th Street entrances and offices from the residential tower and health club that overlooks the atrium.

The 57th Street entrance is divided by a handsome greenhouse. To the left of the separator is the entrance, down a few stairs, to the through-block public galleria/atrium. To the right is a small flight of stairs leading up to the very attractive residential lobby, which is notable for its colorful wall hangings and its balcony overlooking the building's centerpiece, the 8-story atrium with its north and south cantilevered sides and two side-bay atria.

This space, which was designed to contain a restaurant and some boutiques has never been very successful despite the stunning entrance that does not hint stylistically of the interior. The asymmetrical interior is intriguing and original and just misses being awkward. Deep ridges in the columns and on the walls vigorously accentuate the scale although their purple color is rather off-putting, but in keeping with this project's adventurousness, which at the time was extraordinary.

A health club that straddles both the south and north wings of the atrium overlooks the atrium as do the offices.

While this through-block building was infinitely more interesting and innovative than its main competition at the time of opening, the Olympic Tower on Fifth Avenue and 50th Street, it was not as successful in large part because the other project spent more on marketing and also focused most of its promotion efforts at the international market which was correct as the city was entering one of its worst fiscal crises at a time while many foreign capitols were suffering from flight capital.

The developers originally planned an office tower for this site but that market softened dramatically and, according to Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman in their fine book, "New York 1960, Architecture and Urbanism Between the Second World War and the Bicentennial and the Millennium" (The Monacelli Press, 1995), the developers "entered into negotiations with the city to develop a mixed-use facility."

"The city," the authors continued, "was represented by Jaquelin Robertson, the architect and urban designer who was head of the city's Office of Midtown Planning and Development, and Walter McQuade, the architectural journalist who was then serving as a member of the City Planning Commission. The fifty-five-story Galleria, which usurped the Excelsior's status as the city's tallest concrete-framed building, comprised a forty-seven tower on an eight-story base....The tower, barely visible from Fifty-Seventh Street, formed an important addition to the area's skyline, particularly when viewed from uptown....In contrast to Olympic Tower..., the city's other major legislated mixed-use tower, the Galleria made all the right urbanistic moves. Not only was it built out to the street line, it was also articulated into functionally expressive components culminating in a dramatic skyline feature."

The authors noted that the 90-foot-high atrium was 60 feet higher than required by the city.

In retrospect, this was a heroic failure that deserves great praise for its bold experimentation and incredible complexity by New York standards, and ambition. In time, the residential market improved and the building's worth was more appreciated and its splendid location and unusual layouts and amenities have made it popular.

Dramatic entrance to the Galleria

Entrance to the Galleria is very dramatic

This blockfront is one of the city's more interesting because the three towers are so unrelated and major. This building, however, deserves credit for placing its tower on the north part of its site to minimize its impact on the great Ritz Tower and its entrance creates a nice focal point on the block that permits its neighbors to have a nice balance.

For more information about the Galleria check its entry at CityRealty.com

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