A W42nd Street landmark is getting a hotly contested makeover that would allow New Yorkers to live in the building that saw the birth of Marvel Comics. Plans for the McGraw-Hill Building and its historic Art Deco façade — a Hell’s Kitchen icon of the early 20th-century architectural renaissance — went up for review by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (NYCLPC) Tuesday, as owners prepare to transform it into a mixed-used tower by turning 23 floors of offices into apartments.
Should the redesign be finalized, the building could be one of many vacant Midtown office buildings slated for revival as mixed-use “live-work-play” spaces. Owner Deco Tower Associates wants to switch from office space to a mixed-use format, with market-rent apartments on the 12th to the 32nd floors and offices on the lower floors, according to the New York Times.
“It’s perfectly suited to a conversion,” Gerard Nocera of Resolution Real Estate, the owner’s representative told the New York Post. “It is the first skyscraper built horizontally for light and air. We are looking at the conversion of the 11th through 32nd floor for apartments and above that, two floors of residential amenities.”
The McGraw-Hill building has been called “the most beautiful building in New York,” in part for the colorful Art Deco banding around the lower floors. Designed by Raymond Hood for the publishing giant McGraw-Hill and finished in 1932, the building was the 1939 birthplace of Marvel Comics, then known as Timely Publications — and even served as W42ST’s first magazine offices. Advocates argue that the former pensions office now slated to become a mixed-use residential and commercial building, has already suffered enough damage when its historical, but not landmarked, lobby was demolished in 2021.
The signature green interior was torn down in February 2021 despite petitions, stop work orders, a lawsuit and protests from advocates and leaders like legislator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who said at the time: “Simply put, the feckless Landmarks and Preservation Commission has failed future generations of New Yorkers who could have enjoyed this emblematic Art Deco design. The historic lobby of the McGraw-Hill building was demolished, apparently under the cover of darkness, with no public notice — and our city has been robbed of another historic and architecturally-significant interior landmark.”
On Tuesday NYCLPC meeting discussed the latest redesign proposal from Deco Tower Associates. They already have approval to restore the art deco first-floor exterior with marginal modifications to the landmarked exterior, but on Tuesday proposed:
• Modifying the existing main entry to make it the residential entrance, increasing the door height, and adding a marquee
• Restoring the McGraw-Hill signage over the residential entrance
• Creating a new commercial entrance in one of the existing storefront bays with 330 as the address
The changes, modified from the original proposal to Manhattan Community Board 4, would straddle the line between restoring some of the historic, Hood-designed features from the original 1932 architecture at 330 W42nd Street, particularly the McGraw-Hill sign, and adding new elements by installing a canopy marquee over the building’s new residential entrance.
Public commenters on Tuesday’s meeting largely opposed the new canopy design and asked for the commission to refuse permission. George Calderaro of the Art Deco Society of New York noted that the McGraw-Hill building “isn’t just an average 1930 office building, it is the only New York office building singled out for the influential International Architecture Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, which gave birth to the phrase ‘International Style.’” He added: “In general, the current plan seems to be an improvement for the building and should be applauded — that exception is the canopy. It’s not just that the entrance didn’t originally have a canopy, which it didn’t, it’s that the canopy is effectively the opposite of the entrance design.”
Lucy Levine of the Historic Districts Council said, “The proposed canopy violates Raymond Hood’s design intent by disrupting the speed lines and sense of inward flow that make this entrance so dynamic.”
Theodore Grunewald, organizer of the Alliance to Save the McGraw-Hill Lobby told the NYCLPC that he largely supported the updated measures but added: “As an expert on this building, I’ve urged the commission to reject, not revisit, the wholly inappropriate residential canopy. This project’s repositioning offers only one opportunity to do the right thing and put Raymond Hood’s back together again with integrity.”
After discussing the Deco Towers Associates design, the NYCLPC board voted to move forward their proposal, with the caveat that the canopy be revisited as to “not call attention to itself or detract from the composition of the ground floor,” said Chair Sarah Carroll.
Advocates still are still fighting to put the lobby back together again, and though the lobby’s design was not part of the NYCPLC’s application review, many preservationists, including Grunewald, pleaded for a restoration consistent with the building’s historic exterior.
“If the marketing team prevails, and the new lobby ends up as a another white box with accents like in every other luxury condo in town, the repositioning will certainly fail as prospective tenants will find hundreds of other identical apartments with bland lobbies in far better neighborhoods than 42nd Street,” said Grunewald. “The Alliance urges the owner and architect to do the right thing and restore this extraordinary lobby.”