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Carter's View

The Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing Tuesday night on the design of a proposed, 31-story, mixed-use tower at 14 West 40th Street.

The proposal seeks to use a restoration plan for the former Knox Hat Building that had been approved in 1994 when the Republic National Bank intended to develop this long-vacant site, which extends through to 39th Street. The bank had developed the large office tower directly south of the Knox Hat Building in 1981 and at that time received a building bonus for agreeing to maintain the Knox Hat Building, which was incorporated into its new building program at the site, in good condition.

The 1994 plan would have permitted the bank to seek various building waivers, but not increases in bulk, for the new building in return for a major restoration program for the Knox Hart Building, but the bank, which is now part of HSBC, decided not to proceed with the new building and therefore did not start the restoration program.

Morris Adjmi, the project's architect, told the commission that the proposed building is a transition between the taller HSBC (formerly Republic Bank of New York) tower that wraps around the Knox Building, and the American Radiator Building, now the Bryant Park Hotel, further west on 40th Street.

Tthe proposed building is across 40th Street from the landmark New York Public Library.

Commissioner Stephen Byrns noted that the proposed tower is mostly "free-standing," which he said was "one of the best aspects" of the building on this "up-and-down" block, "one of the more remarkable streets in New York," but he said he was "a little underwhelmed" by the design, which he felt was "a little tall" and "could be more elegant."

Jan Pokorny, another commissioner, however, said he felt "good" about the design, which he described as "elegant" and "first-rate."

Commissioner Margery Perlmutter said that the proposed building was "not too tall."

The proposed, limestone-clad building has a "punched" fenestration pattern that recesses windows more than a foot and the window openings are framed in stainless steel on the lower floors and aluminum on the upper floors. The bulkhead at the top of the building is surrounded by a wide "fence."

A statement from the Historic Districts Council maintained that the design was inappropriate and not harmonious with the nearby Knox Building or other Beaux Arts buildings on the block.

Commission chairman Robert Tierney asked the applicant to work with the commission's staff to refine the design and then return.

The tower, which would have some corner windows, will have 150 hotel rooms and 64 residential condominium apartments.

The top of the new tower, Mr. Adjmi, whose other projects include 345 West 14th Street, 450 West 14th Street, and 40 Ganesvoort Street, said, would be illuminated at nigh.

The new tower would be a couple of doors to the west of the 29-story tower at 450 Fifth Avenue that was erected by the Republic National Bank in 1985 and designed by Eli Attia with a staggered north fa?ade that wraps around the former Knox Hat Building. The Knox building was designed by John H. Duncan in 1902 and sensitively remodeled into a bank building by Kahn & Jacobs in 1965.

The proposed restoration of the former Knox building will recreate a curved glass entrance marquee on Fifth Avenue, replace a missing cast-iron railing on a cornice, replace non-original multi-pane windows with single-pane windows, make various needed repairs, but retain the non-original storefront configuration on 40th Street because, he said, it is bettered centered to the upper fa?ade. Several commissioners agreed retaining the anon-aligned storefront facades was preferable.

The new tower will be known as "The View at Bryant Park" and is a project of the 40th Street Development LLC, which is in contract to purchase the property from HSBC Bank.
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Architecture Critic Carter Horsley Since 1997, Carter B. Horsley has been the editorial director of CityRealty. He began his journalistic career at The New York Times in 1961 where he spent 26 years as a reporter specializing in real estate & architectural news. In 1987, he became the architecture critic and real estate editor of The New York Post.