Walking Tours NYC – The Museum of Arts and Design moved to this location in 2008. It was begun in 1956 by Aileen Osborn Webb and since then has undergone a series of name changes including the Museum of Contemporary Craft and the American Crafts Museum before settling on its most recent selection. The Museum hosts four floors of exhibits across 54,000 square feet and is open Tuesday through Sunday 11am-6pm and Thursdays 11am-9pm. Admission is $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors.
Now the Museum of Arts and Design is a nice little museum, but what I really wanted to explore on this site is the history of the buildings which previously and currently reside here. The earliest structure was actually a brownstone with mansard roof hotel called the Pabst Grand Circle Hotel which made its home here from 1874-1960. It was the hotel’s replacement where our interest lies.
In 1964 “The Lollipop Building” was erected in its place—a name given via a scathing review of its architectural styles. This modernist structure was built to house the art collection for Huntington Hartford, the heir to the A&P Supermarkets, who decorated the auditorium in the colors of his supermarkets (red and orange) which they still remain to this day. The building was most recognized for its 12-story white marble façade with round holes perforating its south side. It was designed by Edward Durell Stone, who also was responsible for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C.
What was interesting about this building was the love-hate relationship the city had with it. Despite its continued mocking in the press, a significant preservation effort was started up when rumors of alterations to the structure began in 2003. The New York City Landmarks Commission, however, refused to provide a public hearing on behalf of the building and in 2008 alterations to the exterior began. The result is the current 22,000 glazed tile structure.
A lot was made about why a hearing never occurred, but to understand the decision you really need go no further than the numbers. The Landmarks Commission reportedly receives approximately 8000 applications a year for review and this number continues to grow every year.
These applications may range from the most minor of modifications such as a door or window to complete renovations or replacements. So, on one hand you have a significant workload which is not equally balanced by their budget, which is said to be the smallest of any agency. So, with that background, it hopefully provides a bit of perspective when you hear about any sort of call to action by local preservationists.