Janet Babin, Economic Development Reporter, WNYC News
Janet Babin is a reporter at WNYC covering economic development.
After nearly three decades on 57th Street, Rizzoli Bookstore is closing its doors on Friday. The building's developers, Vornado Realty Trust and The LeFrak Organization, have slated the century-old townhouse for demolition.
"It's a shame, it was a neighborhood institution," said nearby resident Florence Rodale.
Three floors of bookshelves and elegant chandeliers offered passersby a welcome respite from 57th Street, an area increasingly rife with traffic and noise from the nearby construction of super luxury residential towers.
A source who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution told WNYC that building co-owner Vornado Realty Trust started jack-hammering the building in December without alerting staff and without proper demolition permits. The source also said Vornado filled in gold Rizzoli lettering with concrete and purposely destroyed architectural details for fear the building would receive landmark status. Developers often embark on preemptive demolition to stop a structure from receiving special historical status that could prevent it from being torn down.
Over 15,000 signatures were gathered on a change.org petition seeking designation of the Rizzoli building as an interior and exterior landmark.
But the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission denied both requests.
"Our review concluded that because there are few remaining elements from the piano showroom era, particularly in comparison with other intact interior landmark spaces like the Steinway Piano showroom on West 57th Street, the site no longer retains the integrity of its original design, and the ca. 1985 redesign of the space does not rise to the level of an interior designation."
But preservationists are incredulous. Community Board 5 is holding a rally Friday to raise awareness about what it calls a lack of progress between progress and preservation.
“The landmarks process requires reform; we must avoid more Rizzoli-like ambushes on our history," said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
Vornado had no comment; it deferred to the building's co-owner, LeFrak, that said in an email that the permits have been publicly displayed on the outside of the property and no work was undertaken until such permits were obtained.
The LeFrak spokesman added that the interior of the building was significantly altered in 1985 and does not resemble the original. The company also said that "current plans do not call for a condominium on the site."