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2 Columbus Circle
2 Columbus Circle, a building in New York
The original design of the Edward Durell Stone building named 2 Columbus Circle.
General information
Status Open
Type Mixed-use
Address 2 Columbus Circle
New York, NY 10019
Town or city New York City
Country United States
Coordinates 40°46′02.5″N 73°58′55″W / 40.767361°N 73.98194°W / 40.767361; -73.98194
Current tenants Museum of Arts and Design
Opened 1964
Renovated 2005
Landlord Museum of Arts and Design
Design and construction
Architect Edward Durell Stone
Brad Cloepfil (new facade)
Structural engineer Cosentini Associates
Museum of Arts and Design crop
2 Columbus Circle with its new facade, February 2011

2 Columbus Circle is a 12-story building located on a small trapezoidal lot on the south side of Columbus Circle on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City. Bordered by 58th Street, 59th Street, Broadway, and Eighth Avenue, it stands on the site of the former seven-story Grand Circle Hotel. It opened in 1964, after A&P heir Huntington Hartford hired architect Edward Durell Stone to build a museum for him at the site. Controversy was sparked in 2002 after the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) purchased the building and planned to significantly alter its design, including modifying its facade. Calls had been made since 1996 for the building to be landmarked, so its proposed landmark status was brought into question with this renovation. The renovations were completed in 2008.

History

Early history and site, pre-renovation

The seven-story Grand Circle Hotel, designed by William H. Cauvet, stood at this address from 1874; later called the Boulevard Hotel, it was demolished in 1960.

In 1964, A&P heir Huntington Hartford hired architect Edward Durell Stone to build a museum for him at 2 Columbus Circle. At the time Hartford had one of the world's greatest art collections, including works by Rembrandt, Monet, Manet, Turner, and Salvador Dalí. Hartford commissioned Dalí to paint a painting called The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus for the opening, which attracted many celebrities, such as the Duke of Windsor. 2 Columbus Circle opened as the Gallery of Modern Art, displaying Hartford's collection. Until 2005, the building was a 12-story modernist structure, marble-clad with Venetian motifs and a curved façade. It had filigree-like portholes and windows that ran along an upper loggia at its top stories. With architect Philip L. Goodwin, Stone had previously designed the Museum of Modern Art in the International style, which opened to the public on May 10, 1939. Hartford wanted his Gallery of Modern Art to represent an alternative view of modernism.

The building was often called "The Lollipop Building" in reference to a mocking review by architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable in which she called it a "die-cut Venetian palazzo on lollipops". However, three decades later she admitted that she got "a little lift, a sense of pleasure" when she walked past it. Nonetheless, Huxtable took issue with the campaign to save the building, writing in The Wall Street Journal that: "It was an unworthy performance that did little credit to anyone who cares about preservation and can only serve as an object lesson of how not to go about it."

The Gallery of Modern Art closed by 1969. Fairleigh Dickinson University received 2 Columbus Circle as a gift from Hartford and operated it as the New York Cultural Center, where art exhibitions were sometimes hosted. Six years later, Gulf and Western Industries purchased 2 Columbus Circle. In exchange for tax breaks, Sumner Redstone got a clause that Hartford had, which said that the building could never be renovated or destroyed. The building went unused until 1980, when Gulf and Western presented 2 Columbus Circle to the City of New York as a gift. The City of New York accepted 2 Columbus Circle and installed the headquarters for the Department of Cultural Affairs. The New York Convention and Visitors Bureau also began to be housed in 2 Columbus Circle.

Museum of Arts and Design renovation

The Museum of Arts and Design, now at 2 Columbus Circle, was founded in 1956 by the American Craft Council together with philanthropist Aileen Osborn Webb, as the Museum of Contemporary Crafts. It relocated to 40 West 53rd Street in 1986, and was renamed the American Craft Museum. In 2002, it changed its name again to the Museum of Arts and Design.

Concurrently, interest in landmarking this building had begun in 1996, soon after the building turned thirty years old and became eligible for landmark designation. In this year, Robert A. M. Stern included it in his article "A Preservationist's List of 35 Modern Landmarks-in-Waiting" written for The New York Times. Stone's design at 2 Columbus Circle was listed as one of the World Monuments Fund's "100 most endangered sites" in 2006. The same year, Jennifer Raab, Chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, reviewed with the Designation Committee of the Commission the possibility of recommending a hearing on 2 Columbus Circle. In 1998, the Department of Cultural Affairs and the Convention and Visitors Bureau vacated 2 Columbus Circle, and in 2002, under Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Sherida Paulsen, the Designation Committee reviewed the request to hold a hearing and again voted not to. MAD was designated as the site developer of 2 Columbus Circle by the New York City Economic Development Corporation in June 2002. In 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation called it one of America's "11 Most Endangered Historic Places". Despite a serious preservation effort, the New York City Department of Buildings approved the permit for MAD to begin removing 2 Columbus Circle's facade.

By the end of renovations in 2008, the museum moved to this building. The new location at 2 Columbus Circle, with more than 54,000 square feet (5,000 m2), more than tripled the size of the Museum's former space. It includes four floors of exhibition galleries for works by established and emerging artists; a 150-seat auditorium in which the museum plans to feature lectures, films, and performances; and a restaurant. It also includes a Center for the Study of Jewelry, and an Education Center that offers multi-media access to primary source material, hands-on classrooms for students, and three artists-in-residence studios.

