WORLDWIDE PLAZA

(Full block bounded by Eighth & Ninth Avenues and 49th & 50th Streets)

Developers: William Zeckendorf Jr., KG Land, Victor Elmaleh and Frank Stanton

Architect: David Childs Jr. of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (office tower) and Frank Williams (residential buildings)

Erected: 1989

Certain developments take on an importance over and above their specific merits. This full-block, mixed-use project is such a pioneering landmark.

Not only is it the handsomest and most impressive of the many new towers in west midtown that sprouted up in the 1980's, it is also the most successful at least in terms of the prestige of its corporate tenants including Ogilvy & Mather, the advertising agency, and Cravath, Swaine & Moore, the law firm.

It demonstrated that sensitive planning could overcome timeworn clichés about the sanctity of the midblock and the difficulties of making smooth transitions between neighborhoods.

Built on the second site of Madison Square Garden in one of the city's sleaziest stretches, this project heeded the low-rise character of Ninth Avenue tenements with an attractive low-rise group of residential buildings clustered about a large interior courtyard. These buildings are faced in Canyon Rose brick with beige brick banding that was often used in tenement designs. These buildings have a pleasantly rhythmic modulation to their indentations and the curved arch accents on the Ninth Avenue storefronts and the rounded bays on the sidestreets continue the motif of the curved base portion of the office tower on Eighth Avenue. These buildings also wrap about the mid-block, 39-story condo apartment tower's base to hide a garage beneath the interior courtyard, which is raised one level above the street. By tucking the multilevel garage under and behind the first level of the low-rise buildings, the sidestreets are not deadened by blank walls.

More importantly, the low-rise portion is not merely tacked on to the project, but has its own copper pyramid cap in the middle of its Ninth Avenue frontage that dignifies the avenue and unifies it with the similar roof caps of the condo and office towers.

Thanks to its mid-block location, the condo tower apartments have sensational views and even lower floors offer interesting vistas of either the large plaza between it and the much taller 47-story office building or the low-rise section's landscaped courtyard and its multilevel rooftops. The tallest of the latter was divided and sold to individual tenants.

As a condition of the project's special zoning permit, the developers agreed to rehabilitate more than 100 apartments for occupancy at below-market rents in 10 neighboring buildings that were turned over to the Clinton Association for a Renewed Environment for operation and management.

The transition from the office peaks of midtown to low-rise residential Clinton is admirably achieved by stepping down the height of the midblock apartment tower substantially from the huge, 1.56-million sq. ft. office tower and separating them with the very large midblock tower, shown below.

The handsome, paved plaza not only has a fountain with a worldwide theme, the globe, but two pavilion entrances to a six-theater movie complex underground that is one of the most attractive in the city as well as one of the very least expensive, charging $2 for an adult in the afternoon in the early 1990's compared to $7.50 or more at most other movie theaters.

A 35,000-sq. ft. health club with an Olympic-size swimming pool is beneath the residential tower.

The office building, of course, is the dominant element in this complex. The Postmodern design is closed modeled after Cass Gilbert's New York Life Insurance Co. Building on Madison Avenue and 26th Street and its enormous copper roof is also reminiscent of Gilbert's great top on the Woolworth Building on Broadway downtown.

The peak of the elaborated detailed roof is covered with translucent glass and brightly lit from within at night.

The office tower's base has an elliptical arcade leading to different entrances. The base is finished in rich granites, marbles and pre-cast concrete finished to closely resemble limestone. The main shaft of the tower is beige brick, accented with white "icing" to provide an Art Deco-like touch.

By broaching the no-man's land that existed for many years on Eighth Avenue, the developers were very courageous and their achievement in completing such a mammoth and impressive project is well justified and even was the subject of a major television documentary.