Carter B. Horsley
This is a grand book about a
but it is an even better book about New York City real estate
and about the art of building skyscrapers. Indeed, it is probably
the best general introduction to the city's development process
Tauranac is also the author of
New York, The Builders and the Buildings, 1885-1915" a fine
coffee-table book of major New York landmarks of that period,
and "Essential New York, A Guide to the History and Architecture
of Manhattan's Important Buildings," a superb pocket-guide.
His new book is the companion
volume to a 1997
exhibition at the Museum of The City of New York entitled "A
Dream Well Planned: The Empire State Building."
Next to the Eiffel Tower in
Paris, the Empire
State Building is the world's most famous urban icon.
It pales somewhat in aesthetics
with its contemporary
rival, the smaller Chrysler Building, but its splendid isolation
on the skyline has given it an unrivalled majesty in New York.
Surprisingly, the addition of
its hefty communications
antenna several decades after the building's completion actually
improved the building's silhouette by sharpening its peak.
If one visually blocks off its
and spire, the tower's proportions and form remain superb. (A
glimpse at 500 Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street (see The
City Review article) or One Wall Street or 20 Exchange Place
reveal the attractiveness of such slim towers.
Apart from the basic form, the
the design rests on its chrome-nickel steel rails, or mullions,
whose reflections add dazzle to the skyline and which also reinforce
the tower's verticality. Some architecture critics at the time
of its construction commented that the floral design caps at the
tops of the mullions were out of character, but they are minimal
and such touches in no way detract from the effectiveness of the
While the Chrysler crown is a
Deco masterpiece, the Empire State Building's enormous stainless
steel eagle-win pylons bracing its observatory tower are spectacularly
bold and impressive. And, not surprisingly, some contemporary
critics derided the added decorative tower as extravagant! (While
the Chrysler Building specially treated bricks to look like limestone
for much of its tower's shaft, the Empire State Building's facade
uses limestone throughout.)
Despite its added celebrity as
most famous perch, the Empire State Building opened at the wrong
time, at least in terms of the developers' hopes for office leasing.
It did not reach full occupancy for many years because of the
Depression and despite its immediate fame as the world's tallest
office building, a record it held until it was surpassed by the
Sears Tower in Chicago and the World Trade Center downtown more
than three decades later, it never became a prestigious address.
Rockefeller Center was creating its own magnetic office enclave
and in the post-World War II environment, well-to-do commuters
from the more affluent northern suburbs of the city preferred
the convenience of the Grand Central area, despite the proximity
of the Empire State Building to Pennsylvania Station, which served
commuters from New Jersey and Long Island.
To this day, major corporate
tenants have generally
evaded the Empire State Building, whose huge tenant roster includes
mostly very small space-users.
In the 1970's, Harry B.
Helmsley, who then
controlled the building, introduced colored night illumination
that varies depending on the season and holiday. For a while,
four huge searchlights scanned the night sky from the lower observation
level on the 86th floor, but were discontinued, presumably because
of pressure from the Federal Aviation Authority. For many years,
however, the Empire State Building was the lone pioneer in night
illumination among major buildings in the city.
With the inexcusable closing of
the open, multi-level
observatory atop the former RCA Building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza
(see The City Review article),
State Building's observatories are the city's best public promontories.
Visitors must descend to the basement level to purchase tickets
for the two observatories and then take special express elevators
to the 80th floor to transfer to another elevator to the 86th
floor, the level of the lower observatory. Its skylobby, therefore,
antedates those at the World Trade Center by several decades.
The 86th floor observatory has
on all sides. A bunch of suicides led to the installation of tall
fencing around the terraces, which, fortunately, do not interfere
with taking photographs.
A small elevator on the 86th
floor takes visitors
to the top, fully-enclosed observatory on the 102nd floor for
no extra charge. Small steps by the windows help smallfry look
out as well as help photographers get better angles through the
often smudged windows. For vertigo worriers, the top observatory
is mall comfortable because it is not open, although its small
space might trouble those who are claustrophobic. The view is
more impressive although there is unspoken psychological pressure
not to linger at one window too long to enable other visitors
to share the vistas.
While the higher observatory
wider panoramas of the region, it also slightly diminishes the
impact of the skyline views, a function of distance.
