Preservation Issues

Midtown Terra Cotta Pieces Have New Homes

UPDATE: February 2018
Midtown East – 51 East 42nd Street

Several large pieces of decorative terra cotta were removed from a handsome Warren and Wetmore building demolished to make way for One Vanderbilt have finally found good homes. Nine pieces are at the St. Louis based National Building Arts Center, a museum of architectural elements. The others are at the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture.

Click here to see enlarged photos

Jennifer Hoover, Director of Finance & Operations at the Architecture School, said Notre Dame received the pieces “with great appreciation” and that the elements will be restored and put on public display at the School.

The National Building Arts Center houses the nation’s largest and most diversified collection of building artifacts. A variety of architectural elements from the Brooklyn Museum are now also at the Center.

The quest for a home for the terra cotta began last April as 51 East 42nd Street, across Vanderbilt Avenue from Grand Central, was being readied for demolition. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer strongly backed a request from Conservancy Chair Lloyd Zuckerberg to save some of the elaborate terra cotta decoration on the facades. SL Green, the developer for One Vanderbilt, agreed to save some pieces and also paid the shipping costs.

“51 East 42nd Street was one of the little gems scattered throughout New York,” said Zuckerberg. “It was designed with tremendous care to be a background building to the main event—Grand Central Terminal,” he added . “Honoring its memory by distributing its architectural elements allows future generations to understand the importance of detail in enriching the aesthetic character of urban settings.”

Anthony Schembri of SL Green wrote Zuckerberg on January 31 that “SL Green cannot be happier that the terra cotta elements will be displayed for students and the general public to appreciate.” He called the pieces “invaluable architectural elements.”

The Conservancy believed 51 East 42nd Street deserved landmark designation. Failing that, we thank our Chair and SL Green for ensuring that elements of the building will be cared for and publicly appreciated.

Help us Find a Home for This Historic Terra Cotta

The giant hole in the ground next to Grand Central where the new One Vanderbilt will rise, once held a distinguished office building by Warren and Wetmore, the architects of the terminal. The Conservancy is trying to find a home for some of the salvaged terra cotta pieces to keep them in public view.

Although 51 East 42nd Street was on a list of Midtown East buildings we proposed for designation, the Landmarks Commission didn’t act on it. Conservancy Chair Lloyd Zuckerberg was enamored of the elaborate terra cotta decoration on the facades. He spent time photographing it from nearby buildings. And he urged SL Greene, the developer of One Vanderbilt to save some of the pieces as they demolished 51 East 42nd Street to make way for the new building. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer added her encouragement. And SL Greene agreed.

Click here to see enlarged photos

Saving it may turn out easier than finding an appropriate place to display it. There have been no takers so far. If you have suggestions…or a large lobby you need to decorate…please let us know. These are wonderful pieces in themselves and reminders of the City’s architectural history.

Call for details if you are interested.
Landmarks Conservancy: 212.995.5260
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