Preservation Coalition Calls for Urgent Action to Save a Unique Public Space

Mar. 23, 2023

Update 3/27/23: This story includes a response from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which was not in the original version.

Aiming to protect the postmodern office tower at 60 Wall Street from what they call the “boringization” of buildings across the city, a coalition of preservationists and others are urging the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to designate it, and its funky, three-story atrium, as individual and interior landmarks. 

Fearing plans by the building’s owner to remake the nearly 16,000-square-foot atrium into what they see as “another bland and generic space,” preservation groups such as the Municipal Art Society, New York Landmarks Convervancy, Historic Districts Council, and other advocates and elected officials as well as Community Board 1 signed on to a letter this month, calling on the commission to “move forward now on the designation process before this outstanding example of architecture and history is lost.”

The Kevin Roche-designed 60 Wall Street “is the best example of modern technology and the return to classical elements that was happening in the 1980s,” said Liz Waytkus, executive director of the modernist preservation organization Docomomo US.

Paramount Group, owner of the 55-story office tower, has proposed redesigns to the building’s exterior base and the lobby, which extends between Wall and Pine streets, to help attract tenants to what has been a largely vacant tower since Deutsche Bank moved out in 2021. Last September, Waytkus and others celebrated in the building’s atrium after the LPC chose to take no action on the developer’s proposal. After three tries Paramount in January won approval for more modest modifications to the exterior. (Changes to the exterior needed LPC approval because it is required to be in “harmonious relationship” with the landmark 55 Wall Street across the street.) 

Last year, Docomomo US filed a formal request to the LPC to evaluate 60 Wall Street, both its exterior and atrium, as potential landmarks. In September, LPC Chair Sarah Carroll said the research staff was working on the study. “I hope conclusions can be reached in the near future,” she said in September. 

But no report has been forthcoming, providing the owners with the opportunity to move ahead with its plans to transform the lobby into something “more inviting.” Those plans await approval from the Department of City Planning.  

“What we see throughout the city is that [the LPC] uses a delay tactic to not allow a landmark to actually have a designation,” said City Councilman Christopher Marte, who later added that it’s “hard to tell” the agency’s intentions in this case.

In response to questions from the Trib, LPC spokeswoman Lisa Kersavage replied with a statement: “LPC has responded to letters regarding 60 Wall Street that the building and interior POPS continue to be under review. Further consideration as an individual and interior landmark is only possible within the context of the agency’s priorities, which are determined by a variety of factors including our policy of designating resources equitably throughout the city’s five boroughs.”

“We know that any day the owner could file an application that would strip this one-of-a-kind interior for a generic corporate one,” said Frampton Tolbert, executive director of the Historic Districts Council. (A Paramount Group spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.)

In the meantime, Docomomo’s Waytkus, for one, is hoping to find ways to bring more attention and active use to the privately owned public space (or POPS), with its 10 white-marble columns that rise to a latticed and mirrored ceiling. “It’s the perfect place for silent disco. You could play ’80s music,” she said. And as a former roller derby competitor, she added, “I would kill to skate here.”