THE TIME-LIFE BUILDING
1271 Avenue of the Americas
(Between 50th and 51st Streets)
Developer: The Rockefeller Center Development Corporation
Architect: Harrison, Abramovitz & Harris
By Carter B. Horsley
The first building in the expansion of Rockefeller
Center to the west side of the Avenue of the Americas, the 1.4-million
sq. ft. Time-Life Building, shown at the left, is historically
important for the West Side of Manhattan, but not architecturally.
It is, however, the best building Wallace Harrison,
Nelson Rockefeller's favorite architect, did on the avenue as
his later designs of the Exxon, McGraw-Hill and Celanese Buildings
are anemic monsters that are a mockery of the center's great architectural
traditions, of which Harrison was a key player as a young member
of the architectural team.
The 48-story building's exterior is not terrible:
the green glass here is dark and rich; the top mechanical floor
treatment is particularly well handled, the widely spaced, tapered,
vertical limestone piers are strong and the proportions are good.
But nothing on the outside is memorable including the "L"
shaped plaza with its Copacabana rippling mosaic street treatment,
which is incongruous since the perfunctory fountain facing the
avenue is rectilinear, nor the plaza's large, blue metal sculpture,
"Cubed Curve," by William Crovello, which was originally
commissioned by the Association for a Better New York and installed
Time-Life's moved into this building from its
former location in one of the center's original buildings, now
occupied by Time Warner.
The Time-Life lobby, shown below, however,
is very fine. The Copacabana street pattern, allegedly inspired
by the avenue's designation as belonging to the Americas, is continued
inside where it plays very well against the rippling shimmer and
magnificent modernity of the brushed stainless steel paneling
of the elevator banks, perhaps the most attractive in the city.
A large Mondrianesque painting, by Fritz Glamer, is energetically
attractive if not inspired. The lobby also has a painting by Joseph
One wishes the entire building was clad with
the satiny steel panels.
The building, which is connected to Rockefeller
Center's vast underground concourse, was able to have large column-free
floors, 28,000-sq. ft., then the largest, because of its exterior
On the top floor of the 8-story base of the
building on the north side of the site, Gio Ponti designed reception,
dining and lounge areas in a geometrically interesting rooftop
A large and attractive restaurant called La
Fonda del Sol, flamboyantly designed by Alexander Girard, opened
in the building in 1961 but closed in 1971 for conversion to a
bank branch. On the 48th floor, a private dining facility known
as the Hemisphere Club was created that converted at night to
a public restaurant known as the Tower Suite that operated successfully
for several years.
If the plaza were redone well, this building,
which was once described by an architectural magazine as "upper-middle-class,"
would garner considerably more respect. Its strong verticality,
no doubt, was highly influential in the subsequent development
of the three major Rockefeller Center towers south of it that
are, unfortunately, very weak in comparison.
Because the Exxon, McGraw-Hill and former Celanese
towers are more set back from the avenue, this tower still has
considerable visibility from the south, but the Paine Webber building
just to the north obscures its visibility from the north.
In 2002, the north retail space along the avenue
was being changed into a CNN television studio.