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Proposed modifications threaten integrity of The Four Seasons

May 22, 2015

At a Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing on May 19, a long line of speakers, including DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State’s president John Arbuckle, testified against changes being proposed to the city’s most significant International Style interior landmark, The Four Seasons restaurant, located in the Seagram Building on Park Avenue. The restaurant, which opened in 1959, is considered one of Philip Johnson’s greatest works; no expense was spared in its creation. Important contributors included lighting designer Richard Kelly, sculptor Richard Lippold, and industrial designer Garth Huxtable.

The proposal, presented by Annabelle Selldorf of Selldorf Architects, had three main components: 1) to alter the existing fixed upper tier of French walnut paneling separating the Pool Room from the adjoining mezzanine-level private dining room to be operable, thus marring the Pool Room’s cube-like proportions; 2) to replace the Grill Room’s cracked glass and bronze partition (designed by Philip Johnson in 1983) with movable planters replicating the 1959 design; and 3) replace the carpet throughout the restaurant. The commissioners resoundingly vetoed all but the last item, adding that the applicant should not bother to return with modifications. “This landmark is elevated to a level where any kind of intervention would not be in the name of preservation,” stated the Commission’s chair, Meenakshi Srinivasan.

The changes are only the latest being pushed forward by the building’s owner, Aby Rosen of RFR Holding. Last year he caused an uproar with the removal of Picasso’s Le Tricorne tapestry from the passage connecting the Pool and Grill Rooms, which had presided there since the restaurant’s opening. More recently he chose not to renew the lease of The Four Seasons, which has operated in the space for 40 years.

See the proposal presented to LPC at Tuesday May 19 hearing (pdf)

DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State Letter of Testimony submitted 5/19/2015 (pdf)

“Proposed Changes To Four Seasons Restaurant Go Over Like Lead Balloon At Landmarks” by Evan Bindelglass for YIMBY

“Why Landmarks Said No to Aby Rosen’s Four Seasons Renovation,” by Justin Davidon, New York magazine Daily Intelligencer

Rendering of the Pool Room depicting movable upper wall panels at the mezzanine level, which were vetoed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Courtesy Selldorf Architects via NYC LPC website.