Carter B. Horsley
architect of the original
Pennsylvania Station between Seventh and Eighth Avenues and 31st
and 33rd Streets was McKim, Mead & White.
architect of the Hotel
Pennsylvania across Seventh Avenue from the entrance to the original
Pennsylvania Station was McKim, Mead & White.
demolition of the original
Pennsylvania Station was one of the greatest losses the city has
suffered, a loss not justified by the very bland and unattractive
office building and underground transportation complex and the
new, circular Madison Square Garden arena that replaced it.
are plans now afoot to
demolish the Hotel Pennsylvania and the less than brilliant but
quite serviceable Madison Square Garden as part of a very ambitious
and complicated scheme to create a new train terminal within the
James A. Farley Post Office Building, also designed by McKim,
Mead & White, across Eighth Avenue from the existing Madison
Square Garden. In early October, 2007, Vornado Real Estate Trust
began erecting scaffolding around the hotel, which, according
to an August 14, 2007 article by Julie Satow in The New York Sun
was netting "Vornado $30 million in gross profit annually."
new plans are a central
part of a much larger plan by the city to significantly redevelop
much of southwest midtown Manhattan, a plan that involves an expansion
of the Javits Convention Center, the creation of a major new angled
boulevard between 42nd and 34th Streets to be known as Hudson
Yards, and the creation of a major new residential and office
complex on platforms over the east and west train yards between
30th and 33rd Streets east of 10th Avenue, and an extension to
the west of the 7 subway line.
a heady brew that if
executed would result in a dramatic new mixed-use district that
would be about the size of the Financial District in Lower Manhattan.
While it would take several years to simmer, it could prove to
be competitive with the renaissance of Lower Manhattan and the
redevelopment of Ground Zero given the historic proclivity of
some business executives to want to avoid a commute downtown.
environmental study released
in October, 2007 by The Empire State Development Corporation has
proposed a two-option plan, one of which is dependent on the relocation
of the present Madison Square Garden to the west end of the Farley
building. The owners of the Garden, however, have not yet agreed
to the plan. Another component of the state plan might permit
the transfer of undeveloped air rights over the Farley building
to sites on the existing superblock with the Garden, the One Penn
Plaza office building that replaced the original train station
and to sites on either side of the even taller Two Penn Plaza
office building in the middle of the block bounded by Seventh
and Eighth Avenues and 33rd and 34th Streets.
point, Vornado was planning
to build two very tall office buildings on the site of the existing
Garden, but in recent months public officials were reported to
have decided against such a plan as too crowded. The design of
the planned towers was never released to the public but were understood
to have been exquisite skyscrapers.
state's plans include options
to transfer the unused air rights to sites within a new Penn Station
"District" whose boundaries would extend across Seventh
Avenue and the plans would include an incentive bonus of about
2.7 million square feet of developable space though the environmental
document provided no information on how such a huge figure was
arrived at, or the justification for the greatly increased zoning
envelopes envisioned in the "District." The "District"
and much of the enacted "Hudson Yards Zoning" have the
highest zoning permitted in the city for many of the contained
parcels, a 30 floor-to-area-ratio (FAR), whereas the highest FARs
elsewhere in the city now are generally 10 to 15.
Authority recently announced the five joint ventures that submitted
bids for the development of its exposed rail yards near the Hudson
River and some of the ventures reportedly included commitments
to relocate there by Condé Nast and Morgan Stanley, major
tenants in relatively new buildings in Times Square, and Fox,
which is a major tenant in a building on the Avenue of the Americas
near Times Square.
indication of the rather
incredible "momentum" that has suddenly been generated
for reshaping an area notorious for its uninspired architect and
very substantial traffic problems in the nearby Garment Center
and the Lincoln Tunnel was the recent disclosure that Merrill
Lynch was considered relocating from the World Financial Center
at Battery Park City into a very large skyscraper on the existing
site of the Hotel Pennsylvania, which is one of very many sites
in the vicinity owned by Vornado Real Estate Trust.
Merrill Lynch plan is astounding
given recent disclosures about the fact that it has lost several
billion dollars this year in investments related to sub-prime
mortgages and that a move uptown might cost it about one billion
dollars more than remaining in Lower Manhattan. The relocation
plan is all the more stunning given that it would be damaging
to the image of Lower Manhattan was a financial capital. On October
27, 2007, the front page lead article in The New York Times
by Landon Thomas Jr. and Jenny Anderson indicated that Merrill
Lynch was weighing the ouster of its top officer, E. Stanley O'Neal
in the "wake of a third-quarter loss of $2.3 billion and
an $8.4 billion charge for failed credit and mortgage-related
investments." The article also indicated that Mr. O'Neal,
who received $48 million last year from Merrill Lynch, "also
clashed with his directors over an approach he made to a rival
bank, Wachovia, for a possible merger." An accompanying article
by Eric Dash indicated that Mr. O'Neal is entitled to $30 million
in retirement benefits as well as $129 million in stock and option
holdings "that would be top of the roughly $160 million he
took home in his nearly five years on the job," adding that
"Mr. O'Neal would walk away with an even bigger pay package
if he left after a merger - a potential $274 million payout."
