(between 55th and 56th Streets)
Developer: Solomon Equities and A. Alfred Taubman
Architect: Kohn Pedersen Fox and Schuman, Lichtenstein, Claman
& Efron (office
tower); Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Assocs.(Bendel's)
By Carter B. Horsley
The target of a major landmarks controversy
over the preservation of the facades of three small Fifth Avenue
buildings, one of which, the middle one, contained Lalique engraved
windows, this project is an excellent example of the adaptive
reuse of historic buildings.
Its success, however, has little
to do with the architectural merit of the original buildings,
whose Fifth Avenue facades were saved and incorporated in the
The Lalique windows were on
the second through fourth floors of an otherwise very drab Art
Deco building of little significance and for decades their presence
was obscured by grime and the fact that they were not very exceptional
to begin with.
If anything was wonderful on
the Fifth Avenue portion of the site it was the splendid Rizzoli
bookstore in the building just to the south of the Lalique property
and the Rizzoli bookstore was less than two decades old.
Nevertheless, the self-anointed
civic priests of preservation raised such a hue and cry, not opposed
by Donald Trump, the developer of the famous, tall, mixed-use
tower catty-corner to the site (see The City Review article on Trump Tower), that the developers had to redesign
their major project to incorporate the low-rise Fifth Avenue buildings.
(Trump's lack of enthusiasm for this tower probably reflected
the fact that the new tower would partially obstruct a lot of
views to the southwest from Trump Tower diagonally across the
As a result, the developers
set back their 52-story office tower substantially from the avenue
with the effect that it now blocks many vistas of the Empire State
Building from further north on the avenue.
It should be noted, however,
that this tower is one of the most interesting facades in the
city with its strong decorative patterns, large square windows,
occasional rustication and truncated banding. It is a forceful,
imaginative attempt to boldly rework the traditional office tower
facade. Its six-story crown, for example, is slightly indented
at its four corners and it is marked by a different facade pattern.
While the tower is very well proportioned and light in its contrasting
gray-and-white facades, the overall effect is neat and rather
dashing, but not quite comfortable: it stands out like the first
club member to wear a new, well-tailored, wide-labeled, boldly
patterned jacket. Unlike Nehru jackets, this tower will stand
the test of time well.
The Fifth Avenue entrance of Bendel's
is a smashing Post-Modern lobby that is overwhelming given the
store's relatively small size. The Lalique windows, which can
be seen in the picture at the right, have been cleaned and preserved.
They are attractive, but really do not contribute all that much
to the interior ambience, and many window-shoppers probably still
don’t notice them on the exterior. Delightfully, a small
restaurant sits beside the windows on one of the lobby's balconies,
shown belcw. Despite the curlicues of the windows' engravings,
the designers opted not to employ curves in the lobby. Bendel's,
however, is, without question, the most interesting retail store
in the city as each of its nooks/boutiques is individually woven
into a very complex architectural fabric and there is more than
enough to catch the eye.
building's lobby on 56th Street, shown below, is more conventional
and classic with a handsome reinterpretation of the Art Deco motif
in its rich marble columns and a modern sculpture of antiquarian
spirit, shown below. One is tempted looking at the sculpture to
run into Bendel's and buy lots of bright scarfs to drape about
the sculpture. The sculpture was eventually replaced within a
few years, however.
All in all, all that could
be asked for here would be for Rizzoli to buy out the Harry Winston
bland travertine space on the 56th Street corner and replicate
its original bookstore, which moved to 57th Street between Fifth
Avenue and the Avenue of the Americas in a handsome, but not quite
as wonderful, store.
In the end, both the developer,
the architect and the landmarks community deserve praise for this
project which has not only saved some of the old ambiance of Fifth
Avenue, but improved it while also giving midtown an important
and interesting new major and highly visible skyscraper.
Its visibility from the north,
however, is its only real drawback. That visibility means that
its office tenants on the upper floor have fabulous views up Fifth
Avenue and over Central Park, but, in turn, the views of midtown
from upper Fifth Avenue and parts of the park now have their vistas
of the Empire State Building largely, or partially, blocked, which
is most unfortunate, a result of this tower being as tall as it
is. One would not want to impose "landmark visual sightlines"
as a new zoning, or preservation requirement across the board,
but in this instance it would have been nice if it had been taken
In 1998, the Paramount Group
was reported by Cushman & Wakefield Inc., to be planning to
purchase 543,207 square feet in the building for $576 million.