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The historic art deco lobby of the McGraw-Hill building lies in pieces, but a crucial historic preservation lawsuit now in NY State Supreme Court could force the building’s owners to make a complete restoration. A court date has been set for the end of this week.
In early March, the building owners, Deco Towers Associates LLC (DTA), told Senator Brad Hoylman that the interior at 330 W42nd Street had been demolished. Hoylman said at the time: “Today, I learned that the historic art deco lobby at the McGraw Hill Building on 42nd Street was demolished under the cover of darkness.” The senator went on to condemn the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission for failing to protect the lobby from demolition, calling them “feckless”.
But last night, Theodore Grunewald (who has formed the Alliance to Save the McGraw Hill Lobby with Thomas Collins) told us that “Humpty Dumpty can be pieced back together again!”
At the end of March, Justice Eileen Rakower ordered that all elements of the 1933 lobby which had been removed should be stored and protected. Justice Rakower also ordered that the two “bookends” of horizontal banding that are still in situ in the lobby should be kept in place and protected. The “bookends’ of original banding protected by painted plywood can be seen in the pictures submitted to the court.
Grunewald explained the construction of the lobby as being like “an Erector Set, much like a child’s construction set.” The lobby was built as a kit-of-parts — with demountable architectural elements include the polished chrome trim, doors, radiators, clock, directory, and its vivid, emerald-green porcelain enamel panels. “The judge’s action to preserve all these pieces offers a genuine opportunity for reinstatement. It’s not like plaster that’s been crushed. It’s easily assembled, disassembled and reconstructed. It is put together with nuts and bolts,” said Grunewald. “It’s not gone, just in pieces.”
Ayn Rand described the Art Deco Tower as “the most beautiful building in New York City.” The landmark has also been labeled the “Green Kremlin” and an “ugly green elephant.”
The 35-story building at 330 W42nd Street was completed for publishing giant McGraw-Hill in 1932, the same year as the Empire State Building. It was the creation of architectural “bad boy” Raymond Hood, who rose to fame after winning a competition to create the Chicago Tribune Tower. As well as 330 W42nd Street, he designed other New York skyscrapers including the Daily News Building and the RCA building at Rockefeller Center.
It was the first home of Marvel Comics (which started on the 10th Floor under the name Timely Publications). The 17th Floor was where W42ST magazine launched in 2014. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Fred Papert ran the 42nd Development Corporation from the 17th floor — helping to save Grand Central Terminal from demolition and transform Times Square.
In 1978, Papert, who was also President of the Municipal Art Society, described the lobby to New York Magazine as “flashy and gorgeous, bright gold and silver and green. If Fred Astaire had worked in an office building, this would have been the one.”
The draft designs for the new lobby of the Art Deco Tower shown by MdeAS have been deeply criticized.
“The intact 1931 lobby, with the addition of sympathetic lighting fixtures added in the 1980s, is an astonishing polychromatic emerald city extravaganza. It ranks as one of New York city’s finest art deco lobbies, together with the Film Center and the Chrysler building. It is considered one of the very finest examples of art deco in the world,” said Grunewald. He went on to describe the replacement as “a misguided minimalist Apple-Store-style ‘modernization’.”
Senator Hoylman was one of the last people to record the interior, when he made a video appeal via Twitter. The Art Deco Society of New York created a petition that was signed by over 4,000 people from around the world.
In the run-up to the demolition, those concerned were reassured by Jean-Daniel Noland at Manhattan Community Board 4 (MCB4) that the owners were engaging with local elected officials. “I can report that there will be a meeting with Senator Holman, Corey Johnson and State Assembly member Dick Gottfried, with the owners of the building, and some members of the community board, to discuss the lobby going forward.” MCB4 had previously said that gutting the McGraw-Hill lobby would be “a monumental loss for one of New York City’s architectural treasures”.
The Alliance and the Deco Towers owners are scheduled to appear in the New York Supreme Court this Friday (September 10) for another hearing to decide the fate of the lobby.
The Real Deal reported in 2018 that DTA LLC is an investment and management firm that bought the building in 1994. Alex Schwartz — an investor who manages several Philadelphia properties through ASI Management — is the managing member and at that time the ownership included Panama-based entity Rozzi Business and Belize-based entity Massira Properties. We reached out for a comment from DTA LLC but had not received a response before publication.