Although observation decks remain shuttered across New York City (the newest and most dizzying in town was effectively shut down the day after it opened due to the coronavirus outbreak), the thirst for vertiginous ticketed attractions in the Big Apple hasn’t subsided. And RFR Realty, new-ish owner of the city’s 1,046-foot Art Deco landmark, the Chrysler Building, is happy to oblige. Earlier this week at a virtual public hearing, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission signed off on plans to build-out a glass panel-enclosed public observation deck on the terraces of the skyscraper’s 61st floor near its iconic silver eagles. Gensler was tapped by RFR to design the space. And to be clear, this won’t be the first observation deck at the Chrysler Building, which turns 90 later this month. The 71st floor was once home to an observation deck dubbed the Celestial that was in operation for 15 years until closing in 1945 per the New York Post. RFR honcho Aby Rosen has also expressed interest in reviving the Cloud Club. This legendary, long-running lunch club famous for its Dover sole, bread-and-butter pudding, and decidedly eclectic decor catered to big spenders on the 66th through 68th floors up until 1979. In addition to throwback sky-high clubs, Rosen wants to bring other retail and dining venues to the building as well. “I see the building as a Sleeping Beauty: It needs to be woken up and revitalized,” Rosen told the Post last year after purchasing the for-sale building, once the tallest in the world for a hot minute in 1930/1931, for $150 million. A timeline for the new observation deck has not been revealed.
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New York City's iconic Four Seasons Restaurant inside the Seagram Building is at the center of a renovation dispute
Traditionalists went into a tailspin over proposed modifications to the landmark Four Seasons Restaurant, a gastronomic and architectural emblem of New York City housed in the historic Seagram Building. The high-ceilinged enclave, clad with French walnut walls, plays daily host to high society a big business in Midtown Manhattan. The eatery garnered landmark status in 1989 for the building’s architectural prowess. Nevertheless, the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) cautions that this designation does not shield the Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs, Florence Knoll banquettes, Eero Saarinen cocktail tables, and table settings by L. Garth Huxtable. Building owner and noted art collector Aby Rosen of RFR Holdings recently filed plans to make changes to the restaurant, reportedly without consulting owners Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder. While the LPC approved the proposed new carpeting without qualm, they balked at a removal of the cracked-glass and bronze partitions separating the dining area and bar. Originally installed by legendary architect Philip Johnson, who designed the space with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1959, the partitions would be replaced by movable ivy planters to open up the space. Selldorf Architects is also considering nixing the large walnut panels separating the square-shaped 60-foot-by-60-foot Pool Room from the dining room on the mezzanine. These will be replaced with five panels, the outer two of which would be operable for reconfiguration of the space. According to Rosen, this would improve the flow between the mezzanine and the Pool Room without the upper tier framing the space. “This landmark is elevated to a level where any kind of intervention would not be living with preservation,” objected LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan. Conservationists bristled last year when Rosen entertained an eviction of the Le Tricorne Picasso tapestry hanging inside the restaurant in order to facilitate reparations to the wall behind it, where a “potentially serious steam leak” from the two-story kitchen had purportedly crippled the structure. The preservation commission retorted that removal of the tapestry would cause it to “crack like a potato chip.” A New York State judge issued an injunction prohibiting Seagram from removing the painting, but Rosen, a real estate developer and avid collector of post-war art, is in conservationists’ crossfire again for daring to alter a landmark. “These are features that are integral to the sense of space. Not just decorative but have architectural meaning and value,” said Commissioner Diana Chapin. Edgar Bronfman Jr., whose family owned Seagram, claimed that RFR’s proposal displays “utter contempt” for the icon. RFR representative Sheldon Werdiger maintains that the changes are restorative rather than invasive. “We’re not making changes as much as we’re restoring. Our local press is trying to make it into a controversial situation,” he told Arch Record.
This graffiti-covered Bowery landmark is about to turn luxury, but developers plan to preserve years of spray paint on its walls
In December, AN wrote that prolific developer Aby Rosen had picked up 190 Bowery—a six-story, graffiti-covered Renaissance Revival building that had been the private home and studio of photographer Jay Maisel since 1956. Maisel purchased the building for $102,000 and repeatedly turned down offers to sell it despite its skyrocketing value. Rosen's RFR Realty ultimately purchased the landmarked property for $55 million. So, you can understand that when 190 Bowery sold we predicted that its graffiti would be "power-sprayed into oblivion." Well, turns out we were wrong about that: The graffiti-covered building will continued to be a graffiti-covered building even as it transitions into an commercial property with ground floor retail. NY YIMBY reported that Higgins Quasebarth & Partners and MdeAS Architects recently presented their conversion plan to the Landmarks Preservation Commission which includes the "restoration of metal gates, wooden doors, stained glass, and other elements, but not removing the graffiti or cleaning the facade." The project's light touch pleased just about everyone. Landmarks commissioners loved it, the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors was pretty happy with it, the Historic Districts Council was smitten, and Community Board 2 approved it, as did the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
What do you do if you have an array of 26 show-worthy Italian motorcycles? Hopefully what designer, artist manager, and film producer Stuart Parr did. He paired up with real estate magnate Aby Rosen—no stranger to art and relatively fresh off his kerfuffle with the Picasso tapestry, L’Affaire Tricorne. Together they are using an empty space—the ground floor at 285 Madison Avenue—to display the high-design bikes publicly. While it's not a particularly extensive collection, it does cut a wide stroke through the Italian majors: Ducati, MV Agusta, Benelli, Laverda, and Magni. One can see true artistry and design in these machines: cooling fins on engine blocks, sumptuous curves of petrol tanks, and frames that strive for endurance and speed. Art of the Italian Two Wheel runs until July 18. Find more information on the exhibit here.
