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CitySpire, 150 West 56th Street

Between Sixth Avenue & Seventh Avenue

Carter Horsley
Reviewed by Carter Horsley
Carter Horsley Carter B. Horsley, a former journalist for The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Post. Mr. Horsley is also the editorial director of CityRealty.com.
 

CitySpire became the city's tallest mixed-use building at 814 feet when it opened in 1988 at 150 West 56th Street.

Another mixed-use skyscraper, One57 at 157 West 57th Street, one block north, will take away that title when it is completed in 2013, but that really is not a negative as CitySpire’s location has been constantly improving, especially with the completion in 2004 of the Time Warner Center nearby on Columbus Circle.  As a result, this tower is at the epicenter of Midtown North, almost equidistant from Rockefeller Center, Columbus Circle and the Plaza at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue.

CitySpire was designed by Helmut Jahn of Murphy/Jahn, the Chicago-based architect, and its slender pinnacle is reminiscent of one of that city's older skyscrapers.  Jahn is best known for his high-tech designs, but this was one of his forays into Post-Modernism, at least in its illuminated, domed top, a reference to the great dome roof of the City Center for The Performing Arts on 55th Street whose air rights were used in the project.

The ornate City Center building with its brightly colored tiles was built in 1924 as the Ancient and Accepted Order of the Mystic Shrine and was designed by Harry P. Knowles and Clinton & Russell.  All that it missed was a huge campanile and CitySpire more than amply filled the bill.

The 72-story CitySpire has 340 condominium apartments and 310,000 square feet of office space on its lower 24 floors.

The mid-block tower's broad-shouldered form is quite powerful, but much of its élan is lost because its mid-block site is directly across 56th Street from two slightly smaller, but more prominent and more attractive towers, Carnegie Hall Tower and the Metropolitan Tower, both through-block buildings with major entrances on 57th Street.  Carnegie Hall Tower, an office building, is built full to 56th Street, but the mixed-use Metropolitan Tower is setback from 56th Street in a large plaza. 

The trio was midtown's most staggering and awesome grouping of skyscrapers after World War II but there was no coordination. Not only are the three towers drastically different from one another, but also they jostle with one another to the detriment of all.  Most of CitySpire’s views of Central Park to the north are obstructed significantly by the two other towers.  But New York does not stand still and the trio is becoming the city’s most staggering and awesome quartet group of skyscrapers with the addition of One57 that will block even more of those views, although some observers argue that peek-a-boo views are often more interesting than “frontal assaults,” at least for the weak of heart.

Bottom Line

The tall, warm, rich, domed, blonde wood-paneled residential lobby of this very tall, mixed-use skyscraper is one of the most impressive in the city as is its tall, through-block arcade to 55th Street.  A full-service building, CitySpire is convenient to just about everything: Central Park, Carnegie Hall, Bergdorf Goodman, Whole Foods, subways and cross-town buses, Lee’s Art Store, and restaurants and the building has a Dean & DeLuca gourmet store and a garage. The large apartments at the very top have spectacular views.

Description

Jahn is a master architect who invariably experiments with angled arch elements and colors.

At CitySpire, he has mixed angles with dark blue-green façade elements in a dizzyingly thin slab tower that has an unusually broad frontage of 56th Street that is divided into a grand residential entrance and an impressive office entrance and a through-block arcade, all inset with arcades, and a garage and retail space.

The tower has four angled corners on both the north and south sides that open up unusual vistas.  Because its south façade is over the low-rise City Center for the Performing Arts, it views are not as obstructed to the south as one might have thought.

This tower’s setbacks have angled terraces and its dome  is thematically related to the great and quite large, red-tiled dome at the City Center for the Performing Arts on 55th Street.

Amenities

CitySpire has a full-time doorman, a concierge, a fitness center with pool, a children’s playroom, a conference room, a party room, a garage and a Dean & DeLuca gourmet store.

Apartments

Most of the apartments are small but there are some larger ones at the top and a few have terraces.

A studio apartment on the 28th floor has a 19-foot-wide living room with a pass-through kitchen and a broader terrace.

There are numerous one-bedroom apartments with 20-foot living rooms with two windows and an angled wall and a pass-through kitchen.  The apartment also has a large bedroom.  A very similar apartment also has a terrace, and another, on the 49th floor, has a large, angled living/dining area with large terrace and an angled hallway off the foyer leading to a very large walk-in closet.

A two-bedroom apartment has an entry foyer that leads directly to a angled living/dining room that is 19 feet square and there is an enclosed kitchen and two bedrooms on either side of the foyer.

One of the finest layouts is a two-bedroom unit on the 50th floor that has a very long entrance gallery, flanked by the bedrooms, that leads to a 44-foot-wide living room/library/dining area/  The apartment has an enclosed 13-foot kitchen.

A duplex apartment has an entry foyer leads past stairs to the upper level and opens on a living room with three window walls that opens onto a dining room  with two window walls  and both the living room and dining room open on a very large terrace with two angled sides.  The upper floor of the unit has two bedrooms.

Another two-bedroom duplex on the 31st and 32nd floor has a large connected open space for an angled dining room next to the pass-through kitchen and an angled living room with a very small and narrow nook by a window, a layout that is repeated upstairs in the angled master bedroom.

There are some spectacular units at the top.

One four-bedroom duplex on the 65th and 66th floors has a 29-foot-long living/dining room with a curved wet bar that opens onto a library at one end and a breakfast area that opens into a 26-foot-long family room on the lower level that has a 44-by-36-foot terrace facing East Midtown with very narrow angled strips about the family and living rooms.   

