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Manufacturers Hanover Trust interior to be heard

January 17, 2011

In mid-October, a very observant friend at the Century Club noticed the Harry Bertoia sculptural wall screen being removed from the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill-designed Chase Manhattan Bank on Fifth at 43rd Street (formerly Manufacturers Hanover Trust).  This alerted DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State and other preservation groups to investigate the renovation beginning to stir at the building. Throughout 2010 big box retail space leasing signs were posted on the bank’s façade. While it is not certain from the current documents, it is hoped that earlier contractual stipulations that the sculpture remain in situ through ownership changes would hold for the sale to Vornado Realty Trust last October.

Led by Theodore Grunewald, a concerned preservationist and art expert, DOCOMOMO NY/TRI, Historic Districts Council, Preservation League of New York State, National Trust for Historic Preservation/Northeast Office, Recent Past Preservation Network and the Institute of Classical Architecture came together to form the Coalition to Save MHT. Ada Louise Huxtable’s article in the Wall Street Journal on November 4 inspired further action and the group sent a letter to the Landmarks Preservation Commission on December 1 requesting that the interior be designated a New York City Landmark. We have had some success! The first and second floor interiors, which had previously been heard along with the exterior, will be reheard on Tuesday February 1.

Time: The public hearing begins at 9:30 am and the Bank is the first item.
Location: Conference Room at 1 Centre Street, 9th floor

Please write a letter of testimony in support of the interior designation. The “Manny Hanny” interior is a significant and artful aspect of an iconic work of Modern architecture that is already designated a NYC landmark (October 1997). The Bertoia sculpture and mobile and the Henry Dreyfus designed safe are visible from the street through the façade making the interior a crucial component of the building’s design and presence. Without the banking lobby, Manufacturers Hanover is a different place.

Reading your letter at the hearing is the most effective advocacy, but letters can also be sent to the Commission in advance and will be entered into the record the Commissioners review before making a decision. Send your letter to the address in this sample letter before January 28.

Manufacturers Hanover Trust building in 2009. Photograph by Emilio Guerra