In March, 1994, the building
signed an agreement
with the U.S. Justice Department to remove all barriers to its
tourist attractions for disabled visitors. The agreement resolved
a complaint filed with the department that the building was not
in compliance with the 1992 Americans with Disabilities Act that
guarantees access to public areas of buildings. In addition to
changing its entrances and elevators to comply with the law, the
building agreed to install ramps, renovate restrooms, cut away
barriers blocking views to visitors confined to wheelchairs on
the 86th floor and install periscopes, with King-Kong-shaped handles,
for such visitors on the 102nd floor observatory where windows
could not be lowered.
The building's lobby is
suitably tall, but
surprisingly disappointing, or, as Tauranac correctly puts it,
"reserved." One would not mind a little dizziness in
what was for years the world's tallest building. Like the Chrysler
Building (see The City Review
its designers were very full of pride and the main decoration
in the lobby is a depiction in aluminum of the tower itself, while
the Chrysler Building sports a very large mural of itself on the
The lobby originally had "a
indicator that was hooked up to a rooftop anemometer [that] informed
as the public of wind speed and direction at the observatory"
and the indicator looked like a clock, which in fact subsequently
replaced it, Tauranac points out.
The Empire State Building lobby
luxurious, but not impressive and sorely in need in some Art Deco
embellishment, but then the building's architecture is relatively
spartan, which is understandable given its completion during the
Depression. What is historically remarkable is that this building
was completed in about a year-and-a-half!
Also of historic interest is
that a B-25 medium
bomber crashed into its 78th and 79th floors on its north facade
July 28, 1945 with no major structural damage.
"The building shuddered,
and settled. Probably instantly, although several witnesses said
there seemed to be a moment's interval, came the explosion, and
the top of the fog-shrouded Empire State Building was briefly
seen in a bright orange glow. High-octane airplane fuel spewed
out of the ruptured tanks and sprayed the building…The heat
was so intense that partition frames within offices disappeared,
and the shattered glass from windows and lamp fixtures melted
and fused into stalactites….One engine, part of the fuselage,
and a landing gear tore through the internal office walls, through
two fire walls and across a stairway, through another office wall
and out of the south wall of the building, with the parts coming
to a fiery rest at 10 West Thirty-Third Street in the penthouse
studio/apartment of sculptor Henry Hering, who was off playing
golf in Scarsdale at the time," Tauranac relates about the
incident that killed 14 people and injured about 25.
The plane crash, which was not
the first in
Manhattan's history, was not the building's only aerial adventure.
Its 1,250-ft-high original peak was designed as a mooring mast
for dirigibles, a prospect that seemed exciting at the time. When
the World Trade Center's communications mast went into operation,
it made the Empire State Building's mighty mast that peaks at
1,454-feet obsolete. A few years after it had lost its crown as
the world's tallest building in 1972, its owners told the press
they were considering recapturing the title by adding more floors
atop the building, but the preposterous notion, thankfully, never
Tauranac bemoans the loss of
title as the world's tallest, especially to the "banal"
World Trade Center:
"The Empire State's eccentric
not have mourned so if the title had gone to an interesting structure
such as the conelike, 2,296-foot concrete tower planned for the
Paris Exposition of 1937, which would have been more than a thousand
feet higher than the Empire State Building and a worthy successor
to the Eiffel Tower. Spiral ramps climbed the outside of the tower,
the inside lane of the ramp for descending cars, the outside for
ascending. Automobiles could climb to a height of 1,640 feet,
where there would be a garage for five hundred cars and a restaurant
for two thousand guests, as well as an inexplicable thing called
a 'sun-cure station.' The structure would have been called 'Phare
du Monde,' or 'Lighthouse of the World,' with a beacon, 2,300
feet high. Or the building's fans might have graciously relinquished
the title to the Palace of the Soviets, upon which work was scheduled
to begin in December 1938. It would have been twenty-three feet
taller than the Empire State Building and topped with the world's
tallest statue, a statue of Lenin that would have been three times
the size of the Statue of Liberty. The patent impracticality doomed
one proposal, and the coming of World War II doomed the other."
"One of the ironies of
that because they are efficient and increase the value of the
site upon which they are built, they tend to sow the seeds of
their own destruction….A dramatic example took place in 1903
at Times Square. In order to make way for the coming of the
Times Tower, the eight-story, steel-framed Pabst Hotel, which
had only been standing since 1898, was torn down….In the
1920's, the site at 1 Wall Street was about to have its third
building in as many decades….This constant tearing down and
building up, this reinvention of the city every generation, was
the single greatest hallmark of modern society to spring up with
the coming of the Industrial Revolution. Before then, major buildings,
at least, had been built for posterity, and permanence in buildings
had been taken for granted."