Timeline of attempts at preservation

  • November 2003 – The Preservation League of New York State listed 2 Columbus Circle among its "Seven to Save" sites, prompting artist Chuck Close to write, "I have always enjoyed this distinctive and delightful building with its opaque white facades and punched out hole windows."
  • December 2003 – Then chief New York Times architect Herbert Muschamp cited the failure of the Landmarks Commission to hold a hearing on 2 Columbus Circle one of the architectural "Lows" of 2003, writing, "The refusal of the New York City Landmarks Commission to hold hearings on the future of 2 Columbus Circle is a shocking dereliction of public duty. Unacceptable in itself, this abdication also raises the scary question of what other buildings the commission might choose to overlook in the future."
  • May 2004 – The National Trust for Historic Preservation named 2 Columbus Circle as one of America's 11 "most endangered" buildings, stating, "Radically altering 2 Columbus Circle would create a gaping void in the record of design and urbanism in the city, state, nation, and world."
  • August 2004 – Former Landmarks Commissioner Anthony M. Tung wrote a letter to Landmarks Commission Chair Robert B. Tierney, stating, "Simply, in the twenty-six years of my involvement in preservation matters, beginning with my appointment as a commissioner by Mayor Edward I. Koch in 1979, I have never seen the commission turn its back on such a widely supported and substantive argument for a hearing."
  • September 2004 – Former Landmarks Commission Chair Beverly Moss Spatt wrote in a letter to current Chair Tierney that "a public hearing on 2 Columbus Circle is necessary to afford space and opportunity to hear from all sides whether it is not or is worthy of designation ... Good government is that government in which all people have a part."
  • March 2005 – An article entitled, "In Preservation Wars, a Focus on Midcentury," featured quotes from Robert A. M. Stern ("The commission ought to hear the arguments and let them be debated in a public forum – that's democracy.") Modern Architecture Working Group co-chair John Jurayj ("Modern preservation is in a major crisis in our city, a crisis that is shortly going to get worse unless the Landmarks Preservation Commission starts to act more aggressively.") and Landmark West! Executive Director Kate Wood ("If the Landmarks Commission held a public hearing for 2 Columbus Circle, literally hundreds of people would attend and testify – both for and against designation. The question is, what more will it take?")
  • May 2005 – The New York Times reported: "Not to preserve [2 Columbus Circle] is shocking, but not to hear it is criminal," said architect and Yale Dean Robert A. M. Stern to fellow panelist Robert B. Tierney, Chair of the New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), at the 92nd Street Y. On the same subject, Crain's New York Business reported: "The battle between preservationists and the city over 2 Columbus Circle is about to get noisy again". Then, Landmark West! hired The Advance Group, the consultants behind the successful "Save the Plaza Hotel" campaign, to help convince the Bloomberg Administration to hold a landmark designation hearing on 2 Columbus Circle. At a May 16 City Council oversight hearing on the Landmarks Preservation Commission (only the third in the forty-year history of the agency), former Landmarks Commission Chair Gene A. Norman called on current Chair Tierney to hold a hearing on 2 Columbus Circle, arguing that "if people are preventing things from moving in a forward direction, they should be replaced." Afterward, Nicolai Ouroussoff, chief architecture critic of The New York Times, wrote, "Representing a pivotal moment in architecture's eventual turn from mainstream Modernism, the Stone building's modest scale and concave facade are a gentle counterpoint to the new Time Warner Center's bland gigantism. Even so, the [Landmark's Preservation] commission declines to debate whether it deserves landmark status. Additionally, "Architecture Lovers Rally to Save 2 Columbus Circle" became the headline of an NY1 news report following a May 31 demonstration in front of the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD, formerly the American Craft Museum). Then, Landmark West! filed an Article 78 lawsuit against LPC Chair Robert B. Tierney, MAD and its affiliates Laurie Beckelman, Holly Hotchner, and Jerome Chazen for "conspiracy to obstruct and subvert the lawful functioning of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission." Holly Hotchner won the right to go ahead with her Portland architect for removing the outside of 2 Columbus Circle using the lawyer Charles Moerdler from Stroock Stroock and Lavan Law Firm.
  • June 2005 – Supporters of a public hearing for Edward Durell Stone's iconic 1964 design join hands in a "circle of support" all the way around the building's famous "lollipop" base at a rally on June 23. Then, the World Monuments Fund (WMF) included 2 Columbus Circle on its 2006 "Watch List" of the 100 Most Endangered Sites on earth. WMF's website (www.wmf.org) states, "The listing of 2 Columbus Circle highlights the widespread failure of public authorities to recognize the architectural merit of postwar buildings and sites as part of our collective cultural heritage." The New York Times, New York magazine, and the Architect's Newspaper reported on "chummy" e-mail exchanges between NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission chair Robert Tierney and Laurie Beckelman, a representative from the Museum of Arts and Design soon after. Their relationship was described as a "conflict of interest" and "easily lead one to think that Tierney ... is in cahoots with MAD." In one e-mail, Tierney tells Beckelman, "Let me know how I can help on the trouble ahead." The e-mails were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Landmarks West!
  • July 2005 – The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, announced in a letter to Landmarks West! that 2 Columbus Circle "does appear to meet the eligibility criteria for listing on the State and National Registers of Historic Places." The State is reviewing the building's eligibility under criterion "C" for sites that "embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values ..." The New York City Law Department then committed to a New York Supreme Court justice that the City "will neither close on the sale [of 2 Columbus Circle] nor authorize work under any existing building permits prior to either September 7, 2005" or the date of a court decision in the matter of Landmark West! et al. v. City of New York (one of three still-pending lawsuits brought by LW! and other citizens to prevent the defacement of 2 Columbus Circle without due process).
  • August 2005 – The New York Times reported in an article titled "Unanimity on a Building Is a Façade, Insiders Say": "The debate over whether 2 Columbus Circle merits consideration as an official landmark is playing out on the Landmarks Preservation Commission itself. A letter from Landmarks Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz to the editor of the Times "suggested that at least some of the 11 commissioners favor a public hearing, as did telephone interviews yesterday with several members."
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