The restaurant formerly known as the Four Seasons was named a New York City landmark nearly 30 years ago, but that hasn’t stopped its current owner—Aby Rosen of RFR Holding—from changing as much of its much-lauded modernist interiors as he can feasibly get away with.
First, he removed the lauded “Le Tricorne” stage curtain, created by Pablo Picasso, that was in place for more than half a century; Rosen claimed that it needed to move to make structural repairs, and it now hangs in the New-York Historical Society.
Then, Rosen tried to get the Landmarks Preservation Commission to approve sweeping changes—spearheaded by Annabelle Selldorf, no less—to the space, which the LPC quickly smacked down. (That didn’t stop former Four Seasons partners Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder from auctioning off the restaurant’s furnishings—down to the silverware designed by Garth and Ada Louise Huxtable—last summer.)
And now, it appears that some changes have been made outside of the LPC’s purview. Pete Wells of The New York Times reviewed the Pool, one of two restaurants now operating in the former Four Seasons (the other, The Grill, got the Wells treatment in August), and noted that “an application has been belatedly filed to cover three major installations made without approval: the bar and the wall coverings of woven cotton, wool and silver threads in the lounge and the reception desk in the lobby off East 52nd Street.”
Wells, as you might imagine, isn’t exactly happy about these changes; “you don’t need to be an architectural historian to see that none of them are remotely in the International Style,” he writes, before comparing the new reception desk to one found in an airport lobby. The transformation of the Pool room’s mezzanine into the Pool Lounge, according to Wells, “looks as if it had been moved on a trailer from some other building and attached with thumbtacks.” (Ouch.)
He continues, “When the lounge is full, it’s a distraction. When it’s half-empty, as it often seems to be, it looms like a stage set waiting for the actors to show up. Either way, it sucks energy from the restaurant, which needs all it can get.” (Eater NY’s Ryan Sutton agreed with that assessment in his review.)
RFR’s director of marketing and design development told Wells that “we thought a new reception desk and bar in the lounge were additive fixtures to the space that can be easily removed and did not require LPC oversight.” (Which, sure.)
But the LPC disagreed; during a hearing on September 19, one of the commissioners states that “in no way does this speak to the iconic-ness and incredibleness that these rooms had.” (Another commissioner said there was “all the exuberance of a funeral home” in the space thanks to the new reception desk. Again, ouch.)
The Historic Districts Council recommended that the LPC hold a public hearing to review the changes, and the commission asked RFR to return to present amended plans at a later date, though that has yet to be set. We’ve reached out to the LPC for more information; we’ll update as we receive it.