The Connecticut Historic Preservation Council voted unanimously on July 2 to list Stamford’s Lord & Taylor store, designed in 1969 by the architect Andrew Geller, to the State Register of Historic Places. The listing of this midcentury modern retail building comes just months after the building’s owners, the National Realty and Development Company (NRDC), submitted plans before the Stamford Zoning Board to demolish the 155,000-square-foot building located at 110 High Ridge Road and construct a 300,000-square-foot shopping mall and two multilevel parking structures on the 12-acre site.
John Orrico, president of NRDC, said the building’s listing on the State Register is “completely misguided.” NRDC and Lord & Taylor submitted an opposition statement to the nomination, arguing that the building does not meet the regulatory criteria for listing because it is not of state and local importance. The statement also notes that the interior of the building, which is “particularly important in the context of a department store,” was compromised during two extensive gut renovations. In a letter to the State Historic Preservation Officer, Orrico wrote that “there is a small group that is opposing this project, and I believe that, in their effort to try to block us, they are using your office as a pawn.”
“As happens very often,” said Renee Kahn, founder and director of the Historic Neighborhood Preservation Program in Stamford, “you look at a building more carefully” when it is threatened. After reviewing the extensive research submitted in favor of the building’s nomination to the State Register, Kahn said she has “no question as to the building’s significance.” In a letter of support for the building’s nomination, Richard Longstreth, director of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at George Washington University, wrote that the case for the store is “quite straightforward, based on the significance of the company it has housed, the nature of its siting, the firm that designed the building, and as a now rare survivor of its type.”
Geller, best known for the playful modern beach houses he built in the Hamptons in the 1950s and 1960s, designed the three-story retail building while working as the in-house architect for the Manhattan-based design firm Raymond Loewy/William Snaith Inc., successor to the firm Raymond Loewy Associates. The store, featuring white-on-white linen-fold concrete panels, concave curved facades, and cantilevered roofs, was the last of 12 suburban Lord & Taylor stores to be designed by the firm, and it is the only freestanding one that remains in Connecticut today.
Jake Gorst, Geller’s grandson and an architectural historian, says it “feels good to have a victory.” The fate of the building, however, still lies in limbo. The State Register is an honorary designation and does not prevent a property owner from demolishing a structure. After public hearings in January, NRDC withdrew its original redevelopment proposal, construction of which required an amendment to the city’s zoning text. The company is currently modifying its plans to resubmit to the Zoning Board, said Orrico. The scale and design of the new plan, and the impact, if any, the State Register listing will have on the board’s decision, remain to be seen.