THE HELMSLEY BUILDING
(formerly the New York Central
Building and the New York General Building)
230 Park Avenue
(between 45th and 46 Streets,
Vanderbilt Avenue and DePeuw Place)
Developer: The New York Central
Architect: Warren & Wetmore
By Carter B. Horsley
This 34-story office building
is perhaps the best building in New York even if its solitary
prominence straddling Park Avenue was dashed by its immense neighbor,
the MetLife Building across 45th Street.
Its top is grandly elaborate
chateau glory, a pyramidal jewel only rivaled in the city by the
Crown, Woolworth and Chrysler Buildings.
The east and west wings of
its large base curve gently northward and are as comforting, in
a city with a rectilinear street grid, as Motherhood.
The base is not only exuberantly decorated
with sculptures and a handsome clock over its entrance, but also
has two pedestrian through-block arcades and north and south driveways,
shown at the left, that make this the city's premier "drive-through"
The lobby matches the stately
elegance of the great roof. Its warm yellow, Jaspé Oriental
marble walls and ceilings are accented by great cast-iron flourishes
at each elevator bank entrance. These ornaments are emblazoned
with the "NYC" logo, which stands, of course, for New
York Central, the building's developer and operator of railroads.
(The building's name was chiseled
above its Park Avenue front entrance, but when the railroad gave
up the building its new owners chipped away discretely to change
the name above the entrance to the "New York General Building."
When Harry B. Helmsley acquired it and decided on a very lavish,
major renovation for the building, he gilded much of the sculptural
ornamentation and changed the name on the front to the Helmsley
Building, but in a consistent fashion with the original signage.
Before the erection of the
Pan Am Building, now the MetLife Building, this building was the
city's dowager queen, lording it over the city's second most prestigious
avenue and marking the elegant heart of the city as it was the
tallest structure in the great "Terminal City" complex
around Grand Center Terminal designed by Warren & Wetmore.
A somewhat less flamboyant building modeled closely after this
tower was planned by the architects to rise above Grand Central
The lobby's tall arch has about
the same dimensions as the north and south driveway openings so
that from a distance one is not aware of how ingenious the traffic
plan here is for the roadways make two 90-degree turns within
the building before bridging 45th Street and wrapping around the
MetLife Building (see The City
Review article) and
Grand Central Terminal (see The
City Review article),
bridging over 42nd Street and ramping down to Park Avenue. The
turns within the Helmsley Building separate true racecar drivers
from New Jerseyites. The city's other great drive-through building
is the Municipal Building, which straddles Chambers Street downtown,
but its drive-through has long been closed, has no turns, and
is primarily used by the brilliant city managers of the city as
a garbage dump and executive parking.
The straight through-block
arcades in the Helmsley Building are quite large and well-lit,
although Helmsley's renovation installed rather unattractive advertising
vitrines that hopefully will be removed or upgraded in the future.
For many years, the main shaft
of the tower has illuminated many of its office windows to form
a highly visible sign of a cross at night during the Christmas
season. One could argue that religious partisanship is inappropriate,
but New York's euphoria at Christmas time knows no bounds and
this illumination is tasteful, attractive and relatively inoffensive.
The elevator cabs have ceilings
painted with clouds, which was appropriate when the building was
erected as it towered over the uniform rooflines of Park Avenue
that coincided approximately with height of the tower's base.
Beneath its lantern-bedecked
pyramidal roof, shown above, the building has projecting columns,
about four stories in height, that give it a slightly bulging
and distinctive silhouette, a little reminiscent of the famous
Singer Building on lower Broadway that was demolished to make
way for the former U. S. Steel Building.
The city has withstood the
terrible onslaught of the automobile and this type of building
inspired decades of utopian planners. In the summer of 1998, the
building was sold by Leona Helmsley, the widow of Harry B. Helmsley,
to Richard Kalikow.
Hurrah for Warren & Wetmore
and hooray for Harry B. Helmsley as this really was the centerpiece
of his once vast real estate empire!
In late 2007, Istihmar sold
the building for $1.5 billion to a partnership of a Goldman Sachs
fund and Monday Properties. Istithmar had acquired the building
in 2005 for $705 million. (1/6/08)