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News April 2013

NYC loses a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Interior

April 11, 2013

A late effort to designate the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Hoffman Auto Showroom at 430 Park Avenue was quickly stopped when the interior was demolished last week. The showroom was vacated at the end of 2012 by Mercedes Benz Manhattan, the long-time leaseholder, which now occupies a large facility on 11th Avenue.

The showroom, originally constructed in 1954, had been renovated in 1982 by associates of Wright (who understood the original design intentions) and again in 2002 by GKV Architects (whose interventions were at the fringes of the space), but the defining features of the Wright design—a spiral ramp and turntable for automobile display—remained in place until last week.

The demolition eliminates one of four executed Wright designs using a spiral parti, epitomized by the Guggenheim Museum. The others are the former V. C. Morris shop in San Francisco and the David Wright house in Phoenix. All three remaining buildings are either protected or in the process of becoming protected. 

Also lost is the built record of a story of architectural patronage, as Maximilian Hoffman, who commissioned the showroom, also built a Wright-designed house in Rye, NY. The pair of commissions recalls Wright’s work for Herbert F. Johnson in Racine, WI and Harold C. Price in Bartlesville, OK. 

The most recent effort to protect the showroom by interior landmark designation was initiated last August by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, upon learning that Mercedes was planning to move. DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State subsequently endorsed the Conservancy’s Request for Evaluation to the LPC. The Historic District Council also included the showroom in their list of 33 buildings worthy of consideration for landmark status in the face of the Midtown East Rezoning proposal.

The Hoffman Auto Showroom was one of three projects Wright completed in New York City—the Guggenheim Museum and Cass House on Staten Island round out that trio—which makes the loss even more detrimental to the architectural legacy of the city.

News coverage in Crain’s New York, with short video, April 12, 2013

Hoffman Auto Showroom (later Mercedes Benz), 430 Park Avenue, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1952. photos: K. Randall