Potential threat to New York State Insurance Fund building in Tribeca
May 25, 2018
Current plans by the owner of the New York State Insurance Fund at 199 Church Street in Manhattan may soon threaten the 1955 office building’s distinctive International Style appearance. The work identified by the selected architect, CSA Group, calls for a comprehensive renovation and workplace improvements, but these changes may also mean the loss of the building’s most appealing Modern details.
The New York State Insurance Fund building was designed by Lorimer Rich Associates. Rich (1891–1978), a New York architect best known for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, VA’s National Cemetery, worked for Charles A. Platt and the firm of McKim, Mead & White prior to opening his own firm in 1928. During the 1930s, Rich designed a number of Post Office buildings, and in 1950, he was elevated to Fellowship in the American Institute of Architects.
The 15-story body of the New York State Insurance Fund is defined by alternating bands of glazed, white brick and ribbon windows that rise out of a polished, red granite base. The curved, green mosaic entrance canopy, centered on the Church Street elevation, rests on contrasting red granite piers and retains its original metal signage. Terrazzo flooring with inscribed circles completes this pedestrian-friendly, outdoor room. Elliot Willensky and Norval White wrote in their AIA Guide to New York City (1988): “The funky flaring stainless steel entrance canopy just screams ‘fifties.’”
One of the most distinctive qualities of Rich’s work, fully in evidence at this building, was his incorporation of sculptural elements into his otherwise minimalist compositions. A striking relief by artist C. Paul Jennewein (1890–1978), entitled Dedicated to the Service of the People of the State of New York, is located within the Church Street entrance. A second work, on the Duane Street elevation, is entitled Unity of the Family, and was completed by sculptor Oronzio Maldarelli (1892–1963). The figurative works, executed in a Modern Classical style, reference the occupant’s purpose and complement the building’s simple, elegant design.