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UN Plaza Hotel’s iconic postmodern interiors could get NYC landmark status

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The LPC will vote on Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates’s splendid interiors on October 25

Earlier this year, preservationists sounded the alarm when it appeared that the interiors of the United Nations Plaza Hotel—specifically, the postmodern designs created by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates for the hotel’s lobby and the Ambassador Grill and Lounge—were headed for the chopping block.

At the time, a group of activists, including the Historic Districts Council and the folks at Docomomo, petitioned the Landmarks Preservation Commission to act immediately on taking the necessary steps to give the PoMo interiors their due. And it looks like the LPC listened: At today’s hearing, the commission voted unanimously to calendar the hotel’s lobby and the Ambassador Grill, with a full vote on its landmark status coming later this fall.

LPC staff member Matthew Postal gave a brief overview of the history of the Grill and the lobby (which opened, respectively, in 1976 and 1983), calling them "marvelously inventive spaces." Postal noted that many architecture critics and historians, including Paul Goldberger and Ada Louise Huxtable, were fans of the interiors and recognized their significance, even at the time that they opened.

In her comments on the matter, LPC chair Meenakshi Srinivasan noted that the Grill and lobby could be "an exciting designation" for the commission, both because it’s a chance to save noteworthy interiors (which the LPC does pretty sparingly), and because of the spaces themselves. She acknowledged that the postmodern style isn’t something the LPC has considered too often in recent years, "but that’s what’s kind of exciting about this." She continued, "As we proceed into a new era, it reaffirms the fact that the commission’s work keeps evolving over time … what it present now will be the past."

We checked in with Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange, who wrote an illuminating history of the space back in January, and she had this to say:

This is terrific news, both for the future of the Ambassador Grill and UN Plaza lobby, prime examples of postmodern interior design, but also for other postwar interiors in New York City. Of late, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has been reluctant to consider interiors, particularly more modern ones, but they remain spaces where we can see how people lived, worked and entertained themselves in previous eras. The glamor of the UN Plaza spaces, as built, was dazzling, and it shouldn't be impossible to appreciate it, and save it now. As we saw at the Four Seasons, sometimes landmarking can't preserve all that should remain intact, but it is the tool at hand.

The LPC will next hold a public hearing on this matter, which is scheduled for November 22.

Update: A previous version of this article erroneously stated that the LPC will vote on this item on October 25. That was the original date for the public hearing, which is now on November 22. Curbed regrets the error.