A New York Cultural Institution Under Threat of Demolition
I seldom resort to expressions like this (without a smile), but I think it’s scandalous. An outrage.
At 31 West 57th Street in Manhattan, there is a beautiful 3-storey oasis. It is called Rizzoli Bookstore, and they are about to lose their home. The building is now under threat of demolition because the owners want to replace the 6-storey building with a much taller ‘tower’. It can be saved if the building is designated as a landmark, but it won’t happen on its own. It will require persuading certain parties, and perhaps you can help.
I was just in New York for another 36-hour visit over the weekend. Unlike on most other visits to New York, I had a bit of extra time, so I stepped out into the freezing cold with a view to examining the latest wares at Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys. I took the lift straight up to the top floor of Bergdorfs. After seeing that most of the yellowing silver hollowware inside glass display cases were full of fingerprints and that half the cutlery assortment was lightly tarnished and carelessly tossed into the cases, I worked my way down. As Adam once said after being expelled from Eden, it ain’t what it used to be. (Or, was that my old tobacconist?) Shops never look their best during markdowns, which I forgot that it would still be on, but it is a little depressing to find that at a shop of Bergdorf Goodman’s calibre, half the shop floor staff were playing with their smartphones, heads down and tapping away something undoubtedly urgent. I don’t quite understand why those phones are even allowed on the shop floor. When Chairman Mo used to rule Harrods, if he spotted such a scene during his daily tour through the shop floor, the old bugger would have sacked them on the spot. I am not sure if Ira Neimark would have actually sacked them right there and then but am certain he would have been as cross as Mo would have been. Ira and Mo having something in common, imagine that.
Rather than spending a lot of time examining their excess inventory, I went to the lower ground floor to accomplish the mission of the day, to get a pot of moisturising cream for the Brunette. As I was leaving the building, I spotted a pair of Joan Rivers look-alikes, appearing resplendent with reconstructed faces, radioactive tan and harsh highlights, one in a delicious caramel-coloured sable and the other in an exquisitely trimmed black mink, no doubt cocooning their respective owners’ re-calibrated bodies. Do they all go to the same cosmetic surgeon, or do all cosmetic surgeons use the same template, I wondered. Or, are they all secretly related to Mike Jeffries? The sight of them lifted my spirits a little but not enough to carry me over a few blocks northeast to Barneys or even across the street to Bergdorf Men’s to see even more leftovers. So, I headed west to Rizzoli.
Rizzoli is my most favourite shop in the world, bar none. I love the place. I also hate it because I am always tempted to buy their entire stock. It is a calming place. It is also an exciting place, with all the fetching books showcased in a stunning environment. It is an oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle called Manhattan, warm in winter and cool in summer. The helpful and knowledgeable members of staff can usually be found engaged in a suitably bookish conversation rather than texting or posting an update on Facebook or whatever it is that sales people at Bergdorfs do on their iPhones whilst on duty. Rizzoli is the provider of ‘retail therapy’ in its purest, unadulterated form. Heaven.
After having recovered from the visit to Bergdorfs, I met up with a dear friend for dinner. Whilst I was mildly regretting my choice of wine that failed to live up to the delicately flavoured duck breast, he dropped the bomb on me: ‘Rizzoli just lost their lease.’
29 years after they had fled the space behind the facade that now houses Henri Bendel when it was threatened with demolition, Rizzoli are threatened by a wrecking ball once again. The LeFrak family and the Vornado Realty Trust who own 29, 31 and 33 West 57th Street plan to demolish the 3 buildings to make way for a new ‘tower’.
One way to look at Rizzoli is that it’s just a shop, in which case, it can just find another retail space and continue operating from a new address. I would agree with this view if they were selling tissue paper, toothpaste and other things that come in plastic tubes and bottles.
The Rizzoli Bookstore is a New York institution. It is also a cultural institution, housed in an appropriate environment that is virtually impossible to replicate elsewhere. After the demise of Scribner’s Bookstore, I would say that it is the last of its kind remaining in New York. If New Yorkers have any sense of their city being an important cultural centre, then they would designate 31 West 57th Street as a landmark building and allow Rizzoli to continue to serve in its current location.
Stepping away from the Rizzoli question for a moment, it boggles the mind that #29, one of the three adjacent buildings being demolished, does not have a landmark designation either:
One does not need to be a New Yorker to have a view on the matter. I no longer live in New York, but I think it would be a crying shame to demolish those buildings.
WHAT TO DO:
Regardless of where you live,
1. Sign the petition to landmark our building and ask your friends to do the same.
2. Write to Robert B. Tierney and urge the Landmarks Preservation Commission to schedule a public hearing to vote on the 57th Street buildings. Tell him you feel these beautiful buildings are architecturally and historically significant and protecting buildings like these is the mission of the Commission.
If you live in New York, also speak with your local elected officials and ask for their support.
To contact New York City Council Member Daniel R. Garodnick:
211 East 43rd Street, Suite 1205
New York, NY 10017 | (212) 818-0580
To contact Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer:
1 Centre Street, 19th Floor
New York, NY 10007 | (212) 669-8300
For more information, visit Saverizzoli.org.