on Mr. O'Neal October 27, 2007 did not discuss Mr. O'Neal's apparent
intention to abandon Lower Manhattan and erect a skyscraper with
enormous trading floors on the site of the Hotel Pennsylvania.
this is very, very,
very high stakes gambling. One suspects that Mr. O'Neal may become
almost as infamous as Kenneth Lay of Enron fame and perhaps the
controversy over his leadership might waylay a relocation of Merrill
Lynch to the Hotel Pennsylvania site.
in the midst of
all this fast and furious juggling of Manhattan's future by a
handful of major players the preservation community has been relatively
quiet about the Hotel Pennsylvania.
one of the last surviving
examples of very large hotels built to accommodate train travelers.
In the Grand Central Terminal neighborhood, the former Commodore
and Biltmore Hotels have been transformed from their original
elegant designs as part as Warren & Wetmore's grand "Terminal
City" complex and rumors abound that the Roosevelt Hotel,
the last of that district's major "railroad hotels"
may be demolished. The Roosevelt is more elegant than the Hotel
Pennsylvania but the Hotel Pennsylvania was designed by McKim,
Mead & White specifically to complement the spectacular and
very imposing entrance of the original Pennsylvania Station.
unlike the Grand Central Terminal precinct that has been largely
transformed from a masonry district to a polished granite and
glass area, the Hotel Pennsylvania is the northernmost of three
similar substantial masonry buildings on the east side of Seventh
Avenue south of 33rd Street and one block south of the great Macy's
masonry edifice and the masonry edifice of the tall Nelson Tower
on the northwest corner of Seventh Avenue and 34th Street. Just
across 32nd Street from the Hotel Pennsylvania is the handsome
Affininia Hotel that was formerly Southgate Towers and originally
the Hotel Governor Clinton and which was built in 1929 with 1,200
many commentators have
remarked on the fact that numerous ownership changes at the Hotel
Pennsylvania over the years have made major changes to the interiors,
which are not of the luxury class, its facade is stately and handsome.
Furthermore, it is not a small building and at one time boasted
that it was the city's largest.
hotel, whose address is 401
was erected by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1919 and was operated
by Ellsworth Statler and was acquired by the Hotels Statler Company
in 1949 and renamed the New York Statler Hotel. After all 17 Statler
hotels were acquired by Conrad Hilton in 1954, it became The Statler
Hilton. In the early 1980s, Hilton sold the property and it became
the New York Statler again. In 1984, it was acquired by the Penta
chain and became the New York Penta. In 1992, it reverted to the
hotel's telephone number,
6-5000 is supposedly the New York City telephone number in longest
continuous use and was famous as the name of a song by the Glenn
Miller band. Other bands that played in its ballroom were the
Dorsey Brothers, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington.
January, 2007, Lehman
interest in the Hotel Pennsylvania site, subsequently Merrill
Lynch became the primary potential user of the site. According
to an October 25, 2007 article in The New York Times
Charles V. Bagli, Merrill Lynch was negotiating a "billion-dollar
65-year lease" that called for demolishing the hotel and
erecting a tower with 80,000-square-foot trading floors in its
his October 15, 2007 article
in The New
York Observer, Chris Shott reported that Gregory Jones, a
member of HOPE (Hackers on Planet Earth), which has been holding
a conference at the hotel for more than a decade, had mounted
a campaign to preserve the hotel and nominated it for designation
by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. A section of the
website, hope.net, is devoted to news and commentary about Vornado
and its plans for the hotel site, Mr. Schott wrote.
Schott quoted Kent Barwick,
of the Municipal Art Society, as stating that “Preserving
that hotel, which has become very seedy, is not anywhere near
as important as reusing the Farley building and creating a new
is neither easy nor fair to
landmark to another. The former McAlpin Hotel on the southeast
corner of Broadway and 34th Street is similar in layout with multiple
light courts to the Hotel Pennsylvania but it is a higher quality
design and location. Its survival, however, should not be an excuse
for getting rid of all similar but possibly inferior buildings.