The base of the building fully
building plot, which takes up about two-thirds of the block between
Fifth Avenue and the Avenue of the Americas and 34th and 33rd
Streets. The main entrance is marked by a large window with
panes that brings some natural light into the lobby and a large
canopy. The top of the base of the building is surrounded with
flagpoles, a welcome addition.
Former New York State Governor
Alfred A. Smith
was deeply involved with the creation of this skyscraper, which
sought to glorify not only the city, but also the state. Smith
was brought into the project as president of the Empire State
Company by John Jacob Raskob, a major shareholder in the General
Motors Corporation who had also been Smith's campaign manager
in his unsuccessful Presidential race against Herbert Hoover in
The site had been a farm that
in 1827 by William Backhouse Astor, whose descendants later built
the Waldorf (1893) and the Astoria (1897) hotels on the site.
The merged Waldorf-Astoria (see The
Review article) was demolished for the Empire State Building
and the hotel moved to its present location on Park Avenue at
The Empire State Building
remains as imposing
and elegant as when it first opened although it has been surpassed
in height and bulk. While it is the visual epicenter of the Manhattan
skyline, it has been a loner, albeit one with great fortitude
Manhattan was a major city
before the Empire
State Building was built, but it is impossible to envision Manhattan
without it ever since. It is the city's exclamation point, the
eagle feathers in its cap!
With great humor, Tauranac
points out that
the Empire State Building is the second so-named Manhattan Building.
The first, he observes, is a 9-story structure at 640 Broadway
on the southeast corner of Bleecker Street that was built in 1897
to designs by De Lemos & Cordes (who also designed Macy's
at Herald Square).
The 34th Street Empire State
Building was designated
an official New York City landmark in 1981 on the occasion of
its Golden Jubilee although it had been eligible since the creation
of the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965. Not a
Tauranac writes with affection
about the building:
"It still swells the breasts of New Yorkers and makes hearts
beat faster, and it still attracts more than 2 million visitors
a year. The building's splendor and lift, its very being remains
a magical presence, a cynosure for the city's residents, a mecca
In 1955, the American Society
of Civil Engineers
selected it as one of the seven greatest engineering achievements
in the history of the country, Tauranac notes, adding that the
others were the Colorado River Aqueduct, the Grand Coulee Dam,
the Hoover Dam, the Panama Canal, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay
Bridge and the sewerage disposal system of Chicago.
The building's owners
commissioned a series
of murals for the 34th Street lobby in 1963 that depict the seven
traditional Wonders of the World and the Empire State Building,
the eighth wonder, Tauranac observed.
Tauranac supplies lots of
the building weighs 365,000 tons, has 10 million bricks, 27 miles
elevator rails, 6,400 windows has appeared in about 80 movies
and contains 37 million cubic feet.
He documents in fascinating
detail the many
aborted plans for great skyscrapers that preceded the Empire State
Building, in his opinion, the greatest. Among them were a plan
of William Fox of Fox Theaters for a 52-story tower at 47th Street
and Broadway that would have a theater larger than the 6,200-seat
Roxy, a 1,050-ft. high tower planned by Abraham E. Lefcourt for
the northeast corner of Broadway and 49th Street, the Larkin Tower,
a 110-story building for 42nd Street west of Eighth Avenue, a
150-story structure contemplated by Charles F. Noyes for a site
bounded by Broadway and Church, Worth and Duane Streets, a 725-ft.
high Broadway Temple in Washington Heights, and a 65-story
Building between 122nd and 123rd Streets.
Tauranac devotes great
attention to the builders,
owners, contractors and shapers of the Empire State Building,
its architects, Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, the Astors who had
build the very impressive Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on the site, and,
of course, Raskob and Smith, the geniuses behind its development.
