Preservationists and locals are fighting to save the lobby of the landmarked Art Deco Tower at 330 W42nd Street, also known as the McGraw-Hill Building. Although the building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1989, the lobby is not part of that designation.
Ayn Rand described it as “the most beautiful building in New York City.” It’s called the Art Deco Tower – but this landmark has also been labeled the “Green Kremlin” and an “ugly green elephant.”
The 35-story building at 330 W42nd Street was completed in 1932, the same year as the Empire State Building, for publishing giant McGraw-Hill.
The building 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.
The blue-green was said to be McGraw’s own choice. Hood himself called it plain blue. McGraw-Hill always called it terra cotta green. The New Yorker, meanwhile, described it as “a rather dispiriting grayish-green tile.” The color scheme carried through to the interior. The entrance lobby was finished in sheet steel bands enameled dark blue and green alternately, separated by metal tubes finished in silver and gold. In the early days, the elevator operators wore green uniforms with silver stripes.
It was the first home of Marvel Comics (starting 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, Fred 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.” Now that lobby is under threat.
In plans presented by architects MdeAS to the Land Use Committee of Manhattan Community Board 4 (MCB4) and the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission (NYCLPC), there was little mention of the lobby. At the MCB4 meeting, the most contentious issue was the name. The Hood building had McGraw-Hill as an integral part of the crown (the top of the building), and the architects wanted to change it to say 330 W42nd Street. The committee was strong in their opposition to that change, many citing it as a landmark on the Hell’s Kitchen skyline. By this month, the architects had “talked to their clients” and agreed the name would remain.
After the presentation at the NYCLPC meeting, in the public session, there was an outrcy about the lobby.
Lloyd Bergenson had gained pictures of the MdeAS draft designs for the lobby — and now the fight is on for the NYCLPC to call an emergency meeting to give the lobby landmark status and stop the demolition.
Theodore Grunewald pleaded with the committee to hold an emergency meeting. “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,” he said.
“I’m very alarmed over the fate of the McGraw-Hill building’s lobby. Based on what I see in the presentation and in renderings on the architect’s website, it really does look like a substantial portion of the interior lobby will be demolished. If this is true, this would be a huge loss for the architectural heritage of the city,” said Thomas Collins. “Raymond Hood’s lobby is really one of the most exceptional streamline modern interiors. The demolition of an interior of this stature ought to serve as a wake up call.”
The Art Deco Society of New York has launched a petition. Meghan Weatherby, the organization’s Executive Director, said: “We consider the McGraw-Hill building a major monument of early modernism. Although the building is not a designated interior landmark, and although its ceiling has been altered, its walls bear an unmistakable resemblance to the building’s iconic exterior; the alternating blue and green steel band separated by the silver and gold-colored metal tubes at the main entrance are seamlessly carried into the lobby. We hope NYCLPC will encourage the applicants to devote the same level of care into preserving the lobby’s exceptional art deco detailing — so clearly a continuation of the building’s outside — as the owner has shown in the proposal for the exterior.”