What's goose for the gander in one location may be truffles for
a pig in another. Some locations need good old buildings more
than others. Sometimes a well-proportioned older building with
some nice details makes for an excellent contrast with a glossy,
glass-clad skyscraper. Sometimes older well-proportioned buildings
with nice details, such as large entrance columns, good masonry
and cornices, make for excellent conversions to other uses such
as apartments or small users of office space. (Not all businesses
require 80,000-square-foot trading floors!)
commentators have made
light of the historic
significance of the Hotel Pennsylvania, but compared to the thousands
of relatively insignificant structures in many of the city's "historic"
districts the fame of the hotel as the venue for many of the country's
greatest bands is not inconsequential.
Hotel Pennsylvania is what
& White, the greatest architects in the city's history, felt
was appropriate to confront travelers exiting from its great and
very greatly lamented original Pennsylvania Station.
is something a little
obscene about demolishing
perfectly workable structures whose replacement costs would be
extremely high. While demolition may satisfy some Americans' thirst
for violence, it is often an extravagant and inexcusable urban
exercise especially in light of the country's interesting record
of "adaptive re-use" of historic structures. The Hotel
Pennsylvania is not a blight on the city's urbanscape.
existing zoning, the bulk
of the Hotel
Pennsylvania does not leave any "undeveloped" air rights.
Some commentators have suggested that a Hearst Building scenario
might work, but that is unlikely. Since the city is conjuring
up bonus space in its Farley/Penn Station schemes, why not give
an enormous amount of additional air rights for saving the Hotel
Pennsylvania especially since public officials apparently want
to create a wide district capable of receiving air rights and
especially since some commentators actually think that the city's
core personality is based to a great extent on very tall buildings
and that New York has fallen significantly behind the rest of
the world in big skyscrapers.
It was somewhat
surprising, and refreshing,
therefore, that the landmarks committee of Community Board 4 voted
Tuesday night 6 to 1 to recommend that the Landmarks Preservation
Commission designate the hotel as in individual landmark.
Joyce Matz, a
long-term member of the Community
Board and a preservationist who holds projects up to the letter
of the law so to speak, told the committee that she had asked
three architectural historians about the significance of the hotel
and she said that all three historians maintained the project
was not the best work of McKim, Mead & White and she pointed
out that that it was not designed by one of the original partners.
Such comments, however, are very misleading. Gordon Bunshaft and
I. M. Pei did not design all the masterpieces by their respective
firms, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Pei Freed Cobb, and
as anyone who follows the starchitect gossip it is clear that
not every project by a star architect is a masterpiece. Other
comments read at the meeting by "preservationists" such
as Peg Breen of the New York Landmarks Conservancy and Kent Barwick
of the Municipal Art Society were not at all consistent with the
established principles of historic preservation in New York City.
Ms. Breen suggested that the hotel was seedy and not well loved,
which has absolutely nothing to do with the building's exterior.
Mr. Barwick, one of the most intelligent of all New Yorkers, apparently
tried to avoid the question by suggesting that it was not as important
a landmark as the Farley Building, which is true, but which also
wrongly implies that the Farley Building is a masterpiece, which
it is certainly not.
The committee's vote,
of course, is not
binding on the Community Board and the board's vote is only advisory
in the city's Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP). Nonetheless,
the committee's rather courageous vote is bound to slow down the
steamroller momentum behind all these gigantic plans. (10/31/07)
Community Board voted 21 to
8 to 8 with
two present and not voting to recommend November 8, 2007 that
the Hotel Pennsylvania be designated an official city landmark
by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
its "public session,"
board heard testimony from many employees at the hotel including
its doorman that the preservation of the hotel was important to
save jobs, an emotional issue that directly related to the building's
merits as a potential landmark. Richard Collins told the meeting
that the last band to play at the hotel was the Buddy Rich band
in 1980 with singers Mel Tormé and Helen O'Connell.
long discussion then ensued
among board members
about the resolution.
that by "rushing"
to recommend designation the board might be "acting too fast"
in light of the many developments under consideration in the vicinity.
She asked another member, John Mills, what effect the designation
of the hotel might have on schemes to transfer air rights from
the Farley post office building and Mr. Mills indicated that it
was not yet possible based on public documents to make such
members questioned the
of the hotel and Howard Mendes, chairman of the board's landmarks
committee, reminded them that a landmark's value is not based
solely on architectural merit or historical considerations, pointing
out that the hotel had considerable cultural history as a leading
venue in its Café Rouge ballroom for many of the country's
most famous band in the Swing Era such as Glenn Miller, at which
point several female members of the board broke out into song
singing "Pennsylvania 6-5000," one of his most famous
songs whose title is the hotel's phone number that is still in
Mendes also noted that some
"are more concerned about the Farley building and are willing
to look the other way." "This hotel has a lot of history
of its own," he said, adding that "you might not like
every detail, but it is certainly imposing."
Law-Gisiko reminded the
board that the
hotel was historically important for building over the tracks
and being the city's largest hotel when it was built.