The author closely examines the
design evolution and realization of the Empire State Building:
"There had been nothing
abut how the building should look except that it should resemble
a pencil, nothing said about the building's style. Indeed, style
was secondary….No caryatids would be straining for effect,
no buttresses would be running up the corners of the tower, no
oversized heads would be staring blankly into space. There would
be no cornices to cast shadows, no entablatures, architraves,
or other conventional ornamental devices to break the soaring
lines. The design would be strictly functional, determined by
the notion that the function of the object should determine its
design and materials….Architect Raymond Hood, whose work
[architect] Lamb greatly admired and who was a close friend, said
that the demands of tenants probably more than the desire of
architects was responsible for the popularity of the modern style,
of this functionalism."
"It was big; it was bold; it
exclaims Tauranac of the overall design of the building, adding,
however, that there are many subtle touches such as tapering walls
at the setbacks and chamfered corners at the top and fanlike motifs
terminated the great rise of windows.
Tauranac's story of the plans
to moor dirigibles
to the building's tower is fabulous. It was a public relations
dream/pipedream and proved to be unworkable, to put it mildly.
Interestingly, the top of the tower was to have both an indoor
observatory and an outdoor deck (to which the
passengers would descend).
In his September 26, 2010
"Streetscapes" column in The New York Times, Christopher Gray provides
the following commentary on the building's dirigible history:
"THE new exhibition at the Keith de Lellis Gallery, “New York: A
Bird’s-Eye View,” has a striking assortment of aerial views of the
city. No image is more arresting than that of the Navy dirigible Los
Angeles docking at the mooring post of the Empire State Building, a
giant cigarlike cylinder coming nose-to-nose with the tallest building
in the world.
"That the photograph is a composite, a fake, is disappointing but not
surprising: no airship ever docked there, and indeed the whole mooring
mast concept was a bit of a stunt itself.
"In late 1929, Alfred E. Smith, the leader of a group of investors
erecting the Empire State Building, announced that they were increasing
the height of the building to 1,250 feet from 1,050. Mr. Smith, a past
governor of New York, denied that competition with the 1,046-foot-high
Chrysler Building was a factor. “We are measuring its rise by
principles of economic investment rather than spectacular standards,”
he told The New York Times.
"The extra 200 feet, it was announced, was to serve as a mooring mast
for dirigibles so that they could dock in Midtown, rather than out in
Lakehurst, N.J., the station used by the German Graf Zeppelin. Mr.
Smith said that at the Empire State Building, airships like the Graf,
almost 800 feet long, would “swing in the breeze and the passengers go
down a gangplank”; seven minutes later they would be on the street.
"But the Germans, who dominated dirigible technology, had not asked for
a docking station, and passenger traffic on dirigibles was still
minuscule. The mast camouflaged the quest for boasting rights to the
world’s tallest building, an ambition to which it seemed indecent to
"Dr. Hugo Eckener, the commander of the Graf Zeppelin and the world’s
expert on dirigibles, said flatly that the Empire State project was not
practical. Zeppelin landings required scores of ground crewmen,
retaining ropes fore and aft, and even then landings were sometimes
dicey. Dr. Eckener had trained the dirigible crews for the bombing
raids over London in World War I.
"The dirigible docking project was still up in the air in March 1931,
when Dr. Eckener visited the tower, after which all he had to say was
that the matter required further study. The Skyscraper Museum has
photographs of the construction of the Empire State Building online.
"The tallest building in the world opened that May; the developers
acknowledged that the apparatus for winching the airships had not yet
been designed. In December the Navy airship J-4 flew from Lakehurst and
hovered around the tower at the request of a newsreel company. The
30-mile-an-hour winds, described as “treacherous” by The Times, made
the approach difficult.
"In mid-September another dirigible was able to jury-rig a three-minute
connection to the top of the building, in 40-mile-an-hour winds. Two
weeks later the Goodyear Blimp Columbia picked up a stack of Evening
Journals from the newspaper’s plant at 210 South Street and lowered
them on a 100-foot-line to a man on the tower, who was able to cut the
"The Columbia tried to connect again the next day, but could not. That
was the last recorded attempt to make contact of any sort; in the same
year NBC began broadcasting from the tower.
"In 1936 Dr. Eckener passed over the Empire State Building at night on
his way to Lakehurst. In command of the new dirigible Hindenburg, he
resisted Nazi efforts to take over the airship program, and by May of
the following year had been replaced. That was when the Hindenburg
burned and crashed in Lakehurst, effectively ending commercial
passenger travel in airships.
