Larry Lederman/Empire State Realty Trust

A new book hopes to remind readers to look beyond buildings’ facades.

Interiors are landmarks, too.

After many demolitions took place across New York City—most notably McKim, Mead and White’s Penn Station in 1964—then-mayor Robert Wagner created the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965. Since then, the commission has been helping the five boroughs better maintain their history—a counterbalance to developers and architects eager to add their mark to the always-changing skyline.

But the authors of a new book would like to remind us that while the magic of New York’s architecture is often experienced from the street, many rewarding moments—as was the case for the old Penn Station—are behind its doors.

(Monacelli Press)

Judith Gura and Kate Wood’s Interior Landmarks: Treasures of New York ($60, Monacelli Press) uses the 50th anniversary of the Landmarks Law to tell the stories of the city’s greatest buildings from the inside.

Starting with City Hall (built in 1811) and finishing with the Ford Foundation Building (completed in 1967), the book showcases 47 of New York’s 117 public interiors that are designated as landmarks. The history and design behind each interior is explained alongside stunning photography, mostly by Larry Lederman.

Interior Landmarks grew out of Rescued, Restored, Reimagined: New York’s Landmark Interiors, an exhibit last spring at the New York School of Interior Design. Both the book and the show contemplate the challenges behind preserving these spaces without losing the integrity of the original design or limiting public access.

It’s the kind of struggle most often seen today in modernist buildings. Earlier this year, the Landmarks Commission rejected some of the proposed changes to the Four Seasons restaurant (opened in 1959), one of the spaces featured in Gura and Wood’s book. Current owner Aby Rosen is eager to bring in new chefs and a new concept into the restaurant—only the second ever landmarked in New York—once the Four Seasons’ lease expires in 2016.

Four Seasons Restaurant (Photo: © Larry Lederman)

The tower itself is a modernist masterpiece, housed inside the Seagram building designed by Mies van der Rohe and Phillip Johnson. The iconic restaurant garnered a number of testimonials opposing alterations in a May 19th Landmarks hearing. “When I listen to the testimony,” LPC chair, Meenakshi Srinivasan, said at the time, “I hear that this landmark is elevated to a level where any kind of intervention would be not in the name of preservation.” And, she continued, “There’s no rationale. The space could function perfectly well without these changes, so why do it?”

Although The New York Times referred to the LPC desicion as a “setback” for Rosen, he proceeded to tell the New Yorker a month later, “We can change everything. We got from Landmarks basically every approval that we wanted.”

A living, breathing city can neither afford to exist as a museum nor lose its past. And in a city that changes as fast as New York, Interior Landmarks is a reminder that a fight for the right balance is never done and always necessary.

Metropolitan Museum of Art (Photo: © Larry Lederman)
Radio City Music Hall (Photo: © Whitney Cox)
AT&T Long Distance Building (Photo: © Larry Lederman)
RCA Building (Photo: © Courtesy of Tishman Speyer)
Marine Air Terminal (Photo: © Larry Lederman)
Trans World Airlines Flight Center (Photo: The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey)

Top image (left to right): Tweed Courthouse (photo courtesy: Larry Lederman), Four Seasons Restaurant (photo courtesy: Larry Lederman), Empire State Building (photo courtesy: Empire State Realty Trust)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of a full parking lot with a double rainbow over it
    Transportation

    Parking Reform Will Save the City

    Cities that require builders to provide off-street parking trigger more traffic, sprawl, and housing unaffordability. But we can break the vicious cycle.   

  2. Life

    Dublin Is Changing, and Locals Hate It

    The recent loss of popular murals and local pubs is fueling a deeper angst over mass tourism, redevelopment and urban transformation in the Irish capital.

  3. A woman looks straight at camera with others people and trees in background.
    Equity

    Why Pittsburgh Is the Worst City for Black Women, in 6 Charts

    Pittsburgh is the worst place for black women to live in for just about every indicator of livability, says the city’s Gender Equity Commission.

  4. a map comparing the sizes of several cities
    Maps

    The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History

    From ancient Rome to modern Atlanta, the shape of cities has been defined by the technologies that allow commuters to get to work in about 30 minutes.

  5. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

×