Matz, a long-time board
member and strong
preservationist, read a statement explaining her intention to
vote against the resolution. She said she was in favor of saving
the building but that the community must look for other ways to
save it than landmark designation such as public campaigns and
appeals to the developers to study possible ways to "recycle"
the building for other uses. She said that it was unlikely that
the commission will hold a hearing quickly and added that an official
landmark designation by the commission "won't happen."
"It is an exercise in futility. It can take years and never
happen," she said." She did not explain why she thought
the commission would not designate the hotel adding that the hotel
was "not up to the best work" of McKim, Mead & White.
board's resolution noted
that the chief
designer of the hotel at McKim, Mead & White was "William
Symmes Richardson, who also helped design Pennsylvania Station,
as well as the National City Bank Building in New York, the Girard
Trust Company Building in Philadelphia and the Bank of Montreal,
Canada." It also noted that Ellsworth Statler was contracted
to run to hotel that originally had 2.200 bathrooms, 3,537 beds
and the world's first "high rise" elevators. The resolution
also noted that much of the Indiana limestone and Milford pink
granite at the building's base has been painted over and that
there are several Rosso Levanto marble decorative spandrels between
the windows on the first two floors. It also observed that on
West 32nd Street the building forms four individual towers partially
conjoined at the building's center to maximize exposure to sunlight
and airflow while on West 33rd Street the two central towers are
fully conjoined. (11/8/07)
The Historic Districts
Council, one of the
city's leading preservationist organizations, sent a letter December
4, 2007, to Robert H. Tierney, the chairman of the Landmarks
Commission, urging the landmark designation of the Hotel Pennsylvania
on the east side of Seventh Avenue between 32nd and 33rd Streets.
planning and money
have gone into the planning of the revival of the Pennsylvania
Station area. It is ironic that the Hotel Pennsylvania, designed
by the same architectural firm [McKim, Mead & White as the
station, should not be part of these plans. Additionally, in this
boom time of New York City hotels, what was thought to be the
largest hotel in the world at the time of its opening should not
be consigned to the dustbin of history," wrote Simon Bankoff,
executive director of the council.
and the Farley Post Office, the architectural firm of McKim, Mead
& White was commissioned in 1917 to design and construct a
hotel to accommodate the railroad's passengers. The elegant
two years later" and "its Cafe Rouge was one of the
most popular nightclubs in the city during the 1930s and 1940s
featuring such performers as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, the
Dorsey Brothers and the Glenn Miller Orchestra who immortalized
in song the hotel's phone number, Pennsylvania 6-5000," Mr.
Bankoff wrote, urging that "we respectfully ask that a designation
hearing be held for this significant, endangered building."
In February, 2008, a
spokesman for the landmarks
commission confirmed that the agency had decided not to hold a
hearing on the hotel's possible designation as a landmark. (2/24/08)
Vornado Realty Trust
indicated in a letter
sent to its investors that appeared in a filing yesterday with
the Securities and Exchange Commission that it is "hopeful
that a scaled-back version and perhaps even a doubly scaled-back
version" of the proposed redevelopment of the Farley Post
Office building on Eighth Avenue between 31st and 33rd Streets
Ambitious plans to relocate Madison Square Garden into the western
half of the full-block post office structure to open up its present
site on the other side of Eighth Avenue to a major renovation
of the existing Pennsylvania train station and permit the transfer
of several million square feet of development rights in the vicinity
were thwarted by the announcement last month that the Garden would
stay put and renovate its existing structure.
Vornado is a major property owner in the area and is a partner
with The Related Companies in a joint venture in the proposed
$14 billion redevelopment scheme involving the post office.
The eastern end of the post office building, which was designed
by McKim, Mead & White with a two-block-long colonnade along
Eighth Avenue, has been planned as new train station for New Jersey
The smaller plan for the post office site, known as Moynihan Station,
received many needed approvals and has the required funding already
set aside, based on costs in 2006.
In his letters to investors, Steve Roth, CEO of Vornado Realty
Trust, said that "In my view, there has been too much public
endorsement of the idea of this project for nothing to happen."
Vornado and Related had been designated as co-developers for a
smaller-scale version for the post office redevelopment by the
Pataki administration, and Vornado owns about 7.5 million square
feet of commercial space in the area including the Hotel Pennsylvania
on the east side of Seventh Avenue between 32nd and 33rd Streets
that it was considering tearing down for a new headquarters building
for Merrill Lynch. Merrill Lynch subsequently withdrew from that
plan and some preservationists campaigned unsuccessfully to convince
the Landmark Preservation Commission to designate it as a landmark
since it was also designed by McKim, Mead & White and had
been at one time the city's largest hotel and also was the venue
for many of the leading bands of the 1930s and 1940s.
