When was the last time you heard about a group of angry preservationists and a big-time real estate player joining forces to campaign for a building's protection? Such is the case at 510 Fifth Avenue, a glass box and landmark of Modernism designed in the early '50s by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill under partner Gordon Bunshaft. Also known as the Manufacturers Trust Company building, 510 Fifth Avenue recently lost one of its most important interior features, some site-specific artwork by Harry Bertoia, which made people really mad. It turned out that JPMorgan Chase had ownership of the Bertoia works, and when it moved out, so too did the art. Those events kicked off an effort to have the building declared an interior landmark (it's already a "regular" landmark, which protects the outside), and now even the landlord is on board.
Though 510 Fifth Avenue has been carved up over the years, many of its original flashy elements are still going strong. Not long ago the building's future was up in the air, but recently Vornado Realty Trust bought 510 Fifth Avenue for $58 million, with plans to install Canadian clothing company Joe Fresh in the bottom floors. That increased preservationists' sense of urgency, and today the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing on the topic of the building's interior landmarking.
Everyone who spoke up was in favor of landmarking, including groups like the Historic Districts Council, and Vornado itself. A lawyer representing the firm (an ex-landmarks commissioner!) called the building a "true icon of modern design" and noted that the original innards were meant to be easily convertible to other uses. If 510 Fifth becomes an interior landmark?an LPC vote could happen this month?Vornado plans to modernize the interior and restore the remaining historic elements (the escalators, the ground-floor bank vault, the 43rd Street lobby, etc.) for retail use. The rep added that all the changes would mesh with the original style, design and intent of the architects. See: We can all get along! Here's a recentish shot of the building via Flickr: