(between 50th and 51st Streets)

(formerly the Look Building)

Developer: Percy & Harold D. Uris

Architect: Emery Roth & Sons

Erected: 1950

Former Look Building at 488 Madison Avenue

By Carter B. Horsley

This 23-story office building, shown above, was one of the first major midtown projects of the Uris family that went on to become one of the most dominant and prolific commercial developers in Manhattan after World War II and the bulk of its portfolio, not including this property, eventually was acquired by Olympia & York.

Often depicted as a definitive example of the "wedding-cake" zoning envelope then current in midtown, the building is probably the most attractive, though relatively modest, building built by the Urises and is also probably the most attractive white-brick building in the city, which suffers from a surfeit of utterly tasteless and design-less white-brick "monstrosities," mostly residential towers, that were the fashion in the 1950's and 1960's.

What, of course, makes this building attractive is its simplicity and its rounded corners that suggest the sleekness of the upper decks of an oceanliner without any Deconstructivist distractions. The banded fenestration, here seen to its best advantage, has the psychological effect of communality of interest rather than peepholes from a disparate rabbit warren of offices. It also is a very natural and very strong design statement.

The proportions here are quite good as the building is small and squat enough not to let the horizontal window patterns get dizzyingly off kilter. The 50th Street frontage is about twice as long as that on 51st Street.

Look Magazine, its initial major tenant, was a very popular competitor of Life Magazine and this prime location helped bolster its image, although it ultimately folded. Another major tenant, Esquire Magazine, unsuccessfully sued to change the name of the building.

The Urises were one of seven major building families that built most of midtown's new buildings in the first three decades after World War II. The other families were the Tishmans, the Fishers, the Minskoffs, the Kaufmans, the Rudins and the Dursts.

The building, which overlooks the rear of St. Patrick's Cathedral, is on the former site of Cathedral College.

On July 27, 2010, the Landmarks Preservation Commission today unanimously approved landmark status for the Look Building, a curved, multi-tiered, mid-20th century Modernist office tower in Midtown Manhattan.

“The Look Building helped establish European Modernism as a fashionable, though practical, approach for office towers that were constructed in Manhattan’s business districts after the Second World War,” said Commission Chairman Robert B. Tierney.Commission has made it a point in recent years to protect those buildings that showcase the indelible imprint Modernism has left on New York City’s streetscapes.”

Emery Roth & Sons, established in 1938, became one of New York City’s most prolific architecture firms during the mid-to-late 20th century. It was involved in the design of at least 150 structures, including such high-profile projects as the Pan Am (now Met Life) Building, the World Trade Center and the Citicorp Building.

The Look Building was developed by Uris Brothers, a leading office construction firm whose projects had a substantial impact on Manhattan’s skyline and streetscapes during the mid-to-late 20th century. The New York Hilton, the Uris Building at 1633 Broadway and 55 Water Street are among the colossal structures that resulted from their financial backing.

Featuring tightly rounded corners, multiple setbacks and bands of ribbon-like windows that alternate with white brick spandrels, the Look Building has a strong horizontal emphasis that suggests the influence of the c. 1931 Starrett-Lehigh Building - a designated New York City landmark at 601-625 West 26th St. - and the circa 1947 Universal Pictures building, at 447 Park Ave.

Other prominent tenants in the building included music publisher Witmark & Sons, which had a studio on the fifth floor where a young Bob Dylan produced a series of demo recordings in 1962 and 1963.

The building was sold to the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in 1953, and has been owned since the 1970s by the Feil Organization and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The building’s two-story retail base was remodeled in the 1980s, and the rest of its exterior was renovated between 1995 and 1998.

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