History

When CitySpire was developed by Ian Bruce Eichner in the early 1980s, this section of midtown was a little drab even though Carnegie Hall was a very short walk away to the west across the street. Some of the city’s most impressive pre-war apartment buildings such as the Osborne on the northwest corner of 57th Street and Seventh Avenue and the Alwyn Court on the southeast corner of 58th Street and Seventh Avenue were nearby.

In a September 1, 1985 article by Richard D. Lyons in The New York Times, Mr. Eichner said that the CitySpire project, then known as City Center Tower, was “the most complicated building transaction in the history of New York real estate.”  The article noted that it needed approvals from a dozen city legislative and administrative groups and private philanthropies, and was the first purchase of air rights from a theater. It won final approval from all city agencies in August, 1985 when the Board of Estimate approved it by a vote of 7 to 4.

Mr. Eichner acquired air rights from several surrounding buildings and agreed to contribute $3 million each to the City Opera and the City Ballet, both of which were then performing at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. He also agreed to spend $5.5 million to renovate the stage and backstage areas of the City Center, which was originally the Mecca Temple, a Moorish-Gothic building erected in 1924 by the Ancient Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, otherwise known as the  Shriners. The building, which had been designed by Harry Knowles and was one of the city’s more flamboyant and colorful official landmarks, was subsequently taken over by the city in the 1943. Its dome is 100 feet in diameter and 30 feet high.

Mr. Eichner bought 297,300 square feet of the unutilized development rights from the City Center property and the theater retained 46,100 square feet of undeveloped air rights.  The CitySpire building contains 733,787 square feet and based only on its “footprint,” not including the other air-rights lots, its effective FAR (Floor-to-Area Ratio) was more than 30 and if the air rights and a zoning bonus for improving a landmark theater were not applied the building could only have been about 34 stories.

The original special permit issued by the city for the project called for an 803-foot-high tower. The developer explained that the height had been increased to 814 feet because engineering studies indicated the very slender tower needed thicker floors for better structural bracing to minimize swaying in the wind. The added height, however, did not add any additional zoning space, such as floors, or rooms, the developer maintained.

The tower eventually changed ownership to Euram Management of Uniondale, L.I., a subsidiary of ABN Amro Bank of the Netherlands, the parent of European American Bank, the original lender for the project.. 

Eichner was one of the city’s most active and important developers and his projects included the 40-story, 210 unit residential condominium built in 1984 and known as The Kingsley at 400 East 70th Street designed by Stephen B. Jacobs, the 42-story, 205-unit residential condominium erected in 1985 known as the Royale at 188 East 64th Street, with its pink granite portico and sidewalk trellis, the 26-story, 286-unit Manhattan Club time-share project at 200 West 56th Street on Seventh Avenue,  and the pink and rounded corner residential condominium building known as the Boulevard at 2373 Broadway on the northwest corner at 86th Street. Other Eichner projects were the erection in 1986 of the 36-story, 200 unit America, a residential condop tower at 300 East 85th Street at Second Avenue that was designed by Helmut Jahn, the Chicago architect; the very, very handsome, dark blue-glass, 44-story office tower completed in 1990 at 1540 Broadway in Times Square; and the transformation and enlargement in 1994 of the Morgan & Brother Manhattan Storage warehouse at 1411 Third Avenue on the northeast corner of 80th Street into the 25-story, 101-unit, Richmond residential condominium tower. His other major commissions in Manhattan include the office buildings at 425 Lexington Avenue and Park Avenue Tower on East 55th Street, and the residential condominium America on Second Avenue and 84th Street.

Subsequent to CitySpire, Mr. Eichner built a 33-story, 192-unit rental apartment building in 1998 at 180 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, and the Continuum complex of a 44-story, 317-unit condominium tower completed in 2002 and a 40-story tower with 213 units completed in 2008.

Jahn was commissioned by Donald Trump to design his Lincoln West project that would have included the nation’s tallest building on the site that subsequently became Riverside South and Riverside Center, but community opposition led to Mr. Trump changing his plans substantially and he substituted Costas Kondylis for Mr. Jahn.

When it was built, CitySpire was the tallest concrete structure in the country after the Sears Tower in Chicago. 

The site was largely occupied by a garage that had been  built in 1911.

One commenter on the city’s architectural scene noted that the most “Gotham” spot in the city was the middle of 56th Street between CitySpire and the Metropolitan Tower and the Carnegie Hill Tower. The three would seem more at home in the Wall Street area where vertiginous propinquity is rife. Here, they signaled a shift in the midtown skyline. That shift was not only vertical, but also horizontal as their presence lent great vitality to the westward spread of the Plaza District and its ultimate linkage to the Lincoln Center area once the New York Coliseum site was eventually redeveloped with the Time Warner Center.

While not everyone is a high-rise enthusiast, these buildings are pretty good.  While most would agree that Carnegie Hall Tower is the most attractive and most finely detailed, the Metropolitan Tower's rakishly sharp edge and Darth Vader continence is awesome and CitySpire is no less impressive, despite some flaws.

One might think that the ideal New York “set-up” would be to have a penthouse on the tower’s top floor and an office on the top office floor, but for a while one person owned the multi-floor penthouse at CitySpire and commuted across 56th Street to his office on the top floor of Carnegie Hall Tower. He was not a tight-rope walker.

One57 takes the heat off CitySpire, which is not quite facing into the background, but is now a “mature” property with a very grand entrance right in the midst of midtown’s things.

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