Friars Club Proposed for Landmark Status

57 East 55th Street began life as a mansion and is now the Friars Club. It has been proposed for landmark status.

Comments: 11

  1. The Friars Club is one of the delightful anomalies that make walking around midtown such a pleasurable activity. It's a charmingly eccentric pile whose unexpected appearance proves the central business district isn't all glass and steel towers. It was designed by Julian Clarence Levi, an equally eccentric and charming chap who lived in an antiques-filled apartment in the Osborne at 205 West 57th Street (whose westerly extension he also designed). Recalling a conversation about 50 years ago that I had with him about his approach to architectural design, it's not at all surprising that what he created for Mr. Erdmann stood out from the surrounding streetscape as "impudent and outre." The Club's building provides a splendid stylistic foil to the comparably unexpected (and comparably impudent) Austrian Cultural Institute not far away at 11 East 52nd Street. If the Friars Club's unused FAR has already been sold, the structure won't be replaced with a sliver tower of dramatically modern design (as the Austrians did with their skinny site), but without the protection of a landmark designation some insensitive soul could certainly strip its facade and replace it with a visual disaster. Look what happened to the wonderful Weyhe Building on Lexington Avenue near 61st Street, and the similar flaying of the polychromed Art Deco gem that was a 1930 Bickfords at Lexington and 45th. If I were on the LPC, I'd certainly vote to make the Friars' Monastery a landmark!

  2. The landmarking of this building is the only way to protect the building from the onslaught of new development that would likely threaten it, either from tearing the building down or from an adaptive re-use development of the existing structure. Streeteasy recently published two videos that provide context to this, with the first discussing the latest market trends and why there is so much pressure to develop new housing, threatening buildings like the Friar's Club. The second talks about the difference between mega projects like Hudson Yards and small prospective developments like what would need to happen with the Friar's Club, which capitalize on the building's history and character to create a unique living environment. Videos found here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGvQA_Q4V1k
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIu1gzqHaDg

  3. I was married there in 1972. My father was a member. What a gorgeous place!!!!!

  4. "Servant problem" seems more a "problem employer." Always has been

  5. The contrasting photographs make a fine statement about scale. In the 1910 photograph, the house is king of the court. In the recent photograph, it's a dwarf among giants.

    Although there were several architectural styles in fashion at the time, Mr. Erdmann deserves some credit for not using the extremely popular Beaux Arts style and instead modeling his house on German Renaissance design. This idea leads somewhat to the point how much weight should be given to the uniqueness of a building in deciding should it merit landmark status? The playful poured concrete Tennis Racquet pillars of Huntingdon Hartford's Gallery of Art were unique but the L.P.C. felt that their uniqueness wasn't enough to merit designation .

  6. I've never understood why the traditional values crowd never consider old buildings, those especially those that ought to be landmarked, worthy of saving? Something to show future generations and teaching respect for these old holdouts and one another.

  7. If the moguls "must have" yet another sliver of old Manhattan, make'em lift, clean and place the antique building somewhere it can continue to be appreciated AND add to the character of the city!

    If someone doesn't put a foot down, before you know it they'll be nibbling at all that "empty" space called Central Park!

  8. In his comments about 57 West 55th, Christopher Gray observes: "In 1909 the magazine Architecture seemed amused at the impudence of the architects’ work; “as outré and unsuited to its surroundings” as it was, “its sheer cleverness cannot be denied.” And, today, it's still "outré and unsuited to its surroundings," and still an architecturally interesting building, so there's continuity to its historic role. Mr. Erdmann's mansion was as out of context with the "creaky," repetitive brownstones from which it stood proud in its own day, as is the Friar's Club with the boring, repetitious, modernist hulks that asymmetrically crowd it now.

    It's unfortunate that, in the past, the Zoning Commission negotiations for the buildings to the left and right of the Friar's Club failed to specify that the new facades be set back from the structure's facade to the same degree as the old brownstones. And admittedly, that's a rather rarified level of expectation in urban design.

    As "Architorney" alludes in his comments above, it's highly likely that the FAR (development rights) associated with the Friar's Club have been sold off, and the building can't go any higher, which is fortunate. Further, the structure's role as the Friar's Club--part of the history of theater in New York--itself, supports Landmark status. Like the Landmark value, the economic value of the building can now be found in its history.

  9. ...new buildings are everywhere in the world...it is the old, few beautiful examples that need saving and especially in this case where it is much like it was originally. It is a building like this that makes me promoting New York , not the buildings next to it. Why do not people realize the vital important for stability to have examples of our past help us keep history alive and learn from past experiences. I spent over three million dollars in renovating one such building in Krakow, Poland and the return was not only satisfaction but full tenant occupancy and much business attraction and money quickly returned.

  10. One last thought - if you love the building so much, buy it and preserve it. Then, see how you feel when you are given a 1,000 page primer on what can and cannot be done with it after it's new designation is enacted. See how it feels to pay $15,000 for each new window - so no change is made to the facade.

    Maybe everyone who votes yes should compensate the owner proportionately for the reduction in value they have caused.

    Donate your time to charity and get a life. Stop constantly taking things from those who worked hard to purchase them. Yes, the Friar's Club and millionaires deserve protection from the masses, just like those who have been hit by hard times deserve some level of assistance from our government.

    November 2013 will be remembered as the last time the city was a great place to live. By January of 2014 we'll have more proof that Ayn Rand was exactly right when she wrote Atlas Shrugged.

  11. It's "its."