In late March, one of the few Frank Lloyd Wright designs in New York City was demolished quietly at 430 Park Avenue. This seldom-noticed interior retail space was home to the Hoffman Auto Showroom for over five decades and just as it was considered for preservation by the Landmark Preservation Commission, the owners of the building applied for its demolition. For many people, this may seem like an act of corporate greed or "corporate vandalism" and it may be so, but the landmark designation for interior spaces applies strictly to public space only according to NYC's landmark laws.
So was this space ever anything more than private property? And aside from having been designed by one of America's most famous architects, did the design have "special historical, architectural or cultural significance"?
More after the break.
The Hoffman Auto Showroom was designed and built in the mid-fifties for Mercedes-Benz importer Maximilian Hoffman. The original design for the 3,600 square foot space featured a turntable as its center piece and a winding ramp that served as a display area. The ramp was reminiscent of the Guggenheim in New York City, which was being designed and built concurrently. While the space was still "quintessentially Frank Lloyd Wright" , Ada Louise Huxtable criticized the design in a 1966 book, writing "The spiral ramp motif … which was to be so beautiful an element in the Guggenheim, is employed here, though far less effectively, in part because of the low ceiling and partly because the cramped, abrupt turning motion all too clearly recalls the ramps of multi-floor parking garages." (Crain's New York)
If the LPC was able to designate Wright's showroom as a landmark, it would have preserved a space that had already been altered from its original form. In 1982, the showroom went through some renovations that incorporated mirrors on the ceilings and an addition of the Mercedes three-pointed star. Two decades later, the display room was expanded and completely renovated. In its state at the time of demolition, it is unclear how much of the showroom was in its original condition to warrant preservation. Of course, the designation process would have taken these conditions into consideration when making its final decision, and in the wake of the demolition, the architecture community laments the lost opportunity.