Mr. Roth said that the planning process for the post office building
"has frustrated all parties," adding that "It has
been three years so far, a long, complicated road. The project
requires public sector expenditures which, in the end, may not
all be there….But in the end, it is surely worth the effort."
"I am hopeful that something good will happen here,"
"Much has already happened," Mr. Roth continued, "to
increase the value of our Penn Station assets. The Penn Plaza
District and the West Side of New York have been discovered and
are the beneficiaries of an enormous amount of recent and current
activity. A huge swath has already been rezoned as the future
growth corridor of Manhattan. Tishman Speyer has won the bidding
to develop the Hudson Rail Yards into a 12 million square foot,
20-year, Canary Wharf-type project. Brookfield has announced 5
million square feet…. Vornado was the pioneer here, and owns
the best and the lion's share of the real estate surrounding
Station - the gateway to the new West Side….The Hotel Pennsylvania,
Seventh Avenue at 33rd Street, generated a best ever $37.9 million
of EBITDA in 2007, $10.4 million more than in 2006, a 37.8% increase
….The credit crisis and Merrill's management changes disrupted
this deal, but the fact remains that our site was the last man
standing in a rigorous citywide search."
The planned $500 million renovation of the Garden will expand
its lobby from 12,000 to 25,000 square feet, its concourses from
46,000 to 101,000 square feet, its restrooms from 12,400 to 19,500
square feet and add 20 floor level suites and 19 ledge suites.
hotels are not only of large size but are designed to administer amply
to physical needs. They also enjoy locations that are
with impressiveness, the two great railroad stations in themselves
affording striking illustrations of things done in a big way and giving
abundant evidence of the facility with which our American life adapts
itself to developing things nobly and on a large scale....In designing
the hotel for the same owners, the architects [McKim, Mead &
have studied to relate the two structures in scale and expression.
Attention is called to the setting-back from the regular city
building lines of both the station and the hotel to produce the effect
of a plaza....The Seventh Avenue wing was set aside for especially
attractive rooms designed to give the highest class of accommodations.
These rooms overlook the Pennsylvania Station....In designing
lobby, the architects made an effort to produce an imposing effect, a
tremendous vestibule for a hotel of extraordinary proportions.
The result is that one is immediately impressed with the
of great spaciousness properly related in scale to the great terminal
across the street....
of lobby in March 1919 issue of The Architecture Review
interior in March 1919 issue of The Architecture Review
the main lobby, the effect of spaciousness is so happily impressed on
the mind, that the thought of being at the bottom of a twenty-story
building is entirely lost. This effect is enhanced by he use
metal-and-glass ceiling over the central portion of the main lobby,
lighted from above by indirect electric lighting. This gives
glow of moderate intensity, supplemented by various ceiling fixtures in
the galleries and by standards on the floor. The main lobby
Roman in architectural character, in scale and detail harmonious with
the motifs adopted for the Pennsylvania Station, but with a domestic
note. Extensive use has been made of artificial marble
made of Keen's cement, applied to the walls an columns and
finished by polishing in the same way that marble is
ballroom, the foyer and the parlors which lead into it are ...carried
out in the spirit of the Italian Renaissance. In outline and
decoration the ballroom shows a serious effort to preserve the
traditions of the best examples of this period, and
has been drawn from the fresco decorations by Giovanni da Udine in the
Villa Madama and the Vatican in Rome....In working out
scheme of decorations the architects called into consultation the
emininant artist, Jules Guerin, who was of the greatest assistance in
producing distinguished and harmonious results."
owners of the 1,250-foot-high Empire State Building
the plan of Steven Roth and his Vornado Realty Trust to demolish the
Hotel Pennsylvania and
replace it with a
1,190-foot-high office tower.
proposed skyscraper has been
designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli, the firm that designed the Beacon
between 58th and 59th Streets for Mr. Roth.
Hotel Pennsylvania is 22 stories high and was considered
the largest hotel in the world when it was built.
It is across Seventh
Avenue from the former site of Penn Station and both
were designed by the famous architectural firm of McKim, Mead &
attempts to have the hotel designated an official
city landmark failed.
proposed tower was recently entered into the city's
official land-use review process and Community Board Five voted 36 to 1
one abstention to deny the Vornado application, expressing "serious
concerns" about "an application that offers few public benefits"
in exchange for significant increases in size through special permits. Its vote is advisory.
