By Carter B. Horsley
When it was erected in 1930
as the Barbizon Plaza Hotel, this structure was noted for its
flamboyant and unusual top, but that top would be replaced within
a few years, such are New York's everchanging fashions. In most
cases, such changes have been for the worse, but not here.
In describing the emergence
of a luxury hotel district around the southeast corner of Central
Park in their excellent book, "New York 1930, Architecture
and Urbanism Between The World Wars" (Rizzoli, 1987), Robert
A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins wrote that while
"the Central Park South hotels were less resolved architecturally
and more troubled economically," "the best of the group
was the Barbizon Plaza designed in a Modern Classical vacoulary
by Lawrence Emmons, architect and decorator working with Lloyd
Morgan and Murgatroyd & Ogden, as general architects."
"The building rose
from a bulky street-defining mass to a comparatively slender tower
crowned by a hipped roof covered with small glass tiles set on
their edges in narrow ribs of reinforced concrete. By day the
tiles shimmered in the sunlight; at night, the Barbizon Plaza's
all-glass pinnacle transformed the tower into a prism of light.
According to the Architect tests proved that a 'mellow
phosphorescent glow duplicating the texture of moonlight' could
be achieved by the lighting system, which consisted of a 'series
of flood lights placed inside the glass walls of the tower playing
their rays inward to an arrangement of seried windows,'"
Their book includes two
photographs of the Barbizon Plaza with the described roof and
they indicate that it curved in from its side pillars and culminated
in a flat, albeit colorful and light-emanating roof.
That roof no longer exists.
At some point, the roof was redesigned, probably during World
War II when the city discouraged night illumination of buildings.
The present design, which most likely never would have been approved
by city's landmarks agency if it had jurisdiction and had designated
the building as a landmark, is one of the most spectacular in
the city, indeed its only rivals in audacity are the Chrysler
Building and the former RCA/GE tower at 570 Lexington Avenue.
The side top pillars of the building have been extended upwards
to create an uneven, but very impressive, row of teeth around
the top and the entire top has been gilded.
In an age of satellite dishes,
rooftop protuberances are not rare, but this roof is not some
haphazard, Deconstructivist relic, but an extremely powerful form.
The exposed top pillars propel the building skyward. The new design
is much better than the original, sort-of-shallow-domed roof,
although it might be nice if it could once again be light-show
The top of the tower, furthermore,
bulges. Its pillars extend outwards much like those on the Helmsley
Building straddling Park Avenue at 46th Street and are also somewhat
reminiscent of the bulging top of the Singer Building on Lower
Broadway, which was one of the city's most important skyscraper
landmarks that was lamentably demolished.
The tower was acquired by
Donald Trump who had the foresight to recognize its architectural
merits, long overlooked by most critics, and he applied his normal
dosage of glitz to its entrance and converted it into a 340-unit
condominium in 1988. The 38-story building extends through to
58th Street and wraps around a smaller building on the southwest
corner at the Avenue of the Americas that is now known as Trump
Parc East at 100 Central Park South, a building that has its own
The entrance to Trump Parc
is full of polished granite and landscaping and is not inelegant.
The 38-story building has a doorman and a garage but no health
club. Its tower is setback from Central Park South. After a fairly
controversial conversion of the adjoining building, Mr. Trump
unified the retail frontage of both along the Avenue of the Americas.
The building, which is also
known as 101 East 58th Street, has spectacular views and is convenient
to public transportation, restaurants and shopping as well as
the Wollman Memorial Skating Rink nearby in Central Park that
Mr. Trump triumphantly restored quickly after long delays by the
city. The building has no balconies but some terraces.
Rear of building as seen from the GE building
Trump Park is fairly conventional
except for its tower which is remarkable and one of the city's
joys. Although Mr. Trump is best known for his glitzy, brassy
towers, it should be noted that he has an eye for fine old architecture
as demonstrated here and also in his conversion of the former
Delmonico Hotel (see The City Review
article) and the Mayfair Hotel (see The
City Review article) both on Park Avenue.