The building that houses New York’s beloved Rizzoli Bookstore does not meet the criteria for individual landmark status, according to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. The determination was made on Wednesday by the office of Robert B. Tierney, chairman of the commission, which found that the Midtown Manhattan property at 31 West 57th Street “lacks the architectural significance necessary to meet the criteria for designation as an individual landmark.”
The determination follows reports this week that the charming 109-year-old structure is facing demolition, presumably to make way for yet another luxury condo and adding to the numerous glass towers that have sprouted up like mushrooms along the busy crosstown thoroughfare. Rizzoli is located in one of three adjacent townhouses, all of which will reportedly be demolished. The news has caused an outcry among New York City literary types and preservationists.
“The sense of what 57th Street once was is getting lost,” said Peg Breen, president of the advocacy group New York Landmarks Conservancy. “I think these are the types of buildings that give you a sense of perspective. Given what’s going on on the rest of the street, you want some memories.”
In response to reports of a pending demolition, Pam Sommers, a spokeswoman for Rizzoli, released a statement clarifying that the bookstore will remain at its current location for the time being but is “actively seeking new space.”
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The bookstore’s management had requested that the city evaluate the property to determine if it qualifies for landmark protection. In a letter obtained by International Business Times, Marry Beth Betts, a commission researcher, said a senior staff committee carefully reviewed the building but declined to recommend it for further consideration as an individual New York City Landmark.
The bookstore had apparently argued for landmark status on the grounds that the building, not far from Steinway Hall, was once the location of a piano showroom, and is therefore a historic remnant of the city’s influential piano industry. The commission, however, pointed out that it has already commemorated that industry through the designation of Steinway Hall and its first-floor reception room, among other locations.
“The committee recommends that these sites, in comparison to 31 W. 57th Street, provide a better representation of the piano’s industry’s historic significance to New York City,” Betts wrote.
Sommers declined to comment on whether Rizzoli will appeal the determination.
Founded in 1964, Rizzoli has been at its 57th Street location for 29 years. The New York Times reported a pending demolition on Tuesday but said the building’s owners -- the LeFrak real estate family and Vornado Realty Trust -- would not be specific about their plans. The neighborhood, and in particular 57th Street, is falling prey to rapid development. The newly constructed glass giant One57 is said to be the tallest residential building in the city.
Given the commission’s opinion, Breen said it’s unlikely at this point that the “three little gems” will be saved unless a public backlash is strong enough to convince city officials otherwise. “It’s much more difficult when the developer already owns them and has plans,” she said. “It shouldn’t be the end of it, but it often is.”
Update: Following this report, an online petition was launched on Change.org calling on the Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the building as a landmark.