a June 11, 2010 letter to Amanda Burden, the chair of the
City Planning Commission, Vikki Barbero wrote that "The Commission
recently considered the Jean Nouvel/MoMA building, and despite noting
proposed building's exemplary design and the lasting effects that this
would generate for landmarks and cultural institutions, it voted to
size due to its impact on the city skyline and the surrounding
comparison," the letter continued, "the
15 Penn Plaza application wholly lacks the MoMA project's distinguished
architectural features, produces no benefits for landmark preservation
cultural access, would have detrimental impacts on neighborhood density
traffic, and would notably diminish, not enhance the skyline position
iconic neighbor, the Empire State Building from the west, thereby
altering and diminishing New York City's skyline in a way few projects
decades. Should 15
Penn Plaza not be
held to the same standards and criteria as Nouvel/MoMa."
commission "decapitated" the Nouveau project
and insisted its design be lowered by about 150 feet to be more
a June 7, 2010 letter to Ms. Burden, Peter Malkin of
Malkin Holdings, the owner of the Empire State Building, pointed out
Empire State Building "is not discussed, or even mentioned in the
Historical Resources section of the proposed project's Draft
Impact Statement," which states that the standard established distance
that should be considered is 400 feet and the distance between them is
exclusion of ESB from 15 Penn Plaza
Project's impacts on historical resources may have been appropriate in
circumstances; however, there are not ordinary circumstances. The scale of the 15 Penn
Plaza Project is
immense, more immense than ESB," Mr. Malkin argued, noting that the
Manual "concedes that a larger study is appropriate for 'projects that
result in changes that are highly visible and can be perceived from
than 400 feet and could affect the context of historic resources some
Malkin also raised questions about the proposed tower's
shadows, height, traffic and possible spire that might interfere with
an article today at observer.com, Elliot Brown wrote that
"Borough President Scott Stringer gave a conditional non-binding
recommendation in favor of Vornado's plan, and the City Planning
approved it with minor modifications.
still needs to be approved by the City Council and it's
not clear that Vornado has a tenant and/or financing yet to proceed if
of proposed Vornado tower from cemetery in Queens
article by Matt Chaban published today at archpaper.com
showed several renderings of how a planned 1,216-foot-high skyscraper
site of the Hotel Pennsylvania at 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue
would visually impact
and the midtown skyline.
article published a statement by Anthony Malkin,
president of Malkin Holdings, the owner of the Empire State Building,
everything that's wrong with this building any how it just might ruin
a tower be allowed next to The Eiffel Tower or
Big Ben’s clock tower? Just as the world will never tolerate a drilling
next to The Statue of Liberty, why should governmental bonuses and
granted to allow a structure as tall and bulky at 15 Penn Plaza to be
feet away from New York City’s iconic Landmark and beacon?
of 15 Penn Plaza from the west
believe that the public approval process to date
for the proposed 15 Penn Plaza has
address the interests of New Yorkers. The City Charter did not create
process so as to provide a speedy approval for a speculative office
which there is no planned commencement. The Developer’s Environmental
Statement at first ignored, and then (by last minute amendment)
denied, any impact on the largest Landmark in New York City from the
1,200 foot tower to rise at some unspecified future date on the present
the Hotel Pennsylvania.
people of New
York City have already made their
Community Board 5 voted down this proposal 36 to 1, so the only hope
protection of this public legacy now sits with the City Council.
may be buildings taller than the Empire State Building.
But no building
so close to the Empire State Building should be allowed through
official exceptions to be as bulky and tall as 15 Penn Plaza. The
bulk of 15 Penn Plaza are the result of waivers and bonuses greatly in
of code. Another waiver granted 15 Penn Plaza the right to build
setbacks. At only 67 stories, 15 Penn Plaza would be as tall as the
of the Empire State Building, and would, if built, be as much a scar on
complexion of New York City as the loss of Penn Station.
are working with other New Yorkers and concerned
parties who care about this landmark to write and speak to the City
its Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises on August 23 in opposition to
effort to mar permanently the iconic signature which creates the
Commission Chair Amanda Burden said the property,
directly across from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden, is
location for high density development."
nearly 80,000 square feet, the site offers an
opportunity for precisely the type of well-designed…office building
York City needs to
stay globally competitive," she said before casting a 'yea' vote.
an article yesterday at observer.com, Elliot Brown wrote
that "Mr. Malkin has caught at least a bit of traction: On Tuesday, the
New York Landmarks Conservancy decided to speak out about the tower on
of the effect on the Empire State Building; and other civic groups are
considering similar actions."
