355 Lexington Avenue

355 Lexington Avenue Emery Roth &  Sons, 1955  Built FAR: 16.02 proposed 21.6

355 Lexington Avenue
Emery Roth and Sons, 1955

355 Lexington is an 18-story office building at the North-East corner of 47th street and Lexington, designed in 1955 by Emery Roth and Sons for Rudin Management. It is emblematic of the many International Style white brick, office buildings with strip windows and successive set backs that are characteristic of the post WWII commercial development in midtown around Grand Central Terminal.

The rental brochure leaves no doubt about the importance of the proximity of Grand Central Terminal for the new building: “It is 2 blocks from Grand Central Terminal and connections to all subway and bus lines. Your employees will enjoy its nearness to good shopping and restaurant facilities. Your executives will find it convenient to have the Union League Club, Overseas Press Club and a number of leading University Clubs nearby.” Construction started in January 1958, and by September 1959 the building was over 90% rented.

Emery Roth and Sons’ abstract design follows the set-back envelope mandated by the 1916 zoning code: as Julian and Richard Roth and their associates had done at the Look building (1948-50, also designed for Uris Brothers), they wrap the building in successive bands of white brick and aluminum-framed strip windows. This design and others like it by Emery Roth and Sons and other firms, solidified the acceptance of International Style for office buildings and this type of building is a key element in the streetscapes of midtown Manhattan. As noted in the LPC designation report for the Look Building, the design is influenced by “not only the German Expressionist architect, Rrich Mendelsohn, but also the 1931 Starrett-Lehigh building and the 1947 Universal Pictures building in Manhattan”. By 1955 it seems Emery Roth & Sons had embraced this design form because, unlike at the Look Building, they do not manipulate the setbacks to create a dominant tower form that would re-center one of the façades (the vestiges of a classical device).

When such “wedding cake” buildings were built, they were generally derided by architectural critics as lacking any design at all: now that time has passed, we can appreciate 355 Lexington Avenue and all the others like it for what they are – profoundly urban buildings that define midtown’s streetscapes, modernism for the masses. 355 Lexington is unusual in its high degree of integrity as the original white brick and aluminum framed strip windows are still extant.

The building is significant as a part of the Post WWII development around Grand Central Terminal, benefitting from the presence of the railroad station and other amenities such as clubs. It is also significant for the quality of its International Style design and for being the work of a significant New York City architectural firm, Emery Roth and Sons. We recommend it for individual landmark consideration.

References:

New York Real Estate Brochure Collection, Avery Library, Columbia University.

New York Times January 13, 1958.

New York Times September 9, 1959.

Postal, Matthew, Look Building Designation Report (New York City: Landmarks Preservation Commission, 2010), 1.

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