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Trump International Hotel & Tower

One Central Park West

Trump International Hotel & Tower

Trump International Hotel & Tower seen from the south

By Carter B. Horsley

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 Trust.

The conversion was quite impressive.

View from the southeast

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.

View from Columbus Circle

View from Columbus Circle

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.

Globe and subway entrance

Globe at south end of tower next to subway entrance

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.)

Central Park West entrance

Entrance on Central Park West

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 Park.

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.

View from the southwest

View from the southwest

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.

Donald Trump's sign atop his nearby tower taunting the Time-Warner towre

Sign erected by Donald Trump at top of building's south facade and meant to be read by owners of condominium apartments at the Time Warner Center nearby on Columbus Circle

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."

View from the south view from the northwest

View from the south with tall tower of 15 Central Park West on left, lelft; view from the northwest, right

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...."

Gulf & Western Building

Former Gulf & Western Building, right, with former plan for Coliseum by Moshe Safdie

For more information about Trump International, check this building's entry at CityRealty.com

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