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270 Park Ave. JPMorgan Chase’s headquarters building at 270 Park Ave.

NEW YORK CITY—Architectural preservation activists Docomomo US and Docomomo US New York/Tri-State are not too happy with JPMorgan Chase’s plans to demolish its current headquarters at 270 Park Ave. and to erect a larger office tower in its place. The proposal calls for a new structure, 500 feet taller than its current 700-foot height.

As reported in GlobeSt.com, Docomomo US and Docomomo US New York/Tri-State requested the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the building at 270 Park Ave as a landmark. They say the trailblazing woman architect Natalie de Blois and the well-renowned Gordon Bunshaft, both of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, from 1958 to 1960 built the historically significant modern building that deserves protection.

In response to their request to consider 270 Park Ave., (also known as the Union Carbide building) for landmark status, in 2013 the commission notified them that the building was in the top tier of “properties [that] may merit designation.” However, the Docomomo chapters had not subsequently heard from the commission.

Zodet Negrón, the director of communications, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission responded to GlobeSt.com’s inquiry about 270 Park Ave. with the following statement:

“Further consideration of this building as a landmark is not among the Commission’s priorities at this time. As part of the interagency East Midtown rezoning initiative, the Commission evaluated buildings in the area, including this one. As a result, we prioritized and designated 12 iconic buildings that represented the key periods of development in the area as individual landmarks, but the JPMorgan Chase building was not among them.”

She notes the 12 designations in East Midtown brought the number of individual landmarks in the area to 50. These include International style masterpieces of the modernist era such as the Seagram Building and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Lever House. During public meetings held on Nov. 22, 2016 and Dec. 6, 2016, the commission unanimously granted landmark status to the buildings as specified on its website.

In addition to the Lever House, de Blois is credited with designing the Pepsi-Cola Building which had already been landmarked. The Manufacturers Trust Company building, and the former One Chase Manhattan Plaza in lower Manhattan are other examples of modern buildings previously designated as landmarks by the commission. 

As part of the East Midtown rezoning, the agency looked at three key periods of development in the area, and considered previously designated landmarks, how well these buildings represented each period of development, and whether additional historic resources could enhance the area’s development history.

The East Midtown area had a large number of designated buildings, with 38 designations that included some of the most iconic international style office buildings designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and later modernist towers that experimented with new materials and forms.

JPMorgan Chase is proceeding to negotiate and acquire air rights to construct its new headquarters. The New York Times reported that JPMorgan Chase is paying approximately $240 million to the owners of Grand Central Terminal for air rights, and negotiating to buy 100,000 square feet of air rights from St. Bartholomew’s Church and, possibly, a second religious institution in the district.

The New York Times also noted that developers are eyeing the following buildings in the East Midtown rezoning district for potential demolition to use air rights for new skyscrapers: the Grand Hyatt New York hotel, the Roosevelt Hotel, Pfizer’s World Headquarters and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority headquarters.

Betsy Kim

Betsy Kim is the bureau chief, East Coast, and New York City reporter for Real Estate Forum and GlobeSt.com. As a lawyer and journalist, Betsy has worked as the director of editorial and content for LexisNexis Lawyers.com, a TV/multi-media journalist for NBC and CBS affiliated TV stations in the Midwest, and an associate producer at Court TV.

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