"Donald Friedman, a structural engineer who contributed an essay to the
1998 book “Building the Empire State,” edited by Carol Willis, said
that strictly from a structural standpoint the notion of securing an
airship to the Empire State Building, even at the very top, was a
reasonable one. John Tauranac, the author of the 1995 “The Empire State
"But the notion that passengers would be able to descend an
airport-style ramp from a moving airship to the tip of the tallest
building in the world, even in excellent conditions, beggars belief.
"The original docking level is one floor above the 102nd-floor
observatory, up some steep stairs behind an unmarked door. The stairs
lead to a circular room perhaps 25 feet across.
"A door leads out to the circular terrace where passengers fresh from
Europe or South America — and their steamer trunks — were to have set
foot on American ground.
"The terrace is perhaps two and a half feet wide, and the parapet could
not be any higher than that; it’s like standing on the raised lip of a
Campbell’s soup can, a quarter-mile up.
"And because the terrace is circular, each side disappearing left and
right, there is an uncomfortable sensation of being pushed outward.
Were I arriving from Germany, I would have opted for blinders before
leaving the nose. But it is an intoxicating view."
Despite all of its hoopla, the
smack into the Depression and a year-and-a-half after it opened
was only about 25 percent rented and Tauranac documents the travails
of the "Empty State Building."
"In July, 1931, the National
Company leased the eastern half of the eighty-fifth floor for
the erection of an experimental television and sound station,
whom which television images would 'jump' into space," Tauranac
wrote, adding that "there would not be any regularly scheduled
broadcasts until April, 1938."
By 1936, the middle of the
building was still
unrented, according to Tauranac: "The only sign of life in
them was at night, when the building kept lights burning on the
"The day of the superskyscraper
declared over by 1935. Vacant office space in New York early in
1934 had reached an average of 21 percent," he continued.
Economics has always played a
in the building's history and Tauranac recalls that after it lost
income from television transmission fees to the World Trade Center,
"Robert W. Jones, an architect with the successor firm of
Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, started noodling with how to make the
building once again the world's tallest."
"He thought the solution was to
the dirigible mooring mast and the top six stories and replace
them with a new thirty-three story structure to make the 'new'
Empire State Building 113 stories high, taking it to a height
of 1,494 feet - 144 feet higher than the Twin Towers and 44 feet
higher than the Sears Tower. Jones created two versions of the
same proposal: One had the top tapering from two sides; the other
was an updated version of the original roofline for the eighty-sixth
floor." The startling and absurd plan made the front-page
of The New York Times, although Tauranac writes that Jones "never
submitted his concept to management" and nothing came of
After the book's publication,
the Empire State
Building made headlines again when several people at the observatory
were shot by an angry person, an incident Tauranac is sure to
recount with his lucid, vigorous and well-researched style in
future editions. The book has 53 black-and-white illustrations.
In 2002, the top of
the tower acquired some
new "carbuncles" in the form of what appear to be wireless
telephone relay antennas, which have also been cropping up elsewhere
in less prominent locations around the city. The ungainly antennas
are unsightly and inappropriate for such a great landmark's silhouette.
The zoning and franchise
subcommittee of the land-use
committee of the City Council held a hearing August 23, 2010 on several
by Vornado Realty Trust for zoning variances to permit it to erect an
tower nearly twice as tall as current zoning allows on the site of the
Pennsylvania on Seventh Avenue
and 33rd Streets.
22-story hotel was designed by McKim, Mead & White
to be compatible with the firm's fabled Pennsylvania Station across the
that was demolished in the 1960s.
proposed tower, which is known as 15 Penn Plaza,
would rise about 1,200 feet, about the height of the Empire
spire 900 feet to the east. In
for the major zoning changes for its projects, Vornado is offering to
about $100 million in improvements to local subway stations including a
reopening of the former "Gimbel's Passageway" to the Avenue of the
a major owner of real estate in the area, also
argues that its project would provide jobs although it has not
going forward until it has a
Vornado proposal has been bitterly opposed by Anthony
Malkin, president of the company that owns the Empire State Building
on the grounds
that it would "crowd" his building and block many views of it from
the west. He took
out a full-page
advertisement in yesterday's edition of The New York Times in which he
building "is THE iconic image of New York City's skyline" and that
"The City Planning Commission itself has held that a certain standard
be met in exchange for great height," adding that "Less than one year
ago a tower had 200 feet of height removed by the Commission because it
belong '...in the zone of the Empire State Building's iconic spire.'"
to an article in Architects Newspaper by
Matt Chaban, Vornado released a rendering, shown at the right, that
proposed tower, the Empire State Building and the Hudson Yards proposal
"to make the case that it is not the only project reshaping lower
David Greenbaum, the president
of Vornado, told the
subcommittee that "New York
as a city has to grow," the article said.
Mr. Malkin, the article
continued, told the subcommittee
that Vornado could achieve its goals with a shorter tower with
something in the 800- to 850-foot range.
subcommittee members expressed considerable ambivalence
about the project, wary about its size and impact on the skyline, but
noting the need to remain competitive with other financial centers
Leroy Comrie, the influential Queens
councilman who chairs the Land-Use Committee, told Mr. Malkin that
asking us to look at many things beyond this one project.” The article
that "His tone was severe, suggesting at once that such a policy was
needed, but also that he was neither prepared nor even interested in
formulating it at this point."
In an article in the August 24,
2010 edition of The New York Times,
Charles V. Bagli wrote that Councilman Comrie "posed a final
seemed to foretell how he would vote: 'Is New York City a snapshot
2010 to be held in perpetuity, or is New York City an evolving, dynamic
editorial in the August 24, 2010 edition of The New York Post said
"Should the New
skyline be forever - like a bug cast in amber?
Of course not"
editorial in the Augusts 24, 2010 edition of The New York Daily News
said that "since the invention of the electric elevator..., the city's
silhouette has been made and remade, with buildings gaining dominance
be overshadowed with the ascent of new attention-getters," adding "so
it is today, even for the grand old marvel of the Empire State."
of 15 Penn Plaza replacement for Hotel Pennsylvania
Land Use Committee of the City Council voted 19 to 1 August 25, 2010 to
approve a plan by Vornado Realty Trust to erect a very tall office
feet west of the Empire State Building, whose owner had argued it would
"ruin views of his iconic tower, and thus the city as a whole,"
according to an article by Matt Chaban at archpaper.com.
fact, the issue of the skyline barely even came up,
and when it did, the council members...essentially said New York
must build to remain great,"
the article continued.
Vornado showed up at Monday’s hearings without a
specific plan for how it would ensure a portion of the contractors on
project would be MWBEs [women- and minority-owned business
the article noted, "the committee members were displeased. Councilwoman
Letitia James asked if the company even had any sort of minority hiring
practices, to which the head of the New York Office, David Greenbaum,
that he was not sure but had had a party recently at which there were
women, and his wife asked which were employees and which were spouses
said, with a chuckle, that it was more of the former. James was not
proffered a last minute MWBE plan before
today’s vote," the article said, "calling for at least 15 percent of
all construction work to be done by MWBEs. Whether the project would
torpedoed without it is hard to say, but it did little to assuage
members complaints at the same time they overwhelmingly voted for the
James Saunders, one of the council’s lions on MWBE issues, made his
known. 'This is a tepid response to a need, a very tepid response,' he
the new MWBE plan. 'We can’t go on like this. That we even have to have
discussion shows that there needs to be some real dialogue here.'”
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg came out strongly in
favor of the Vornado scheme: “I don’t understand that. You know,
builds a building in New York City
changes its skyline. We don’t have to run around to every other owner
apologize. This is something that’s great for this city. Competition’s
wonderful thing. One guy owns a building. He’d like to have it be the
building. I’m sorry that’s not the real world, nor should it be.”
planned tower, which is known as 15 Penn Plaza, would
rise on the site of the Hotel Pennsylvania, which was designed by McKim
& White to be compatible with the firm's great Penn Station
that was demolished in the 1960s.
hotel occupies most of the western part of the block bounded by Seventh
and the Avenue of the Americas
and 32nd and 33rd Streets.
planned new tower has been designed by Pelli Clarke
Pelli, which designed the Beacon Tower for
which has many properties in and around the train
station, was seeking several zoning variances that would enable it to
almost double what the current zoning would allow for the site.
Landmarks Preservation Commission declined to designate
the handsome hotel as a landmark despite the fact that it and the
Hotel are the last vestiges in midtown of the very large and major
properties that were erected to accommodate train travelers.
