An agreement reached with preservationists for the Manufacturers Hanover Trust building, a Modernist masterpiece designed by Gordon Bunshaft for Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) in 1954. As part of the agreement, Vornado, the building’s current owner, asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission to amend the certificate of appropriateness issued in April 2011 to allow the reinstallation of two Harry Bertoia sculptures. SOM is overseeing the current renovation of the building. Vornado will also ask the Commission to expand the landmarking to include the interior of the former vault space. “Our staff could cite no other recent example where an owner requested the agency to increase the area of an interior landmark,” Landmarks spokesperson Elizabeth de Bourbon said in an email.
The agreement is unusual for several reasons, not the least of which is that one of the building’s former owners, JP Morgan Chase, still owns the artwork. One is a 70-foot-wide multi-paneled bronze screen designed for the second floor space that served as a textured backdrop inside the glass box. The second is a spindly mobile representing a cloud. The bank removed both sculptures after Vornado completed the deal to buy the building from Tal Prop Equities in October 2010. Almost immediately the architecture press, led by Ada Louise Huxtable at The Wall Street Journal, called for the sculptures’ return. Huxtable said that the removal of the sculptures was “a perverse form of preservation that begins with a profound misunderstanding of the sculptures function as an essential architectural element.” With the crash of 2008 still fresh, the critic warned that despite the bank’s assurances, sometimes, troubled institutions will ship their “expendable assets” off to Christie’s or Sotheby’s.