It was only one month ago that the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the interior of the Manufacturers Trust Company building at 510 Fifth Avenue as a protected space, and already the commissioners are being asked to OK some major changes. Owner Vornado Realty Trust wants to tear out the original escalators, move the entryways, demolish a polished black granite wall and split the space to ready it for retail. Standing in Vornado's way are some of the original details not removed pre-landmarking (the building already lost its 70' enameled metal screen by sculptor Harry Bertoia). Architectural preservationists, concerned that the integrity of the transparent building is in eminent danger, will be lining up at tomorrow's public hearing in an effort to protect what remains.
Vornado has hired the architects at SOM to come up with the new plan and attorney Meredith Kane, who served as a commissioner with the LPC from 1995 until 2004, to push the proposal. This is partly a return to the building's roots, since SOM built the original 1954 glass box, one of the first in New York City, from a design by partner Gordon Bunshaft with interiors by Eleanor H. Le Maire. Canadian retailer Joe Fresh, who wants to open a jeans emporium on half of the first floor and all of the second by this fall, has promised to respectfully renovate the space. But in order to fulfill Joe's long list of changes, the existing "cage-like transparent structure" with floating mezzanine would be cut in half.
Preservationists are worried that the alterations would destroy what Theodore Grunewald, founder of the ad hoc Coalition to Save MHT, which led the successful effort to obtain landmark designation of the interior, calls the "carefully crafted sequence of progressively-unfolding spaces and compromise the delicately-balanced minimalist composition of this masterpiece of International Style Modernism." How so?
Of particular concern is the relocation of the entry doors from 43rd Street to Fifth Avenue, which would shift the balance of Bunshaft's entrance. Also objectionable to the preservation-minded is the demolition of the original side-by-side escalators rising behind glass along Fifth Avenue and their replacement with a new scissor-configured set, aligned with the altered entryways and crowded up against the new demising wall. And those are far from the only changes?check out the full rundown in photos. Vornado's take: these changes are seen as viable adaptive re-use, in line with the original intent expressed by Manufacturers that the bank be "an easily convertible type of branch building." If facing down a crowd of angry preservationists counts as easy.
· Manufacturers Trust Company Interior Designation Report [Landmarks Preservation Commission]
· More 510 Fifth Avenue Images [Flickr]
· 510 Fifth Avenue coverage [Curbed]