N.Y. bank building declared landmark

Bank of New York at 1 Wall St. called art deco masterpiece

April 09, 2001|By David W. Dunlap | David W. Dunlap,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - If the New York skyline has a triumvirate of great art deco contemporaries, it might be said to range from the Empire State Building to the Chrysler Building to the almost anonymous 1 Wall St., the Bank of New York.

Instead of jaunty design gestures, the 50-story bank tower is subtly clad in a wall that resembles a curtain: limestone with concave facets like billowing ripples in a vast expanse of fabric.

"It doesn't have the immediate pizazz of Chrysler or Empire State," allowed Jennifer J. Raab, chairwoman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. "It takes more subtle appreciation. But once you fall in love with it, you're in love forever."

Her fellow commissioners evidently agreed. They recently designated the 70-year-old tower as a landmark - and as "one of New York City's most extraordinary art deco masterpieces."

The bank supported the designation of its headquarters, which is in the middle of a $50 million renovation. "We recognize its uniqueness and its qualities," said Thaddeus S. Logan III, a vice president. The Bank of New York moved its headquarters from 48 Wall St. to 1 Wall St. in 1998, 10 years after acquiring Irving Trust Co., for which No. 1 was originally built.

Ralph Walker and Perry Coke Smith of Voorhees, Gmelin & Walker were the architects.

At Irving Trust, "structure became an unseen prop for poetry," Robert A.M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins wrote in "New York 1930" (Rizzoli, 1987). "The steel frame was draped outside with rippling curtains of stone and, in the major rooms of the interiors, with hanging tapestries of mosaic." A 1965 addition by the successor firm Voorhees, Walker, Smith, Smith & Haines (now HLW International) was not designated.

Far more conspicuously undesignated is the former reception lobby on the main floor, now used as office space and known - with good reason - as the Red Room. Here, 1 Wall St. sheds its restraint.

The Red Room is a glittering, vaulted grotto whose walls and ceilings are slathered in 8,911 square feet of mosaics that create an ambient color of blood orange, inscribed with a skein of gold highlights.

The artist Hildreth Meiere coordinated the installation of the mosaics, which were made by Ravenna Mosaics in Berlin and Long Island City.

To qualify as an interior landmark, however, a space must be customarily accessible to the public. A recent visitor was given a flier about the room by a guard who said cordially, "Admire it as much as you want." But Logan noted that while the public was admitted on occasion, the room, which serves the private banking division, was closed at the bank's discretion.

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