Landmarks Commission Votes to Designate 12 Buildings in Greater East Midtown
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Source: NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission
The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission completed its Greater East Midtown Initiative, designating 12 buildings as landmarks. The Greater East Midtown Initiative is part of the NYC Administration's comprehensive multi-agency effort to plan for the future of one of New York City's most vibrant and dynamic districts. 12 buildings have been landmarked, bringing the number of individual landmarks in the area to 50. Commission Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan noted that "The success of the Greater East Midtown Initiative underscores that historic preservation is an integral part of the process of planning for the future of our city."
Pre-Grand Central Terminal Era
The Minnie E. Young Residence at 19 East 54th Street and the Martin Erdmann Residence at 57 East 57th Street represent the period prior to the construction of Grand Central Terminal, when the area around Fifth Avenue in East Midtown was a prestigious residential enclave. The Commission has already designated numerous sites associated with this era, including Villard Houses, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the Plant House.
Grand Central/Terminal City Era
The designated Grand Central/Terminal City Era buildings were spurred by transit improvements, such as the elimination of steam locomotives in the early 1900s and the construction of Grand Central Terminal. These buildings complement the 17 existing designations associated with the Grand Central Era, including Grand Central Station, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Bowery Savings Bank, and Saks Fifth Avenue.
18 East 41st Street Building was designed by George & Edward Blum, and built in 1914 when Grand Central Terminal was nearing completion. This building is a representative of the earliest evolution in skyscraper development in East Midtown, prior to the passage of the 1916 zoning. Built during the era when Grand Central Terminal was nearing completion, the building attracted a great variety of tenants, from private clubs and publishers to doctors and architects. A five-room penthouse apartment was originally located on the roof. Designed to recall a bungalow-type residence, it was leased to the Broadway actor Donald Brian, movie director Dudley Murphy and to a speakeasy, which was closed by the prohibition agents in 1932.
The Hampton Shops Building, 18-20 East 50th Street, was designed by Rouse & Goldstone, and Joseph L. Steinman, and constructed in 1915-16, when East Midtown was becoming a major commercial district. Built just after the construction of Grand Central Terminal, this building is representative of early skyscraper development in East Midtown. Designed in the neo-Gothic or Perpendicular Gothic style, it has an 11-story tripartite facade clad with grey terracotta that resembles granite. This style was chosen for various reasons; not only did it complement the buildings in the St. Patrick’s Cathedral complex, which it faces, but the facade also evoked the kinds of traditional-style furniture sold by the store.
The Yale Club, 50 Vanderbilt, is a century-old handsome Renaissance Revival-style skyscraper clubhouse designed for the Yale University community. The building harmonizes with the Beaux-Arts style train station and other Terminal City buildings that it adjoins. The Club is located in “Terminal City,” an East Midtown development on property above the railroad tracks owned by the New York Central Railroad dating back to the construction of Grand Central Terminal. To ensure that his design would blend into the developing neighborhood, the architect James Gamble Rogers consulted regularly with the Terminal’s architect Warren & Wetmore.
The Pershing Square Building, 125 Park Avenue, was designed by a talented team of architects— John Sloan, working with York & Sawyer. The building is remarkable for the important role it played in the development of the city’s mass transit system, its transitional role in the history of the city’s building development, and its exceptional terra-cotta cladding. This was the first tall office building to use textured brickwork and colored terra cotta, setting a precedent for the colorful designs of Ely Jacques Kahn and Ralph Walker later in the decade. The Pershing Square Building has several subway entrances and direct access to Grand Central Terminal. With its multiple connections and access points, and its fine design and unique facade treatment, it continues to make a significant contribution to the visual variety of East Midtown.
The Graybar Building, 420 Lexington Avenue, was completed in 1927, and was one of the last structures erected in “Terminal City.” An integral part of Grand Central Terminal, this 30-story office building incorporates multiple train platforms, as well as a broad public passageway connecting the station with Lexington Avenue. It was home to the Graybar Electric Company, founded in 1869, and was the company’s corporate headquarters from 1927 to 1982. Of special interest are the metal rats that enliven the south portal, leading to the Graybar passage, at 43rd Street. These animals appear on the limestone reliefs above the gridded windows and seem to be climbing the metal struts that support the center marquee. The building’s architect, John Sloan, claimed they were selected to strike a “maritime note” since New York City is “a great transportation centre and a great seaport.”
