Located at one of the city's
premier gateway sites, this sparkling mixed-use tower was converted
from an office building that was generally disliked.
The converter was Donald
J. Trump and his partners, Daniel M. Galbreath and the G. E. Pension
The conversion was quite
The office building had
been the 45-story Gulf & Western Building that had been designed
by Thomas E. Stanley and erected in 1969 in a style that could
best be described as a bargain-basement General Motors Building.
The only real similarity between the two towers that straddle
Central Park South is that they were mostly white and had unusual
plazas. While the General Motors Building, which replaced the
elegant and glorious Savoy Plaza Hotel, has a sunken plaza, the
Gulf & Western Building had a triangular plaza facing Columbus
Circle with an open subway entrance as well as a circular sunken
plaza entrance to a Paramount movie theater on its Broadway frontage.
The Gulf & Western Building
for several years had a restaurant at its top that offered great
vistas of Central Park and Central Park South, but it never really
became successful. The building was best known for structural
problems that kept its base in scaffolding for years on end. To
its credit, Gulf & Western bought the former Gallery of Modern
Art building (see The City Review article)
that housed Huntington Hartford's art collection before it became
the New York Cultural Center and gave it to the city as headquarters
for its Department of Cultural Affairs.
By general consensus, the
Gulf & Western Building ranked not far behind the General
Motors Building in public contempt for its uninspired and noncontextual
design. Perhaps because of that perception, and also because of
the intense controversy over the proposed redevelopment of the
New York Coliseum at Columbus Circle, there was somewhat less
than the normal fanfare that accompanies a Donald Trump project.
Trump's timing here was
on target as the reclad Gulf & Western building opened in
late 1997 to a bustling city economy and a heated residential
and hotel real estate market.
The new building was designed
by Costas Kondylis with Philip Johnson Ritchie & Fiore as
the design architect. Johnson's new glass curtain wall is magnificent
and ranks with the sloping façade at 9 West 57th Street
designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
(see The City Review article) and
the curved reflective glass façade at 17 State Street designed
by Emery Roth & Sons as the best in the city.
The building's massing was
altered slightly by projecting angled piers that gleam in the
light and add considerable visual interest to the slab tower.
A huge stainless steel,
skeletal globe of the world has been placed at the prow of the
site fronting Columbus Circle. It glistens appropriately, but
the hammered metal of the continents diminishes the flare somewhat.
Furthermore, one expects the globe to rotate on its axis, which
it does not and the view, therefore, from the south side of Columbus
Circle is always of an Africa tilted upwards. At first glance,
one thinks the globe was taken from the site of the 1964 World's
Fair in Flushing Meadows Park, but that very similar but larger
and better one was not moved here.
The globe, of course, is
a symbol of internationality and Trump has always recognized that
the importance of marketing his typical "luxury" projects
internationally. (Some of the apartments have bidets, for example.)
This building is not as
interesting as Trump Tower because of its simpler form and its
lack of spectacular interior public spaces.
Nevertheless, Trump and
his designers have managed to achieve a very substantial upgrading
of this long forlorn and miserable location at the gateway to
the Upper West Side and one of the two major entrances to Central
Trump has enlivened the
streetscape by devoting a very visible, large double-height section
of the building's elevated first floor facing Columbus Circle
to a highly-rated restaurant. Furthermore, the separate entrances
to the hotel and the apartments are brightly lit and spacious
and visible, even though they are a few steps up from the sidewalk.
With its golden sheen and the busy intersection, the building
radiates activity and the sense of money.
There are 168 hotel units
and 166 condominium apartments. The latter start at the 23rd floor
and the top five floors of the 52-story structure are "penthouses,"
albeit without terraces. The building has doormen and concierges,
of course, as well as room service, garage with valet parking,
maid service and a health club, pool and sundeck.
Trump, needless to say,
sought to become the developer of the New York Coliseum site and
threatened to sue if not successful. That project ultimately became
the Time Warner Center, which opened in early 2004.
Given the existing structure
they had to work with, the developers and designers here have
squeezed in a few more floors than the office tower had, which
is normal since hotel and apartments generally have lower ceilings
than offices, but they also have done a quite admirable job in
turning an eyesore into a pretty dazzling monument.
Perhaps they should have
carved the roof up a bit and added some beacons to pay homage
to the great architectural heritage of the famous towers of Central
Park West. Such a scheme might sound nice in principle, but is
not a guaranteed success in its execution. It might also have
cost more, and this is not an inexpensive project.
