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News January 2017

The end of 2016 brings a mixed-bag of Landmarks success for Modern buildings and spaces

January 17, 2017

On November 22, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing for designating the Ambassador Grill & Lounge and Lobby of the United Nations Plaza Hotel (now One UN New York) as an interior landmark. A wide array of groups and individuals testified in favor of its protection, including DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State. The hearing itself is the remarkable result of an intense advocacy effort led by DOCOMOMO US with help from our own Kyle Johnson to save these rare intact late Modern interiors, designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo & Associates. UPDATE: On January 17, the Commission voted unanimously to designate the spaces an interior landmark!

On December 13, the Commission declined to grant protection to another rare Modern interior in the United Nations district—Alvar Aalto’s Edgar J. Kaufmann Conference Center. The Commission cited insufficient public access as its reason for turning it down. While the spaces are located on an upper floor in a high-security building, the center’s current owner, the Institute for International Education, regularly rents the rooms to outside groups for events. The vote was part of the agency’s Backlog 95 Initiative

On December 6, the Commission unanimously agreed to designate Citicorp Center. Built 1973-78 to the designs of Hugh A. Stubbins & Associates, in association with Emery Roth & Sons, the mixed-use complex, comprising most of a city block, contains three interlocking buildings: a 59-story office tower, 6-story retail-and-office structure, and Saint Peter’s Church. Commissioned by First National City Bank (now Citibank), the building is notable for its slanted top, four 127-foot-high “super” columns and generous public spaces. At the summit, the roof is cut off at a 45-degree angle, a feature initially conceived for terraced apartments, which was later reoriented to face south and considered as a platform for solar panels. The church’s exterior was designed by Stubbins, in consultation with architect Edward Larrabee Barnes. Not part of the designation but no less special, the interior of the church was designed by Massimo and Lella Vignelli (recently deceased), and features sculptural art by Louise Nevelson. 

The Citicorp Center designation was part of the agency’s Greater East Midtown Initiative, a multi-year study of historic resources in the area from three periods of development—pre-Grand Central Terminal, Grand Central/Terminal City, and post-Grand Central (since 1933)—that culminated in the identification of twelve area buildings to prioritize for protection. While DOCOMOMO NY is pleased about Citicorp, we are disappointed that it is the only new designation from the post-Grand Central era, notwithstanding the Commission’s previous identification of other Modern buildings as “potentially eligible” historic resources, including the Universal Pictures Building at 445 Park Ave (Kahn & Jacobs, 1947), Girl Scouts Building at 830 Third Ave (SOM, 1957), and Union Carbide Building at 270 Park Ave (SOM/Gordon Bunshaft, 1961).

Top: Ambassador Grill in a recent but undated photo (courtesy Metropolis Magazine); Bottom: post-renovation, photo by John S. Arbuckle
Photo by Wijnanda Deroo
Citicorp Center