400 Madison Avenue was constructed as a speculative office building during a period of substantial commercial development in the East Midtown neighborhood. Built after the passage of the 1916 zoning, the romantic tiered massing of the building represents the early evolution of skyscraper design. It was designed by noted skyscraper architect H. Craig Severance and financed by George l. Ohrstrom, with whom Severance later worked on The Manhattan Company Building at 40 Wall Street (1929-30, a New York City Landmark). The facade of 400 Madison Avenue is clad in white terra cotta with intricate neo-Gothic ornamentation. The setback massing, with its distinctive “Wedding Cake” profile, reflects the requirements of the City’s 1916 zoning ordinance, while the verticality of the structure is enhanced by the rhythmic vertical piers and recessed windows and spandrels.
The Shelton Hotel was designed by architect Arthur Loomis Harmon and completed in 1923 as one of the first “skyscraper” residential hotels. It played an important role in the development of the skyscraper in New York City and is one of the premiere hotels constructed along the noted “hotel alley” stretch of Lexington Avenue. Hotel Alley was built as part of the redevelopment of this section of East Midtown following the opening of Grand Central Terminal and the Lexington Avenue subway line. The Shelton Hotel is considered the first building to successfully embody the massing requirements of the 1916 Zoning Law, and it became a model for subsequent setback skyscraper buildings. Hailed by contemporary critics and historians, the building influenced many subsequent skyscrapers, including the Empire State Building. At the time it was built, the Shelton was considered the tallest hotel in the world at 31 stories.
The Beverly Hotel was built in 1926-27, and is also part of Manhattan’s “hotel alley.” The building was erected by the Lexington-Concord Corporation, which was headed by Moses Ginsberg, a leading developer of the period best known for the Carlyle Hotel (1929-30). The Beverly was marketed to “sophisticated New Yorkers” at moderate rates and featured a number of amenities, notably its “many sunny outdoor terraces.” The Beverly is richly ornamented with stylized Romanesque motifs and incorporates details such as pelican and owl sculptures and warrior-head corbels. The hotel’s distinctive profile made it a favorite subject for American artists of the 1920s, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, and Charles Sheeler.
Hotel Lexington is a 26-story hotel designed in an Art Deco/neo-Romanesque style, complexly massed with ornamented setbacks, clad in limestone, brick, and terra cotta, and features a differentiated base, continuous piers, and a distinguished skyline profile. Hotel specialists Schultze & Weaver were commissioned for its design, following their work in the 1920s boom years in Florida.
Post Grand Central Era
Former Citicorp Center, now 601 Lexington Avenue. Commissioned by the First National City Bank (now Citibank), the Citicorp Center was designed by Hugh A. Stubbins & Associates, in association with Emery Roth & Sons, and is a major example of the International Style of architecture from the late 20th century. Built in 1973-78, the mixed-use complex contains three interlocking buildings: a 59-story office tower, 6-story retail-and-office structure, and Saint Peter's Church. "The Citicorp Tower's distinctive features make it one of the most recognizable skyscrapers in New York City, and today we ensured that future generations will enjoy this irreplaceable part of our skyline," said Srinivasan. The building was also a pioneering effort at sustainable design, using 42 percent less energy than comparable buildings. The project made innovative use of zoning incentives that provided floor area bonuses for public space, including a spacious sunken plaza, which was planned to enhance connections to the 53rd Street subway station. These privately owned public spaces remain under jurisdiction of the City Planning Commission.
About the Greater East Midtown Initiative
In 2015, LPC presented its conceptual framework to the East Midtown Steering Committee, which was established by Mayor de Blasio in May 2014 as part of a strategy to strengthen East Midtown as a world-class 21st Century commercial district. The Steering Committee, Co-Chaired by Council Member Daniel Garodnick and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, determined that LPC should calendar and designate as landmarks as many historic resources as it deems appropriate. After a significant study of the area, the agency identified and designated 12 sites as New York City Landmarks
The agency undertook its comprehensive Greater East Midtown study with the goal of preserving the neighborhood's development history through individual designations. After extensive research by the agency of a study area consisting of East 39th to East 57th Streets, from Fifth Avenue to Second Avenue, the Commission identified 12 properties from three key eras central to the development of the neighborhood that complement existing designations: Pre-Grand Central Terminal (residential and institutional development through the 1910s); Grand Central/Terminal City (buildings constructed in Terminal City or that were spurred by transit improvements); and Post Grand Central (buildings constructed after 1933).
Sources from the LPC website:
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