(Formerly the Chemical Bank Building, and before that the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company Building and originally the Union Carbide Building)


(Between 47th & 48th Streets & Madison Avenue)

Developer: The Union Carbide Company

Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Erected: 1960

Tower at 270 Park Avenue built originally for Union Carbide

By Carter B. Horsley

One of the city's greatest modern buildings, this 53-story tower, shown above, exudes strength and elegance in its protruding stainless steel mullions and simple but bold facade patterning created by the black matte metal spandrels.

View from the southeast

Union Carbide/Chase tower in 2016

Madison Avenue low-rise wing of 270 Park AvenueThe building occupies a full block and pays urbanistic homage to Madison Avenue by maintaining its street wall with a 13-story wing, as shown at the right. Although the building terminates the northern end of Vanderbilt Avenue, the rear of its major tower only partially blocks vistas north up the short avenue and it has a through-block arcade that lines up with the avenue. The arcade is not high but was an important and nice urbanistic touch.

The Park Avenue frontage is set back somewhat to create a plaza, and to lessen the visual impact of this very large building on the former New York Central Building that straddles the avenue, and a 1983 alteration removed the project's original pinkish pavement. The building's main lobby is on the second floor because the building is built over the train tracks and elevators could not descend to that level. The second floor, therefore, is double height. The bright red paneling is not original but does provide a modern hearth in the midst of a new high-tech midtown.

Union Carbide abandoned this headquarters building for a new office complex designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo & Associates in Danbury, Conn., that was a fascinating study in organic pod architecture set in a valley and surrounded very, very, very closely by woods and no vistas. The folly of their ways became evident when the company subsequently decided to sell their new rural home.

The ultimate pin-stripe building, this flat-top skyscraper seemed a natural evolution in the new corporate architecture that started with Lever House (see The City Review article) and the Seagram Building (see The City Review article) a few blocks north on the avenue just a few years earlier. Surprisingly, it really marked the end of that short-lived but graceful, clean-cut era as it was followed by many vastly inferior imitators, including some directly across the avenue. The proportions of this building are not perfect, but they are robust and this building pretty much set the new standard for desirable large floor plate office structures that dominated commercial construction in Manhattan for most of the 1960's and 1970's.

Union Carbide/Chase at top of Vanderbilt Avenue

View up Vanderbilt Avenue to Union Carbide/Chase tower in 2017

Incredibly, JP Morgan Chase Bank plans to demolish this very fine tower to replace it with one about 500 feet taller utilizing the city's new Midtown Zoning that was also used to permit S. I. Green to erect a 1,400-foot-high tower just to the west of Grand Central Terminal, another zoning travesty.  At least in the latter case, the buildings that have been torn down were not major and not landmarks.  The city's Landmarks Preservation Commission should resign for their failure to designate the Union Carbide/Chase building a landmark. (4/18/18)

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