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Fate of UN Plaza Hotel's glitzy postmodern interiors is up in the air

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The LPC heard testimony, but did not vote, on Roche and Dinkeloo’s glittery hotel interiors

New York City currently has 117 interior landmarks, and of those, a mere seven were constructed after 1950. (Heck, only one—Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo’s Ford Foundation—was built after 1965.) But as time marches on, we’re reaching a point at which buildings from what seems like the recent past are becoming historical relics—and thus, worthy of preservation.

One such space can be found within the former United Nations Plaza Hotel (now known as the One UN New York Hotel), designed by—coincidentally—Roche and Dinkeloo. For the past few months, a dedicated group of preservationists and activists has been campaigning for landmark status for two interior spaces within the hotel: its glittering lobby, topped with a octagonal dome; and the Ambassador Grill, located on a lower level and outfitted in more mirrors, more marble.

The spaces opened in 1976 and 1983, respectively, and reflect the glitz and glamour of the times; as Curbed critic Alexandra Lange noted in January, “It is here that one can see Roche Dinkeloo's work transition from late Modernism to Postmodernism, reimagining a Venetian corridor in a 1970s Midtown hotel.” But earlier this year, it became clear that without landmarks protection, these spaces could be lost to history.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission started the long process of voting on these spaces back in September, when it agreed to calendar a hearing on the hotel’s lobby and grill. That hearing happened today, with nearly a dozen advocates speaking in support of landmarking the postmodern rooms. Many also questioned why the LPC has deemed only the lobby and grill worthy of landmarking, while leaving out an adjacent seating area that connects the two spaces.

Among those providing testimony today were Docomomo US executive director Liz Waytkus, architect Kyle Johnson, and landmarks advocate Theodore Grunewald, who were among the first to sound the alarm that Roche Dinkeloo’s spaces in the hotel were in danger. Robert A.M. Stern sent a statement of support through a representative of Docomomo US, calling Roche’s interiors “masterworks of Modernism, produced by a master at his prime,” and Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange did the same, noting that it’s difficult to find existing examples of 1970s architecture in New York City.

After nearly 40 minutes of testimony, the LPC made no decision, though it did defend its decision to leave the contested lounge seating area out of its area of potential designation. A spokesperson confirms that a vote on the fate of the UN Plaza Hotel’s lobby and the Ambassador Grill has yet to be set. But speaker after speaker today reiterated the same message for the LPC: these rooms—in all their glittery, disco ball-like glory—are worth saving.

“Taste goes in cycles, and those with whom this space will most deeply resonate are only now beginning to discover it,” noted Los Angeles-based architect Daniel Paul. Hopefully they will still have the chance to—it’s now up to the LPC to get a vote on the record.