Preservation Issues

LPC Rejects RFR Proposal to Change Four Seasons

Four Seasons Canopy

Pool Room Existing

Pool Room with proposed Change

Four Seasons Lobby

Four Seasons screen

Read our testimony (pdf file)

Four Seasons Testimony

Four Seasons Restaurant
99 East 52nd Street, Seagram Building, Manhattan
May 27, 2015

After listening to unanimous opposition from an impressive array of experts, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) rejected changes to the Four Seasons restaurant that would have damaged one of the most architecturally significant interior landmarks in the country. RFR Holding, owner of the Seagram Building, proposed removing original fabric as part of proposed changes to the iconic restaurant.

The Conservancy’s testimony was among those heard by the Commission at the May 19th public hearing. But weeks prior to the hearing, the Conservancy was working with colleagues such as Phyllis Lambert and Robert A.M. Stern, to convince the project architect, and her client, to delete several inappropriate parts of the project even before they reached the public hearing stage.

One of the items that never made it to hearing was the installation of a transparent covering over the entrance canopy to the Four Seasons. It was removed from consideration because the Conservancy holds a preservation easement on the exterior of the Seagram Building and as such is empowered to approve or deny all exterior changes prior to review by the LPC. The Conservancy found that the existing canopy (and a similar one leading to the Brasserie Restaurant) is original and was designed to be understated and intimate as opposed to the much grander canopies leading to the Seagram Building’s main lobby. Furthermore part of the entry sequence to the Four Seasons is through the unassuming canopy and front doors that eventually leads the visitor to the breathtaking main space with its twenty-foot, floor-to-ceiling windows. For these reasons, the Conservancy denied the canopy alterations.

Unlike the exterior, the Conservancy’s role on the interior was advisory but nonetheless two other inappropriate changes were deleted from the plans prior to going before the Commission. One of these was the replacement of a wine cellar, visible through a glass panel as one enters the Pool Room, with bathrooms. The other consisted of irreversible alterations to the beautifully matched travertine wall panels in the entrance lobby.

What the Commissioners did review were proposed changes to the intact and original French walnut panels in the Pool Room and the removal of a Philip Johnson-designed glass and bronze screen in the Grill Room that separates the bar area from the dining area.

At the hearing, a remarkable group of experts testified in opposition to the proposal. Among the speakers were: Phyllis Lambert, who is credited with convincing her father, Seagram president Samuel Bronfman, to hire Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson to design a magnificent new headquarters for the Seagram Company; Edgar Bronfman Jr., Ms. Lambert’s nephew and a part owner of the Four Seasons; Alex Von Bidder, Maître D’ and part owner; Barry Bergdoll Columbia Professor and MOMA curator, Andrew Dolkart, dean of the Historic Preservation Program at Columbia University; a son of Joe Baum who was the creator (with Restaurants Associates) of the Four Seasons; Sherida Paulsen who recalled her years working at the Johnson Firm; and many others. A statement by Robert AM Stern was read by one of his senior associates. Taken as a whole, it was remarkably erudite testimony the likes of which the Commission has rarely if ever heard. At the conclusion of the public testimony, the LPC Chair, Meenakshi Srinivasan commented that it was clear that they were dealing with a “different level of landmark.”

The Commission discussed the proposal for about thirty minutes. Many Commissioners voiced their opposition to the proposal echoing many of the sentiments heard during the public comment period. In the end, the Commission acted to approve replacement carpeting for the restaurant and nothing else.