Heckscher Building (Crown Building)

STATUS Designated Individual Landmark

730 Fifth Avenue (AKA 728-734 Fifth Avenue, 2-4 West 57th Street)

ARCHITECT: Warren & Wetmore

DATE: 1920-22

STYLE: French Renaissance

Designated: May 14, 2024

HDC Designation testimony:

Built between 1920 and 1922 by Warren & Wetmore for the developer and philanthropist August Heckscher, 730 5th Avenue was one of the first buildings whose design was influenced by the stipulations of the 1916 zoning code, which mandated the setbacks that led to New York’s iconic Art Deco skyscrapers. As such, the Heckscher building represents an important link in the architectural evolution of New York City, and in the history of skyscraper design.  

Built on the site of the Stevens-Whitney mansion, the Heckscher Building also represents the architectural evolution of grandeur in New York City. The end of the 19th Century saw the proliferation of grand chateaux across 57th Street. The Stevens-Whitney mansion was completed at 2 West 57th Street in 1876, and the Cornelius Vanderbilt II mansion rose across the street at 1 West 57th Street in 1883. Though the Vanderbilt mansion was, and remains, the largest single family home ever built in New York City, when the Heckscher building was completed in 1922, it dwarfed the mansion in terms of height, and heralded the skyscraper form as both the modern incarnation of urban life, and the modern incarnation of wealth, anticipating the vertiginous heights now reached on 57th street by the supertalls of Billionaire’s Row.

Indeed, the Heckscher building was so indicative of a new epoch that the Museum of Modern Art, founded 1929, found its first home on the 12th floor of the Heckscher Building. 

Excerpt from the LPC press release:

Designed in the French Renaissance style by Warren & Wetmore, the architect of other well-known New York City landmarks including the New York Yacht Club, Grand Central Terminal, and the New York Central Building, the Heckscher Building was built in 1920-22. It is one of the earliest surviving skyscrapers to conform to the 1916 Zoning Resolution—the nation’s first— requiring tall buildings to taper as they rose to allow light and air to reach the street in order to improve the health and quality of life of New York City residents.

Compared to subsequent skyscrapers constructed in the 1920s, the Heckscher Building featured an unusually complex setback design: 25 stories tall, with setbacks at the 13th and 24th stories, and a mounted tower that steps up differently from each direction, creating four distinct facades.

The Heckscher Building is also notable for its ornate design features, including a steep pyramid roof and a striking octagonal tower that originally featured gilded elements and a ten-foot-tall weathervane that was removed in the 1940s, and embellishments meant to evoke ornamentation found in French palaces during the reign of Francois I.

Marketed in early real estate advertisements as “The Tower of Trade,” the Heckscher Building contained ground floor shops, retail showrooms, and tower offices, attracting high-profile tenants like publisher Alfred A. Knopf and Universal Pictures. In 1929, the newly established Museum of Modern Art held its inaugural exhibition there devoted to Cezanne, Gauguin, Seurat, and Van Gogh, and followed up with its famously influential Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, curated by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock, which introduced the International Style to the United States.

In 1983 the Heckscher Building was renamed the Crown Building, at which time most of the architectural elements were painted gold and the façade illuminated at night. In 2022, the upper stories of the building were converted to a hotel and residences, while the lower floors house major retail tenants.

image from LPC press release

STATUS Designated Individual Landmark

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