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A blog from CityRealty (Links below will take you to the 6sqft site)

Carter's View

Olympic Tower-nyc Olympic Tower images via Compass and Domus Realty
A string of recent announcements for eye-catching office buildings on and near Fifth Avenue: the skyline-changing Tower Fifth, the bespoke Rolex Tower, and the $1.29B makeover planned for 660 Fifth Avenue — have turned our attention toward an iconic, groundbreaking skyscraper in the midst of it all.

In 1976, 51-story Olympic Tower at 641 Fifth Avenue revolutionized luxury living and continues to offer one of Midtown’s finest condo experiences despite ever-growing competition. Record-breaking height, a minimalist black-glass facade, prime Fifth Avenue location, mixed-use program, and extensive amenities have steadily attracted a star-studded clientele and set a template that luxury condo builders continue to follow to this day.

As of late October, the 229-unit building has 12 condos currently on the market, even the lowest priced listing, #27D which comes in at a cool $1.46 million, offers Central Park views. While at the other end of the spectrum is a $17 million, 11-room duplex penthouse that offers a layout that combines pre-war grandeur with mid-century modernism, a fireplace-equipped living room, and sweeping vistas towards the park, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, and a side-by-side alignment of the Empire State Building and the distant One World Trade Center.
As expected, the building comes with an extensive amenity package, offering service by a full-time doorman, concierge, and a live-in super, as well as resident areas such as lounges, a fitness center, indoor bicycle parking, and more.
Olympic-Tower-04 Olympic Tower #46/47C is a 5-bedroom on the market for $17 million (Compass)
Olympic Tower (Compass)
Olympic Tower, looking north from the penthouse. (Compass)
View south and custom staircase at the 5-bedroom #46/47C (Compass)
The postwar period ushered sweeping changes across all facets of American and worldwide culture. The mainstream society eschewed staid, old-world traditionalism and embraced the modernist movement, which promised a bright, bold, space-age future wrapped in a sleek aesthetic. The globe-trotting elites abandoned ponderous ocean liners in favor of newfangled jet airliners, becoming known as the “jet set” in the process. Emerging technologies allowed architects to erect office towers clad in sheer, all-glass facades where ample sunlight flowed in through floor-to-ceiling windows, fulfilling the pre-war visions of architectural avant-gardists such as Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier.
However, apartment building design remained partially stuck in the past. High-rise apartments have shed the opulent beauty of the pre-war period, yet cutting-edge modern design remained relegated to single-family mansions. The city’s tallest apartment buildings built in the Flower Power era - The Excelsior (1967), One Lincoln Plaza (1972), and The Sovereign (1973) - boasted minimalist exteriors and flat pinnacles indicative of the modernist era, yet their plain brick facades and questionable design choices, such as The Sovereign’s exposed concrete floorplates, lagged behind contemporary office building design and were panned by architecture critics. Moreover, while they offered contemporary conveniences such as roof decks and swimming pools, their apartments were generally smaller and ceilings typically lower than those of their pre-war counterparts.
Finally, in 1976, two condo skyscrapers re-wrote the rules of high-rise condo design. The 55-story, 544-foot Galleria rose at 117 East 57th Street next to the Ritz Tower, a telescoping Jazz-age edifice that ranked as the world’s tallest apartment building in 1926. The Galleria’s slanted-niche base, praised by CityRealty architecture critic Carter B. Horsley as “one of the most spectacular and imaginative in the city's history,” bronze-glass facade with glass-railed balconies, and a Jetsons-like, staggered four-level penthouse (currently occupied by illusionist David Copperfield), were unlike anything the New York skyline has ever seen before. By contrast, Olympic Tower appeared more conservative, yet paradoxically also more cutting-edge and ultimately more influential for the city’s apartment building design.
St. Patrick's Cathedral, Olympic Tower, jadepalmer, flickr St. Patrick's Cathedral and Olympic Tower. Credit: jadepalmer on flickr
By the 1970’s, the architecture form of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM) has already produced such groundbreaking office buildings as the Lever House (1951), One Chase Manhattan Bank (1961), the JPMorgan Chase Tower (1961, currently being demolished for a new supertall headquarters), and the sublime, curved slab of the Solow Building at 9 West 57th Street (1974). By contrast, the firm’s then-premier residential effort, Manhattan House (1951), has since garnered official recognition as a city landmark for its design excellence, yet its white-brick style was decisively more conservative than the office counterparts.
At the Olympic Tower, SOM finally applied cutting-edge modernist ethos to the fullest extent of any apartment building. The skyscraper, developed by shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, rose across from the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, designed by fabled architect James Renwick Jr. in white in flamboyant Neo-Gothic style and completed in 1878, almost a century prior. The cathedral’s ornate facade of dazzling white Tuckahoe marble stands in startling juxtaposition against the bronze-black obelisk straight out of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The sheer glass tower creates a contrasting backdrop for the twin-pinnacled cathedral, receding into the background with reserved dignity.
According to Nicole Cohen of Sketch42, "Olympic Tower became the Studio 54 of apartment buildings." She notes famous residents included Helene Rochas, Murray Moss, Halston’s studios, The Guccis, Adnan Khashoggi who owned a duplex with a swimming pool and gold faucets, and Raffaello Follieri, the Italian ex-boyfriend of Anne Hathaway.
Olympic Tower Olympic Tower, #48B is on the market for $3.8M (Domus Realty)
Olympic-Tower-03 Living room
Bath
Olympic Tower Olympic Tower, looking south from the 24th floor. Credit: Sotheby's
Upon completion, the Olympic Tower spoke the latest word in apartment building design, yet the building’s innovation extended well beyond aesthetics. At the time, the 620-foot skyscraper offered the world’s highest apartments, surpassing the penthouse levels even atop the Waldorf-Astoria (though the apartment-hotel’s unoccupied, decorative domes technically rose five feet higher). Olympic Tower also ranked among the first residential skyscrapers to offer true floor-to-ceiling windows, offering unprecedented sunshine and views for every residence. Soaring ceiling heights and in-unit fireplaces were a return to form to stately pre-war prototypes.