A developer has finally gotten his hands on one of Manhattan’s most intriguing and desired properties: 190 Bowery. The six-story Renaissance Revival building opened in 1898 as a branch of the Germania Bank, but had been the private home and workspace of photographer Jay Maisel since 1966. Back then, he bought the building for $102,000 and held onto it for decades as property values skyrocketed in Nolita. For that reason, 190 Bowery has become a beloved, graffiti-covered piece of New York nostalgia, defying gentrification as everything else around it adapted with the times. But that's about to change. In September, the New York Times reported that prolific art collector and developer Aby Rosen had picked up the landmarked property as part of his firm's recent “Manhattan buying spree.” The purchase price for 190 Bowery was not revealed, but in 2008 it was believed to be valued somewhere around $50 million. Rosen told the Times that it took him six months to finally convince Maisel to hand over the property, which apparently doesn't have heat. According to New York Magazine, which visited 190 Bowery back in 2008, the home "feels like a dream world, or a benign version of the vast hotel in The Shining." If Maisel played the long-game on 190 Bowery, then Rosen did just the opposite. The Commercial Observer reported that Rosen's company, RFR Holdings, is already trying to flip the property. Whatever happens next at 190 Bowery, it will likely include expensive condos, dooming the building's graffiti to be power-sprayed into oblivion. Bowery Boogie spotted a rendering (below) of just that on the website of real estate company's Massey Knakal. But before 190 Bowery gets its deep clean, artist Eric Rieger, known as HOTTEA, decided to add one more creative mark to the building's facade. As Gothamist reported, he recently slotted wood letters into the building that literally spells out exactly how he feels about the sale: "UUGGHH."
In yet another round of preservationist vs. developer, it appears developer has won again. This time, the fight took place at 67 Vestry Street in Tribeca—the site of an 11-story palazzo building that came to life as a warehouse for the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company in 1897. BuzzBuzzHome reported that the Department of Buildings has approved plans by prolific developer and art collector Aby Rosen for an 11-story luxury condo building at the site. As AN reported last spring, the building's tenants tried to stop those plans by launching a petition to landmark the structure. The building is not just architecturally distinct, they said, it was a cornerstone in Tribeca's rapidly disappearing arts scene. 67 Vestry once housed artists including John Chamberlain, Marisol, and Andy Warhol. As BuzzBuzz noted, though, there appear to only be interior demolition permits filed, so there is a chance the exterior could be saved. SLCE is serving as the architect of record for this project.
No Room at the In Place? Eavesdrop was thrilled by a friend’s “plus one” at the June 11 gala celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building. We all know Mies and Philip’s icon, so we’ll skip the background and move on to name-dropping. The 800-person guest list was so diverse we concluded that it must have been gleaned from the reservations book. The hosts, building owner Aby Rosen and wife Samantha Boardman and restaurateurs Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder, greeted the multitude, which included David Dinkins, Ray Kelly, Star Jones, Fern Mallis, Henry Kissinger, Barry Diller, George Wayne, Michael Gross, Thom Brown, Salman Rushdie, Jay McInerney, Michael Ovitz, a couple of Nederlanders, several mannequins, and generations of age-free socialites. Okay, so with representatives from every walk of life from the sacred to the profane, where were the architectural luminaries? Where was Phyllis Lambert, whose vision and perseverance are the sole reasons New York’s most storied interior even exists? Well, there was one bold-face architect in the crush of swells: Belmont “Monty” Freeman held court in the Grill Room, answering questions about overseeing the restaurant’s renovation, which is to begin next month. Lambert handpicked Freeman because she’s known him for many years and had admired his respectful and meticulous renovation of the Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan University, designed by Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo in 1970. So where was Phyllis? It turns out that the New York party was the same night as the annual Canadian Centre for Architecture ball. As the founder and director, Lambert had to host her own event—and send her Four Seasons regrets. The Scarano Files Perhaps more than any other New York architect, Robert Scarano has come to symbolize the five-borough building boom. Known to many for taking advantage of a loophole in the city’s self-certification program—resulting in a number of over-built projects—Scarano recently sat down for an interview with The Brooklyn Paper. Where’d he find the time? The developer’s darling admits to being out of work, after logging roughly 600 projects a year during what still seems like just yesterday. Among other things, Scarano was not surprised to see Frank Gehry depart Atlantic Yards—his “shelf life was up.” Scarano likes SOM’s Toren but not Ismael Leyva’s Oro, while being torn about Enrique Norten, whose BAM arts center “would have been a good project” but whose Park Slope apartment complex “is as non-contextual as you get.” If work dries up for good, he should try his hand at criticism. Send martinis and twizzle stix to email@example.com A version of this article appeared in AN 12_07.08.2009.