Malkin's argument is not without precedent,"
the article continued, "at least if one is to look at the model set by
Bloomberg administration last year, when the City Planning Commission
200 feet off the height of the 1,250-foot-tall, Jean Nouvel-designed
to MoMA. The reasoning, from the Planning Commission, was that the
the tower's top was not shown to merit 'being in the zone of the Empire
'It's hard to understand how City Planning could say that 15 Penn Plaza
have no impact on the Empire State Building when they already lowered a
proposed 53rd Street building for that very reason,' said Peg Breen,
of the New York Landmarks Conservancy." (8/18/10)
Vornado rendering showing 15
Penn Plaza between Hudson Yards and Empire State Building
The zoning and franchise
subcommittee of the land-use
committee of the City Council held a hearing August 23, 2010 on several
by Vornado Realty Trust for zoning variances to permit it to erect an
tower nearly twice as tall as current zoning allows on the site of the
Pennsylvania on Seventh Avenue
and 33rd Streets.
22-story hotel was designed by McKim, Mead & White
to be compatible with the firm's fabled Pennsylvania Station across the
that was demolished in the 1960s.
proposed tower, which is known as 15 Penn Plaza,
would rise about 1,200 feet, about the height of the Empire
spire 900 feet to the east. In
for the major zoning changes for its projects, Vornado is offering to
about $100 million in improvements to local subway stations including a
reopening of the former "Gimbel's Passageway" to the Avenue of the
a major owner of real estate in the area, also
argues that its project would provide jobs although it has not
going forward until it has a
Vornado proposal has been bitterly opposed by Anthony
Malkin, president of the company that owns the Empire State Building
on the grounds
that it would "crowd" his building and block many views of it from
the west. He took
out a full-page
advertisement in yesterday's edition of The New York Times in which he
building "is THE iconic image of New York City's skyline" and that
"The City Planning Commission itself has held that a certain standard
be met in exchange for great height," adding that "Less than one year
ago a tower had 200 feet of height removed by the Commission because it
belong '...in the zone of the Empire State Building's iconic spire.'"
to an article in Architects Newspaper by
Matt Chaban, Vornado released a rendering, shown at the right, that
proposed tower, the Empire State Building and the Hudson Yards proposal
"to make the case that it is not the only project reshaping lower
David Greenbaum, the president
of Vornado, told the
subcommittee that "New York
as a city has to grow," the article said.
Mr. Malkin, the article
continued, told the subcommittee
that Vornado could achieve its goals with a shorter tower with
something in the 800- to 850-foot range.
subcommittee members expressed considerable ambivalence
about the project, wary about its size and impact on the skyline, but
noting the need to remain competitive with other financial centers
Leroy Comrie, the influential Queens
councilman who chairs the Land-Use Committee, told Mr. Malkin that
asking us to look at many things beyond this one project.” The article
that "His tone was severe, suggesting at once that such a policy was
needed, but also that he was neither prepared nor even interested in
formulating it at this point."
In an article in the August 24,
2010 edition of The New York Times,
Charles V. Bagli wrote that Councilman Comrie "posed a final
seemed to foretell how he would vote: 'Is New York City a snapshot
2010 to be held in perpetuity, or is New York City an evolving, dynamic
editorial in the August 24, 2010 edition of The New York Post said
"Should the New
skyline be forever - like a bug cast in amber?
Of course not"
editorial in the Augusts 24, 2010 edition of The New York Daily News
said that "since the invention of the electric elevator..., the city's
silhouette has been made and remade, with buildings gaining dominance
be overshadowed with the ascent of new attention-getters," adding "so
it is today, even for the grand old marvel of the Empire State."
of 15 Penn Plaza replacement for Hotel Pennsylvania
Land Use Committee of the City Council voted 19 to 1 August 25, 2010 to
approve a plan by Vornado Realty Trust to erect a very tall office
feet west of the Empire State Building, whose owner had argued it would
"ruin views of his iconic tower, and thus the city as a whole,"
according to an article by Matt Chaban at archpaper.com.
fact, the issue of the skyline barely even came up,
and when it did, the council members...essentially said New York
must build to remain great,"
the article continued.
Vornado showed up at Monday’s hearings without a
specific plan for how it would ensure a portion of the contractors on
project would be MWBEs [women- and minority-owned business
the article noted, "the committee members were displeased. Councilwoman
Letitia James asked if the company even had any sort of minority hiring
practices, to which the head of the New York Office, David Greenbaum,
that he was not sure but had had a party recently at which there were
women, and his wife asked which were employees and which were spouses
said, with a chuckle, that it was more of the former. James was not
proffered a last minute MWBE plan before
today’s vote," the article said, "calling for at least 15 percent of
all construction work to be done by MWBEs. Whether the project would
torpedoed without it is hard to say, but it did little to assuage
members complaints at the same time they overwhelmingly voted for the
James Saunders, one of the council’s lions on MWBE issues, made his
known. 'This is a tepid response to a need, a very tepid response,' he
the new MWBE plan. 'We can’t go on like this. That we even have to have
discussion shows that there needs to be some real dialogue here.'”
