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News November 2010

Manufacturers Hanover Trust: The Modern Interior

November 20, 2010

At the end of October, passersby were horrified at the removal of Harry Bertoia’s sculptural wall and mobile from the former Manufacturers Hanover Trust building at 510 Fifth Avenue, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 1954. The building is a New York City Landmark, however the interior, a significant visible space through the transparent façade, has never been designated. DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State and other organizations have over the years requested the interior be heard by the Landmarks Commission, but it was never calendared.

The ownership issues are complex. When JPMorgan Chase, owners since a 1996 merger with Chemical/Manufacturers Hanover, sold the building to Tahl Prop Equities in 2001, an agreement between the parties said that the sculptures were to remain in situ. A new owner, Vornado Realty Trust, closed on the purchase of 510 Fifth in late October. Vornado will be leasing the banking space to a retail tenant and has not preserved this agreement. Meanwhile JPMorgan Chase (the last tenant in the space and owner of the Bertoia artworks) has removed the 70-foot gilded screen and the sculpture at the top of the escalator.

As Ada Louise Huxtable said in her November 4, 2010 Wall St. Journal; this structure
“…represents the moment in which one of the most cherished ideals of the modern movement, the transparent, all-glass building, was realized. …With the Manufacturers Hanover Trust building, we have a structure where exterior and interior were conceived as one thing, unified and inseparable, to be seen and understood as a continuous visual, spatial and aesthetic experience.”

In general it brings to light the issue that Modern interiors needs to be reconsidered as a policy issue at the Landmarks Preservation Commission, so that those interiors visible from the façade are maintained in their original holistic and integrated intent.

We urge you to write to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to request the designation of the building’s interior.

Ada Louise Huxtable’s article in the Wall Street Journal.