The Case of 2 Columbus Circle

Conceived of as the home of the Huntington Hartford’s Gallery of Modern Art and completed in 1964, the 9-story building at 2 Columbus Circle by Edward Durell Stone (d. 1978) now stands vacant, as it has been since 1998. Its unique design is now threatened by a planned “renovation”, based upon the plans of architect Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture (in collaboration with Gary Edward Handel & Associates), which would destroy the appearance of the building, redesigning the interior and replacing the alternately admired and disparaged marble facade.

2005-07-20 - 2 Columbus Circle Gallery of Modern Art Edward Durrell Stone

Gallery of Contemporary Art, 2 Columbus Circle, Location: New York NY, Architect: Edward D Stone

There has been an effort underway to fight for landmark status for the building, thus protecting it from renovation projects like that currently planned by the Museum of Arts and Design (formerly the American Craft Museum), which arranged to purchase the building for $17 million from the city, which had since acquired the building. The charge has been championed by many organizations, including Landmark West!, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (which named it one of the 11 Most Endangered Places for 2004), the Historic Districts Council, Docomomo and The Preservation League of New York State (which named it among its 2003 Seven to Save). The battle shortly after the building met its age requirement to be considered for landmark status, though the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has declined to grant it, rendering that decision in 1996.

With demolition set to begin in the fall, the organizations and individuals (notably the architect Robert A. M. Stern) fighting for the building’s preservation have stepped up their efforts. On 27 May 2005, Landmark West! filed one of a handful of lawsuits against several parties, including the chair of Landmarks Preservation Commission, Robert Tierney, and the Museum of Arts and Design. Landmark West! accused them of “conspiracy to obstruct and subvert the lawful functioning of New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission,” the result of which has been the apparently inexplicable refusal on the part of the Commission to hold a hearing on the matter. Nevertheless, the work permits required for the project was granted in late June. On 11 July, a letter was sent on behalf of seven concerned organizations to Mayor Bloomberg, petitioning him, without success, to support their call for a hearing. The negative result is not surprising, considering that Bloomberg himself appointed Tierney and has had close ties to the museum. This was followed up by a “People’s Meeting” on the 14th of July at the General Society for Mechanics and Tradesman Library.

Although the fight is not over, those who stand on the side of preservation have met with little success thusfar. Regardless of the end result, it is only just that the case of those who feel that the building merits landmark status, and the protection it would guarantee, be heard.