Malkin, an owner of the Empire State Building,
campaigned against the granting of the wavers, declaring the proposed
a "monstrosity" and noting that recently the City Planning Commission
had ordered 200 feet "chopped" off the top of a proposed new tower
designed by Jean Nouvel adjacent to the Museum of Modern Art because it
infringed on the iconic skyline solitude of the Empire State Building
and it is
almost a mile further away from it than 15 Penn Plaza.
exchange for the gigantic increase in zoning for its
site, Vornado plans to reopen the "Gimbel's passageway" and install
subway entrances in the planned building, at an estimated cost of $100
should be based on land-use principles and not monetary value and,
anyway, $100 million is essentially peanuts when discussing a
1,200-foot-high office tower in midtown. The City Planning
Commission was completely wrong to "decapitate" Nouvel's slanted
skyscraper on the basis of its relationship with the top of the Empire
State Building but why hasn't the mayor severely criticized if not
fired Amanda Burden for such a preposterous rulilng.
the Pelli-Clarke-Pelli design of the proposed tower is horrible.
It is just a giant phallic symbol to glorify the city's total
dedication to money rather aesthetics. The aesthetic debate
this instance was unnecessary as the amount of zoning waivers and
variances here borders beyond the obscene. Normally a transit
improvement might warrant a 20 percent increase in FAR! (8/25/10)
article September 2, 2010 by former Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern
at huffingtonpost.com noted that the chair of Community Board 5 was not
by the August 26, 2010 vote of the City Council, 46 to 1, to approve
variances to permit Vornado Realty Trust to erect an office tower of
1,200 feet on the site of the Hotel Pennsylvania on Seventh Avenue
and 33rd Streets.
to Mr. Stern, the chair, Vikki Barbero, made the
following "penetrating comments::
ULURP process has ended and the Council has made
its final determination. We remain distressed and dismayed, however, by
level of discussion and debate both in the media and at the Council.
issue before the Council was not principally about
women and minority employment, as important as this issue continues to
all job areas. Yet, if you were present for the Council debate you
thought it was at the heart of the matter being voted on. The issue
Council was not about a battle between two major real estate
many press reports made it out.
issue before the Council was not about the need to
foster jobs during this bad economic climate, for even the developer
they won't be building for years to come. Yet, a number of our
leaders used that bogus argument as an excuse to support the project.
the issue before the Council was certainly not
about sticking it to the Empire State Building
because it failed to light up for Mother Teresa....
development should not be permitted to set a bad
precedent for the next, as we believe this one does by upzoning an
without a rationale and with limited resultant public benefit. A city
as ours, with so many competing interests, needs to thoughtfully and
inclusively plan for its future and not let one wealthy and powerful
override that process.
was the debate that was entirely missing this
week both in most of the media and, even worse, at the City Council. We
disheartened and discouraged by its absence."
Stern, who is president of New York Civic, declared in
his column that "Ms. Barbero is spot on," adding that "On this
one, the CPC was clearly in the tank, abandoning its customary
attention to size, taste and design in its eagerness to approve the
believe," he continued, "that what
happened in this case is a textbook example of unsound public policy,
favoritism to a particular extremely well-connected developer, and lack
regard for the future of the commercial neighborhood around Penn and
Stations.....This is a case of the city making an extraordinary gift,
worth hundreds of millions of dollars, to one of its richest and most
influential developers. It is a top-down decision, clearly made at City
and not by the Planning Commission, which should have been embarrassed
tricks they had to turn."
is commonplace," Mr. Stern concluded, "to
denounce the bungling, self-serving scoundrels of Albany,
who are a continuing embarrassment to the State of New York.
But what does one say for
municipal decision makers when their motive is not corrupt, but
reliance upon the paternal supposition that money knows best."
In an October 26, 2010 article in The New York Post, Steve Cuozzo wrote that "the restored Empire State Building lobby looks little like the tacky mess it
had long been, and the redesign - part of a $550 million renovation of the
iconic tower -- has gotten some deserved recognition. The Municipal Art Society just
blessed the new lobby with its 2010 MASterworks Best Historical
Restoration Award. After taking full managerial control of the
Empire State a few years ago, Tony Malkin's company restored the great interior to its 1930s
Art Deco vision. Among other improvements, a dropped ceiling with fluorescent
lights, installed in the 1960s, was axed and the original ceiling mural of a
celestial sky was recreated according to original documents and photos. (10/26/10)
In an October 26, 2010 article in The New York Post, Steve Cuozzo wrote that "t