EAST 57th STREET
Developer: Madison Equities
David Kenneth Specter
By Carter B. Horsley
One of the city's most daring and innovative
buildings, the 57-story Galleria was the city's first very complex
It includes a public galleria, 8 floors of
offices, a health club and 47 floors of condominium apartments
in a package that is as dramatic and elegant at its base as it
is awkward and strange at its top.
The centerpiece of the building is its 8-story atrium,
shown at the left, with its north and south cantilevered sides
and smaller atria on the sides. This space, which includes the
entrance to the building's commercial spaces, also was designed
to contain a restaurant and some boutiques. Despite the spectacularly
angled and very dramatic entrance, the space has never been very
The rakishly angled entrance on 57th Street,
shown above, was, and is, very daring and was a brilliant solution,
especially in such a rectilinear city as New York with its quite
rigid and conservative building codes and community activists.
The commercial entrance descends from the street
beneath the angled glass overhang and the entrance to the residential
portion of the tower is just to the east, but elevated and much
more formal with a richly colorful wall hanging and a terrace
that overlooks the tall space. Some of the atrium's hanging lights
should be motorized to move up and down randomly to create more
interesting and changing lighting. The space is quite cathedral-like
Many of the apartments were distinguished by
the city's first major use of "wintergarden" rooms that
basically were glass-enclosed, curved roof balconies that open
onto living rooms.
The unusual top of the tower was especially
designed as a 16,000-square foot quadruplex penthouse for Stewart
Mott, a General Motors heir with an interest in gardens, who eventually
decided against moving into the building.
The building's pre-Deconstructivist top is
strange, if not ugly. If it had smokestacks, it might look like
debris from a scuttled battleship with its flying bridges and
turrets. The look resulted from the complexity of Mott's layout.
Mott, whose landscaping demands required added
structural strengthening for the tower, subsequently did not move
into his spectacular dream penthouse. That added a bit of intrigue
to the midtown skyline, albeit with little deference to its noble
neighbor to the immediate west, the great Ritz Tower on Park Avenue
(see The City Review article), designed
by Emery Roth, and 135 East 57th Street, the concave office tower
with a tempietto in its plaza at the Lexington Avenue corner (see
The City Review article), a building
designed for Madison Equities by Kohn Pedersen Fox.
The apartment was eventually occupied, only
to be put back on the market without much success for quite a
long time. In late 1997, David Copperfield, the magician, bought
A fine feature of the building is that all
tenants have use of a very large roof terrace and entertaining
room, complete with fireplace, just beneath the penthouse. Several
of the upper floor apartments have large recessed balconies. The
wintergarden apartments are only on the south facade.
Because the tower portion of the building is
recessed deeply from 57th Street and because the site is wedged
between two other skyscrapers, the tall tower is not highly visible
from the street.
But if the busy top is awkward, the building's
base is one of the most spectacular and imaginative in the city's
The building's 57th Street frontage is scooped
inward within a handsome granite frame ribbed with boldly colored
steel ribs at a sharp angle that mirrors the large, angled skylight
that covers the building's cantilevered atrium that separates
the 57th Street entrances and offices from the residential tower
and health club that overlooks the atrium.
The 57th Street entrance is divided by a handsome
greenhouse. To the left of the separator is the entrance, down
a few stairs, to the through-block public galleria/atrium. To
the right is a small flight of stairs leading up to the very attractive
residential lobby, which is notable for its colorful wall hangings
and its balcony overlooking the building's centerpiece, the 8-story
atrium with its north and south cantilevered sides and two side-bay
This space, which was designed to contain a
restaurant and some boutiques has never been very successful despite
the stunning entrance that does not hint stylistically of the
interior. The asymmetrical interior is intriguing and original
and just misses being awkward. Deep ridges in the columns and
on the walls vigorously accentuate the scale although their purple
color is rather off-putting, but in keeping with this project's
adventurousness, which at the time was extraordinary.
A health club that straddles both the south
and north wings of the atrium overlooks the atrium as do the offices.
While this through-block building was infinitely
more interesting and innovative than its main competition at the
time of opening, the Olympic Tower
on Fifth Avenue and 50th Street, it was not as successful in large
part because the other project spent more on marketing and also
focused most of its promotion efforts at the international market
which was correct as the city was entering one of its worst fiscal
crises at a time while many foreign capitols were suffering from
The developers originally planned an office
tower for this site but that market softened dramatically and,
according to Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman
in their fine book, "New York 1960, Architecture and Urbanism
Between the Second World War and the Bicentennial and the Millennium"
(The Monacelli Press, 1995), the developers "entered into
negotiations with the city to develop a mixed-use facility."
"The city," the authors continued,
"was represented by Jaquelin Robertson, the architect and
urban designer who was head of the city's Office of Midtown Planning
and Development, and Walter McQuade, the architectural journalist
who was then serving as a member of the City Planning Commission.
The fifty-five-story Galleria, which usurped the Excelsior's status
as the city's tallest concrete-framed building, comprised a forty-seven
tower on an eight-story base....The tower, barely visible from
Fifty-Seventh Street, formed an important addition to the area's
skyline, particularly when viewed from uptown....In contrast to
Olympic Tower..., the city's other major legislated mixed-use
tower, the Galleria made all the right urbanistic moves. Not only
was it built out to the street line, it was also articulated into
functionally expressive components culminating in a dramatic skyline
The authors noted that the 90-foot-high atrium
was 60 feet higher than required by the city.
In retrospect, this was a heroic failure that
deserves great praise for its bold experimentation and incredible
complexity by New York standards, and ambition. In time, the residential
market improved and the building's worth was more appreciated
and its splendid location and unusual layouts and amenities have
made it popular.
This blockfront is one of the city's more interesting
because the three towers are so unrelated and major. This building,
however, deserves credit for placing its tower on the north part
of its site to minimize its impact on the great Ritz Tower and
its entrance creates a nice focal point on the block that permits
its neighbors to have a nice balance.