THE TAKASHIMAYA BUILDING
695 FIFTH AVENUE
(between 54th and 55th Streets)
Architect: John Burgee with
Developer: Takashimaya Inc.
By Carter B. Horsley
For decades, a major gap
between two of Fifth
Avenue's finest teeth tarnished the boulevard's elegant smile.
The "teeth" were the St.
Hotel at 55th Street and the former Aeolian Building at 689 Fifth
Avenue at 54th Street.
The gap was a two-story
building that housed
Chandlers Shoes and Wempe jewelers before it was sold to its new
owner, one of Japan's biggest department store operators.
The new building not only
filled the gap, it
made the multi-building blockfront shine better than any other
on the avenue.
The Takashimaya building is the
building in the city and, more importantly, it is a superb building
whose forceful, vigorous and cohesive design actually excels its
two neighbors, both masterpieces of craftsmanship and style. By
contrast, the St. Regis is a bit too dolled up and sultry and
the former Aeolian Building is a bit too refined and restrained.
To navigate between contextual
and robust independence means treading a very thin line with all
the aplomb of a daring tightrope walker.
Johnson and Burgee have long
attention on window treatment and here their experiments attain
a rhythmic climax of extraordinarily rich texture and elegance
whose thin columns and expansive glass are vaguely reminiscent
of Ernest Flagg's great "Little Singer" building at
561 Broadway in SoHo.
The setback pays respect to the
of the Aeolian Building while also preserving many St. Regis views
and its height does not overshadow the hotel.
The multi-paned windows also
screens with a little stretch of the imagination and the very
high lobby is very elegant.
The Japanese concern reportedly
paid more than
$30 million to Edison Brothers Stores Inc. for the site.
This building finally makes
a good name.
a July 13, article in The Wall Street Journal by Craig Karmin, the
building was reported about to "undergo a major facelift and
ground-floor expansion as part of the developer's plan to attract a
prominent retailer to lease the first eight floors."
"Thor Equities closed on a deal to buy the building last week after it
submitted a winning $142 million bid in June. The developer plans to
spend an additional $40 million to $60 million to change the building's
front fašade and to expand the ground level up to 6,300 square feet
from its current 3,500 square feet, an area considered too small to
attract much retail interest. 'A Fifth Avenue location is
like buying a billboard to the world,' says Joe Sitt, Thor's chief
executive. 'This is the best strip of real estate and I wanted a
property that was iconic.' The Takashimaya building, which the Japanese
retailer erected in 1993 between 54th and 55th streets as its U.S.
flagship store, is less renowned than other Fifth Avenue properties in
the East 50s such as the Peninsula Hotel or the Cartier building. But
it does have one big advantage: Unlike many of the stately limestone
properties on the avenue, the Takashimaya building doesn't have
landmark status. That means Thor can take down the facade without
seeking the Landmark Commissions' approval. Mr. Sitt plans to make the
first eight floors available for retail, planning to replace the black
and red granite columns and bowed-out sections with sleek glass windows
to display merchandise. Mr. Sitt said he would offer a new tenant the
right to name the building after its own brand. He plans to keep the
original design for floors nine through 20. This will likely remain
office space, but he said residential or even a hotel were also
possible. Since the building is about 90% vacant, and with remaining
tenant leases due to expire in the next couple of years, Thor will have
a relatively clean slate for finding new tenants. But it means that the
developer inherits a building with little existing source of revenue,"
according to the article.
"Faith Hope Consolo, a retail specialist at broker Prudential Douglas
Elliman, thinks it won't be hard for Thor to attract tenants paying up
to $2,500 per square foot for the ground, which would be in line with
other retailers on that strip of Fifth Avenue. She says Takashimaya
arranged the retail space following the Henri Bendel "shop of shops"
model, where one store showcases many different types of products in
walled off areas. Ms. Consolo said it was a strategy that worked 30
years ago but wasn't appropriate today. 'Fifth is not for the weak or
undercapitalized,' she said. But Mr. Sitt 'ought to be able to attract
dozens of contenders of the space.'
Among the contenders she sees: high-end department stores like
Nordstrom, Harrods or Harvey Nichols, though they would have to adapt
their model to fit a smaller space than they have used elsewhere. Mr.
Sitt says he will be talking to European luxury goods companies that
are eager for a Fifth Avenue store and see the U.S. market as healthier
than back home. But he said he also plans to talk to more 'moderately
priced' outlets, noting that Abercrombie & Fitch has a popular
Fifth Avenue store, and Japanese casual retailer Uniqlo recently signed
a 15-year lease at 666 Fifth Ave," the article continued.
According to the article, "Mr. Sitt, who owns about five acres of
property at Coney Island, has made headlines recently for his plans to
demolish four century-old buildings on Surf Avenue that he says have
been left to rot but have drawn protests from preservationist groups."
of planned new facade for Takashimaya Building
proposed facade renovation shown in a rendering accompanying Mr.
Karmin's article is horrific, a ruthless and tasteless abomination that
destroys one of the city's best Post-Modern designs as well as one of
Philip Johnson's most elegant while also spittin upon the one glamorous
architectural heritage of Fifth Avenue and this block in particular.
Shame on Mr. Sitt and shame on the Landmarks Preservation