The mixed-use building was not the first to combine offices on the lower floors with apartments above, yet its unified facade achieved the merger with greater grace than its predecessors, such as Tower 53. The structural solution of a steel frame in the office portion, topped with a concrete structures at the residential floors above, was followed in 21-st century mixed-use buildings such as One Beacon Court aka Bloomberg Tower (2003).
Olympic Tower Olympic Tower's extremely valuable Fifth Avenue frontage (https://olympictowernyc.com)
Olympic Tower atrium Olympic Tower atrium. (Photo: Pavel Bendov)
The building’s public atrium not only granted the developer a height bonus at the time of construction and cozy public space for the neighborhood, but also a retail arcade conceived as part of a grand civic mission. At the time of initial plans, Fifth Avenue’s famed boutique row began to wane amidst the city’s fiscal crisis. Since its planning phases, Olympic Tower’s ground-floor retail was geared toward high-end shopping in order to revive the avenue’s status. The initiative has yielded highly positive results; today, the space is occupied by retailers such as Armani Exchange, Cartier, Furla, H Stern Jewellers, Versace. Fig & Olive offers fine Mediteranean dining, while Ignazio Cipriani’s Grano cafe and juice bar serve Italian fare.
As a result, Olympic Tower was a runaway success as a real estate venture and an instant hit with the city’s elites and the global “jet set.” Its residents have included the Gucci family, designer Murray Moss, and fashion CEO Helene Rochas. The two-full-floor duplex of billionaire businessman Adnan Khashoggi held a swimming pool and faucets made of 24-karat gold. The tower’s notorious parties were attended by the likes of Andy Warhol, Liza Minellei, Truman Capote, Robert Di Niro, Al Pacino, Bianca Jagger, Diana Vreeland, and other headline-generating personalities; Rafaello Follierri, Anne Hathaway’s ex-boyfriend, is among the latest newcomers on the roster.
Tower-Fifth-04 Renderings of Tower Fifth by Macklowe Properties. The supertall will rise directly east of Olympic Tower
270-Park-Avenue-04 A new generation of Modernist commercial skyscrapers are planned near Olympic Tower
Rolex-Heaquarters-04 The future North America headquarters for Rolex planned at 665 Fifth Avenue and (r) the envisioned reclad of 666 Fifth Avenue (to be 660 Fifth) by Brookfield Properties
Fifth Avenue’s famed pre-war apartment buildings have stood the test of time as some of the world’s most sought-after residences. Olympic Tower was among the first buildings not only on the avenue, but in the city as a whole, to prove that post-war design is equally timeless when done with appropriate care. The building single-handedly ushered a new movement in the city’s apartment architecture, inspiring influential followers such as the round-corned Solow Tower (1979), the ever-newsworthy Trump Tower (1983), and three onetime global residential height champions Trump World Tower (2001), 432 Park Avenue (2015), which swapped black glass for white concrete, and recently topped-out, blue-glass Central Park Tower (2020). Even Tower Fifth, proposed to rise next door as the city’s tallest skyscraper when measured by roof height, pays aesthetic homage to its would-be neighbor. Forty-plus years after its grand opening, Olympic Tower’s sweeping panoramas remain as enchanting, the Rockefeller Center-location as central, and crisp modern style as timeless as ever.
Olympic-Tower-04 Looking down at St. Patrick's (Compass)
Olympic Tower Olympic Tower (Sotheby's International Realty)

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Content & Research Manager Vitali Ogorodnikov
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