Chase Plaza, Silver Towers get hearing

Chase Manhattan Plaza and NYU’s Silver Towers considered as City Landmarks. On June 24, 2008, Landmarks heard testimony on the potential designation of two iconic modernist sites, 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza in Lower Manhattan, and University Village in Greenwich Village.

Chase Plaza includes a tower office building, designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore Owings and Merrill, and a plaza, featuring a sunken Japanese rock garden and a sculpture by Jean Dubuffet. The entire complex occupies two-and-a half-acres and necessitated the demapping of a portion of Cedar Street. Built between 1957 and 1961 in the International Style, the 60- floor glass and aluminum tower is a result of David Rockefeller’s commitment to Lower Manhattan when financial firms were migrating to Midtown. A representative from JP Morgan Chase, which still owns the property, stated that the company was proud that Landmarks was considering the property.

Representatives for Council Member Alan Gerson and Representative Jerrold Nadler also read statements in support of designation, while preservationists lauded the Commission for undertaking reviews of significant post- World War II buildings. One architectural historian, testifying in support of designation, called Chase one of the City’s “most articulate and refined essays on the post-war skyscraper.”

Also in the International Style, University Village, known as the Silver Towers, were designed by I.M. Pei for New York University as part of a Robert Moses-sponsored urban renewal project, and built in the mid 1960s. 5 CityLand 32 (Mar. 15, 2008). Council Member Alan Gerson called the towers a “unique treasure” and urged an “expeditious vote” on designation. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer also testified in support, but added that any further development plans “must emphasize the basic elements of liveable neighborhoods.” Representatives for State Senator Thomas Duane, Representative Jerrold Nadler and Assembly member Deborah Glick also read letters in support.

NYU’s Lynne Brown testified that the university supported landmarking, but added that NYU had recently acquired land occupied by the adjacent supermarket and intended to build a fourth tower on the site. Architects and planners from NYU gave an impromptu presentation of the development plan, which they claimed “would better compliment the Pei towers” and make for a “natural completion of the pinwheel” formed by the existing buildings. Preservationists and community members responded to NYU’s plan by suggesting that Landmarks designate the entire superblock, rather than just the towers and plaza, as proposed. Andrew Berman, of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, testified that another tower would destroy “the delicate balance” of the site, while Lauren Tucker of Docomomo, who called the towers “a perfect example of Pei’s structural expressionism,” stated that the area was large enough to accommodate further development, but the superblock should be designated so that any development would be appropriate.

The hearings were closed without comments from commissioners.

LPC: 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza, Manhattan (LP-2294); New York University Silver Towers, 106-122 Bleecker St., Manhattan (LP-2300) (June 24, 2008).


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