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg came out strongly in
favor of the Vornado scheme: “I don’t understand that. You know,
builds a building in New York City
changes its skyline. We don’t have to run around to every other owner
apologize. This is something that’s great for this city. Competition’s
wonderful thing. One guy owns a building. He’d like to have it be the
building. I’m sorry that’s not the real world, nor should it be.”
planned tower, which is known as 15 Penn Plaza, would
rise on the site of the Hotel Pennsylvania, which was designed by McKim
& White to be compatible with the firm's great Penn Station
that was demolished in the 1960s.
hotel occupies most of the western part of the block bounded by Seventh
and the Avenue of the Americas
and 32nd and 33rd Streets.
planned new tower has been designed by Pelli Clarke
Pelli, which designed the Beacon Tower for
which has many properties in and around the train
station, was seeking several zoning variances that would enable it to
almost double what the current zoning would allow for the site.
Landmarks Preservation Commission declined to designate
the handsome hotel as a landmark despite the fact that it and the
Hotel are the last vestiges in midtown of the very large and major
properties that were erected to accommodate train travelers.
Malkin, an owner of the Empire State Building,
campaigned against the granting of the wavers, declaring the proposed
a "monstrosity" and noting that recently the City Planning Commission
had ordered 200 feet "chopped" off the top of a proposed new tower
designed by Jean Nouvel adjacent to the Museum of Modern Art because it
infringed on the iconic skyline solitude of the Empire State Building
and it is
almost a mile further away from it than 15 Penn Plaza.
exchange for the gigantic increase in zoning for its
site, Vornado plans to reopen the "Gimbel's passageway" and install
subway entrances in the planned building, at an estimated cost of $100
should be based on land-use principles and not monetary value and,
anyway, $100 million is essentially peanuts when discussing a
1,200-foot-high office tower in midtown. The City Planning
Commission was completely wrong to "decapitate" Nouvel's slanted
skyscraper on the basis of its relationship with the top of the Empire
State Building but why hasn't the mayor severely criticized if not
fired Amanda Burden for such a preposterous ruling.
the Pelli-Clarke-Pelli design of the proposed tower is horrible.
It is just a giant phallic symbol to glorify the city's total
dedication to money rather aesthetics. The aesthetic debate
this instance was unnecessary as the amount of zoning waivers and
variances here borders beyond the obscene. Normally a transit
improvement might warrant a 20 percent increase in FAR! (8/25/10)
article September 2, 2010 by former Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern
at huffingtonpost.com noted that the chair of Community Board 5 was not
by the August 26, 2010 vote of the City Council, 46 to 1, to approve
variances to permit Vornado Realty Trust to erect an office tower of
1,200 feet on the site of the Hotel Pennsylvania on Seventh Avenue
and 33rd Streets.
to Mr. Stern, the chair, Vikki Barbero, made the
following "penetrating comments::
ULURP process has ended and the Council has made
its final determination. We remain distressed and dismayed, however, by
level of discussion and debate both in the media and at the Council.
issue before the Council was not principally about
women and minority employment, as important as this issue continues to
all job areas. Yet, if you were present for the Council debate you
thought it was at the heart of the matter being voted on. The issue
Council was not about a battle between two major real estate
many press reports made it out.
issue before the Council was not about the need to
foster jobs during this bad economic climate, for even the developer
they won't be building for years to come. Yet, a number of our
leaders used that bogus argument as an excuse to support the project.
the issue before the Council was certainly not
about sticking it to the Empire State Building
because it failed to light up for Mother Teresa....
development should not be permitted to set a bad
precedent for the next, as we believe this one does by upzoning an
without a rationale and with limited resultant public benefit. A city
as ours, with so many competing interests, needs to thoughtfully and
inclusively plan for its future and not let one wealthy and powerful
override that process.
was the debate that was entirely missing this
week both in most of the media and, even worse, at the City Council. We
disheartened and discouraged by its absence."
Stern, who is president of New York Civic, declared in
his column that "Ms. Barbero is spot on," adding that "On this
one, the CPC was clearly in the tank, abandoning its customary
attention to size, taste and design in its eagerness to approve the
believe," he continued, "that what
happened in this case is a textbook example of unsound public policy,
favoritism to a particular extremely well-connected developer, and lack
regard for the future of the commercial neighborhood around Penn and
Stations.....This is a case of the city making an extraordinary gift,
worth hundreds of millions of dollars, to one of its richest and most
influential developers. It is a top-down decision, clearly made at City
and not by the Planning Commission, which should have been embarrassed
tricks they had to turn."
is commonplace," Mr. Stern concluded, "to
denounce the bungling, self-serving scoundrels of Albany,
who are a continuing embarrassment to the State of New York.
But what does one say for
municipal decision makers when their motive is not corrupt, but
reliance upon the paternal supposition that money knows best."