Interior of Modernist bank building landmarked

Image: Courtesy LPC

First- and second-floor interiors of four-story Manufacturers Trust Company Building designated. On February 15, 2011, Landmarks designated, as an interior landmark, the first two floors of the Manufacturers Trust Company Building at 510 Fifth Avenue in Midtown, Manhattan. Landmarks designated the former bank building’s fourstory glass and aluminum exterior as an individual City landmark in 1997. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill designed the Modernist structure, which opened as a bank in 1954, under the direction of partner Gordon Bunshaft, who also designed the landmarked Lever House. The firm did not have an interior design division at the time so outside consultant Eleanor H. Le Maire was largely responsible for the building’s interior. Landmarks’ staff described the building as “arguably Manhattan’s single most transparent structure,” revealing an open, minimalist interior with a luminous ceiling, white marble piers, and freestanding escalators.

The interior designation includes the building’s former lobby and banking room, the escalators, and the ground floor vault door. The mezzanine is recessed from the street, giving it a floating appearance. The circular stainless steel vault door, in contrast with most banks, was in plain view of customers and passers-by along Fifth Avenue. The industrial designer Harry Dreyfus collaborated with the Mosler Safe Company to design the 30-ton vault. A 70-foot steel wall installation by sculptor Harry Bertoia on the second floor was removed by the building’s former tenant, J.P. Morgan Chase.

At Landmarks’ February 1 public hearing, attorney Meredith Kane testified on behalf of the building’s owner, Vornado Realty Trust. Kane said that Vornado was supportive of designation, but planned to repurpose and reuse the building. According to Kane, in mid-March Vornado would seek approval to carry out “sensitive interventions” in consultation with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to convert the building to an appropriate and viable retail space.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill managing partner T.J. Gottesdiener spoke in support of designation, calling the building a “great legacy” in the firm’s history. Gottesdiener noted that it would be one of the few Modernist works to have its interior landmarked. Proponents of designation included representatives of Docomomo, the Municipal Arts Society, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

At the February 15 meeting, the Commissioners expressed strong support for designation. Commissioner Fred Bland stated that the building’s exterior was “inconceivable without the interior retaining its principal characteristics,” and he hoped that the planned adaptive reuse of the structure retained the “spirit of the building.” Commissioner Michael Goldblum described the relationship of the building’s interior and exterior as “a jewel in a case,” and he said Landmarks’ challenge would be to ensure that any adaptive reuse preserved that effect.

LPC: Manufacturers Trust Company Building, First and Second Floor Interiors, 510 Fifth Ave., Manhattan (LP-24670) (Feb. 15, 2011).

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