Anton Refregier Mural on 43rd Street in Manhattan May Be Lost
August 12, 2020
In June 2020, the union 1199 SEIU left its longtime headquarters at 310 West 43rd Street for new digs. Its former office tower is scheduled for redevelopment by a group of investors, led by Taconic Investment Partners.
The 15-story building, known as the Martin Luther King Jr. Labor Center, was designed by Julius Stein in 1967. The structure, which steps back at the 6th floor, is clad in dark brown brick with concrete window surrounds. The most prominent feature is a mosaic tile mural from 1970 by the prominent artist Anton Refregier. Originally from Moscow, Refregier was active from the 1930s until his death in 1979, designing many public murals, paintings, and other works across the country. He first came to prominence working for the Works Progress Administration with a commission at Greenpoint Hospital in Brooklyn. His archive is held by the Archives of American Art, part of the Smithsonian Institution, demonstrating his significance in the world of public art.
The mosaic on West 43rd Street encompasses the entire street level facade and includes a black hand and a white hand intertwined at the center surrounded by healthcare workers, childcare workers, and other figures. Unfortunately, according to the 1199 SEIU website, the union states that the mosaic cannot be removed from the facade without a high risk of damage so they have instead chosen to replicate it in the lobby of the headquarters.
In August, DOCOMOMO US New York/Tri-State reached out to Taconic, encouraging them to retain the mosaic as part of their new mixed-use development. As Taconic states on their website, “We are New Yorkers and we are committed preservationists. We build upon a foundation of what exists, re-envisioning buildings and revitalizing neighborhoods to create an urban experience that includes, inspires, and empowers people.” DOCOMOMO US New York/Tri-State hopes that they will uphold this value and preserve this important mural for future generations to appreciate as public art.