Up close, the tower is very
dazzling. From a distance, however, its luster gets lost and it
still reads as a large slab under most conditions. This is not
the Sherry-Netherlands Hotel, by a long shot. Still, it sets a
new post-war standard for the Upper West Side and, perhaps more
importantly, for the redevelopment of the New York Coliseum site.
As the taller Time Warner Center neared completion
in early 2004, Donald Trump had a sign erected on the top floor
of the south facade of this building that read "Your views
aren't so good are they? We have the real Central Park views and
address. Best wishes. "The Donald."
In their wonderful book, "New York 1960,
Architecture and Urbanism Between The Second World War and the
Bicentennial," (The Monacelli Press, 1995), Robert A. M.
Stern, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman provide the following
commentary about this site:
"Certainly one of the area's most dramatic
bulding sites, one that could have served as a symbolic gateway
to the entire renewed Lincoln Square area, was the triangular
plot bounded by Broadway, Central Park West, Columbus Circle and
Sixty-first Street. Since 1915, it had been occupied by a two-story
commercial structure known as the American Circle Building, which
had been built by William Randolph Hearst as a temporary building,
to be replaced with a skyscraper headquarters for his publishing
empire. Wartime shortages, however, stymied his plans. When the
building was demolished in 1966, it was revealed that it contained
a mysterious Gothic room, reputedly built as a private shapel
for Hearst's longtime companion, the actress Marion Davies. In
1945, Emery Roth and Pomerance & Breines collaborated on a
proposal for a sixteen-story office building to be erected on
the site. The building, which was never realized, was to fill
its wedge-shaped site and, like the pioneering Flatiron Buiilding
(D. H. Burnham & Co., 1903) was to have gracefully curved
corners. While the facades were to be dominated by a grid of chastely
articulated punched windows, as well as a double-height recessed
colonnade at the eleventh and twelvth floors, [it] furthered the
Modern Classical vocabulary that Emery Roth had pursued during
the interwar period. In 1965, it was announced that a forty-five
story, bronze-colored aluminum-and-glass office tower would be
erected on the site, completing the postwar reconstruction of
Columbus Circle. The new office tower, designed by Harold M. Liebman
& Associates, was to be surrounded by an open plaza elevated
four feet above the street. The building's vertical service cores
were to be housed in a narrow white marble tower flanking the
building's west side. The following year the plan was abandoned
in favor of an alternate design, also prepared by Liebman, that
called for a far more distinctively massed building. The proposal
was for a ten-story triangular office building that completely
filled its site, topped by a thirty-five-story circular apartment
tower, planned to contain Manhattan's most expensive rental accommodations.
Ada Louise Huxtable found the proposed building laughable: 'The
reasoning here seems to be that if a ship-shaped glass structure
is a success in Hartford (the Phoenix Mutual Life Insurance Building
by Wallace Harrison) and circular apartment towers made history
in Chicago (Marina City by Bertrand Goldberg), New York can go
two cities one better by building both, one on top of the other.'
Although the developers of the proposed building, the Forteyn
Management Company, cleared the site, they could not secure the
requisite mortgage financing. In 1967 they sold the property to
the Investors Funding Corporation of New York, which leased it
to the publicly owned Realty Equities Corporation. The latter
corporation erected a forty-four-story office building, designed
by the Dallas-based architect Thomas E. Stanley, and leased approximately
half of the space to serve as the headquarters of Gulf & Western
Industries. The tower, clad in white marble and aluminum, sat
on an elevated podium that terminated at the triangular site's
apex in a circular sunken plaza, which contained an entrance to
the building as well as access to the Columbus Circle subway station.
This feature was introduced at the behest of the Urban Design
Group, who were in the midst of preparing guidelines to channel
the street's future in light of the dramatic changes they felt
were about to take place along Broadway as a result of Lincoln
Center's success....Despite its forty-four stories, the building
failed to convey a strong sense of height or maximize the site's
potential for establishing a memorable skyline icon that would
stand free of its immediate context. Instead, the highly visible
building was at once a behemoth and a banality and its contribution
to the skyline was notable only as a memorial to a lost opportunity.
A top-floor restaurant in the Gulf & Western building, located
in a space used as an executive dining room during the day, did,
however, take full advantage of the sites's spectacular views....The
building also included a 532-seat movie theater, designed by Carson,
Lundin & Shaw and managed by the Paramount Pictures Corporation,
a subsidiary of Gulf & Western. The theater was virtually
invisible at street level, its location marked only by a thirty-foot-diameter
glass-walled structure - in essence a superscaled kiosk - based
on a proposal by the Urban Design Group...."