Landmarks are inherently part of a city’s culture. Even when they’re privately owned, the community, and sometimes the world, feels invested in the future of a building. Without them, there’s a void.
The Four Seasons restaurant has been part of New York City’s culture since 1959. But internal struggles threaten its future, which could mean that nothing will ever be the same at 99 East 52nd Street again.
Landmark Protection is Just One Problem that the Four Seasons Faces
The Four Seasons isn’t just any restaurant. Situated in Midtown Manhattan, it’s a giant among many in the city. It was the first in America to offer fresh menus for each season – hence its name – and its clientele are the rich, powerful, and influential.
It achieved “interior landmark” status in 1989, according to Architectural Record, with a designation by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. And that’s where the problems begin, the same that many historically important pieces of real estate face. Times change. But ownership can take a backseat to the needs of a community. And The Four Seasons has not one, but two owners to deal with.
A Rift Between Owners Might Go Unresolved
The Seagram Building in Manhattan is home to the Four Seasons. Aby Rosen owns the Seagram building, but not the Four Seasons, which sits in rented space. Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder own both the Four Seasons name and logo.
The problems began with Rosen’s plans for sweeping interior renovations. But those spaces are protected by the preservation commission. Rosen’s architects proposed redesigning the lower level coat check lobby, glass-walled wine cellar, removal of the upper portion of wood panels on the mezzanine, and removal of the cracked-glass and bronze partition, according to Arch Record. He also wanted to triple the Four Seasons’ rent.
Renovations are Off the Table, but the Problems Remain
Because the interiors are protected, Rosen’s plans were submitted for approval. And after considerable negotiations, many of the proposed changes were nixed. Removal of the wood panels, cracked glass and bronze partition were on the table until May 19, when the preservation commission rejected the alterations. The only substantial agreement was a change in carpet color.
But this still leaves the strained relationship between the building owner and the owners of the Four Seasons. They probably won’t reach a compromise, if Rosen stands by the assertion that he doesn’t want to continue the business arrangement once their lease expires in 2016.
Two Manhattan Icons May Never Be the Same
That situation creates a rather large gap in New York City’s architectural and cultural history. The Seagram will obviously remain, as will the space where the Four Seasons now resides. And the interiors will likely look much the same for many years to come.
The Four Seasons will also survive, since its owners can relocate. But would a Four Seasons restaurant be the same anywhere besides 99 East 52nd Street? And could the Seagram Building be the same without one of its most famous tenants? Probably not.
Architects are uniquely positioned to preserve what’s important. Although there might be varying opinions on what deserves it and what doesn’t, the goal is to provide what’s best for a building and the community that it serves.
That’s why continuing education is vital to an architect’s career. The more that you learn about the importance of preservation and the means to carry it off, the more relevant you are as a professional. Check out our courses when your next professional development hours are due.
Americasroof at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Mizzvizz9 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons