99 Park Avenue: American Distillers Building

American Distillers Building, 99 Park Avenue  Emery Roth & Sons, 1952   Built FAR:  20.68 proposed 21.6

The American Distillers Building
99 Park Avenue
Emery Roth & Sons, 1952

99 Park Avenue is a 26-story Modern office building, designed in 1952 by Emery Roth and Sons for Tishman Realty and Construction and completed in 1954. It is significant for the quality of its design, which achieves individuality within the collective demands of the 1916 zoning envelope: this individuality is achieved through the use of aluminum for the modular pre-fabricated panels for the façade. While corporate headquarters distinguished themselves through the use of the tower form, here in this developer building, the architect and his client produced a building that, while adhering to the zoning envelope, distinguishes itself through its design and use of materials.

99 Park Avenue is also significant as the first building in New York City to be clad entirely in an aluminum curtain wall, a unique contribution to postwar wave of office construction that reshaped the midtown Manhattan. The value of using contemporary technology and modern materials was a core belief for architects and patrons after World War II, and the use of aluminum could not have been a more fitting symbol of the culture’s embrace of modernity. Aluminum is quintessentially a 20th-century material. Although it was successfully processed at the end of the 19th century, its use in 1903 in the Wright Brothers’ flying machine initiated its successful development for aeronautics and eventually, after WWII, in the construction industry. Notable New York City post-war buildings that use aluminum curtain walls, and the material itself as a generator of the design, include its twin building at 460 Park Avenue (Emery Roth & Sons, 1953), The Fashion Institute of Technology (Moskowitz & Rosenberg, 1959) and 666 Fifth Avenue (Carson & Lundin, 1957). The Socony Mobil Building, a New York City Landmark (Harrison and Abramowitz, 1956) does not use aluminum for its curtain wall but similarly shows the architect’s and owner’s interest in the use of a new material, in this case stainless steel.

The building is also significant as a part of the post-war building boom on Park Avenue and in the area around Grand Central Terminal during which corporations, commercial developers and their architects collectively embraced modernism and the curtain wall and turned the area around Grand Central into an icon of corporate modernism known around the world.

Because of its architectural significance and its significant role in the use of aluminum in the modern construction industry and because of its significance in the development of Post-War Modernism in the area around Grand Central Terminal, we recommend 99 Park Avenue for consideration as an individual landmark.

References:

NB 16 of 1952

NB 38 of 1953

Taylor, Jonathan, “Why Save This Building”, unpublished manuscript dated December 19, 2011.

History of Aluminum and ALCOA website, 2012 http://www.alcoa.com/global/en/about_alcoa/time_machine/time_machine_html.asp

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