Commission Brief: Huntington Hartford, the A&P heir, commissioned Edward Durell Stone & Associates as architects.
Design Brief: Stone planned a ten-story marble showcase for the visual arts. The façade was to be made of soft white or off-white marble to match the Coliseum, which was diagonally west across Columbus Circle. The building was to be supported on a Venetian-style arcade, later dubbed “lollipop columns.” The building was to have cutout porthole shapes in the façade to give museum patrons a view of Central Park. According to Stone, the building would have ample fenestration in its marble sides, so that vistas of Columbus Circle and Central Park could refresh the gallery visitor. Stone's renderings showed the building festooned with long, hanging vines or plants and surrounded by thick trees. None of those additions were in the final plan. The building would rise 150 feet with no setbacks. It would be the first vertical-type building to be used as an art museum. The building would have a system of descending galleries, which would be similar to Frank Lloyd Wright's plan for the Guggenheim Museum, then under construction.
At the ground floor of the building were short, stubby support columns, each with a circular capital. These columns formed an arcade at the base of the building. The front-facing curved façade of the building, a Venetian-inspired vertical palazzo, was perforated with porthole-like openings at the corners, base and crown. The top two floors, where the restaurant was located behind a loggia, opened to a view of Central Park. Ada Louise Huxtable of the New York Times likened the overall effect to a “die-cut Venetian palazzo on lollipops,” Olga Gueft of Interiors said that the building's “red-granite-trimmed, green-marble-lined colonnades, these rows of portholes like borders of eyelet hand-embroidered on a marble christening robe are too winsome for heavyweight criticism.” The stair gallery inside the building wrapped around a core. Filtered natural light was introduced through the perforations at the corners, which opened small glimpses of Central Park without distracting the viewer from the art. The lobby floor was paved in terrazzo, into which were set the discs that had been cut out of the marble when the exterior arches were formed. The interior walls of the museum were paneled with walnut and other hardwoods. The floors were thickly carpeted or elaborately finished in parquet de Versailles and marble. A pipe organ was included in one of the double-height galleries. Though Hartford's collection did not include any paintings by Gauguin, the ninth-floor Polynesian restaurant, the Gauguin Room, included a tapestry based on one of the French master's paintings.
The building would be constructed of reinforced concrete over which would be a skin of white Vermont marble, veined with gold and gray. In an apparent change of the original design to have ample windows in the marble façade of the building, during construction the windows were reduced to a minimum, limited to the periphery of the façade, and placed behind decorative pierced marble, similar to the concrete grill work that Stone used for the American Embassy in New Delhi, India. According to Ada Louise Huxtable, art and architecture critic of the New York Times, "[t]he arcades and framing filigree that are Edward's Stone's increasingly insistent trademark will make his Gallery of Modern Art an effective architectural billboard before the visitor enters."
Columbus Circle is a small, trapezoidal lot on the south side of Columbus Circle in Manhattan, New York City, USA. The seven-story Pabst Grand Circle Hotel, designed by William H. Cauvet, stood at this address from 1874 until it was demolished in 1960.
At the confluence of Broadway and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, on the southern circumference of Columbus Circle, and directly across 59th Street from Central Park, Stone’s building was a unique example of post-World War II modern architecture, and it was a foil to the recently constructed immense glass façade of the new Time Warner building, on the west circumference of Columbus Circle. The location of the building at this important traffic hub required that its front-facing façade be curved to match Columbus Circle. The lollipop columns of this Venetian-inspired building, which were placed close to the curved curb line of the street, gave the impression that gondolas, instead of cars, should drift past them. The motif of the circular “lollipops” was carried up the sides on the building as small port hole type windows, which admitted some light into the building, but were not large enough to permit the vistas of Central Part to distract museum-goers from the art inside. Although architects and architectural historians were sharply divided as to whether the building merited landmark status, which eventually was denied, the marble-faced building was unique in its design and, with its alteration, is not likely to be used as an inspiration for future structures.
Huntington Hartford conceived of the Gallery of Modern Art as a museum for contemporary art that would reject exhibitions of modern abstract act, which was then being embraced by the Museum of Modern Art (“MoMA”). To help achieve that plan, Hartford selected Edward Durell Stone as the architect for the project. Ironically, in 1939, Stone, along with Phillip Goodwin, had been the architects of the MoMA building on 53rd Street. At its location at Columbus Circle, the museum would be the most accessible in Manhattan by subway and bus.
Stone’s plan for the Gallery of Modern Art called for a 10-story, high-rise museum, as opposed to the more traditional horizontal museums, like MoMA. The marble façade of the building was intended to give the building a monumental appearance, with traditional Venetian motifs and modern columns with circular capitals. Stone sought to design a permanent building, as opposed to a mannered piece of architecture, that would stand for generations to come.
The initial reception for the building was favorable. According to the New York Times art and architecture critic, in 1964, Columbus Circle was a sordid and dismembered open space. Ms. Huxtable characterized the new building for the museum as resembling a “dye-cut Venetian palazzo on lollipops. It begs for a canal or garden setting, rather than the dusty disorder of a New York traffic circle. Its effect, which now borders on poetic grotesquerie, will be vastly improved if the architect’s sympathetic design of the circle is carried out by the city.” Over time, however, the building was abandoned, first by Hartford and then by Fairleigh Dickinson University. Although the City of New York later acquired the building as the headquarters for its Cultural Affairs Department, even the City abandoned the building, such that, in 2002, David W. Dunlap of the New York Times characterized the building “as an abandoned work of romantic modernism that has irritated and amused New Yorkers for 30 years." In 2004, the same Ms. Huxtable who, in 1964 for the New York Times, had praised the building, albeit faintly, now criticized preservationists’ efforts to landmark what she called “this derelict little building.” Now writing for The Wall Street Journal, Ms. Huxtable wrote, “I have been watching, with wonder and disbelief, the beatification of 2 Columbus Circle, ne the Huntington Hartford Museum, a k a the lollipop building (so-named, for better or worse, by me). This small oddity of dubious architectural distinction, designed by Edward Durell Stone, has been elevated to masterpiece status and cosmic significance by a campaign to save its marginally important, mildly eccentric, and badly deteriorated façade—a campaign that has escalated into a win-at-any-cost-and-by-any-means vendetta in the name of ‘preservation.’” The façade of the building, now condemned by the wrecking ball, will probably have no appreciable impact on the work of other architects. The building did not contribute to establish any new architectural principles.
The Gallery of Modern Art, when conceived by Huntington Hartford and designed by Edward Durell Stone in the late 1950s, was unique as an art museum due to its vertical design. As of 1958, for the gallery interior, Stone was exploring a scheme for having stairways along the walls of the building, leading to a descending system of galleries. This system would enable visitors to take an elevator to the top of the building and then descend several feet by stairway onto a landing gallery. After viewing that gallery, the visitor would take another stairway to the gallery below and so on. This scheme for the display of art in the building was similar to what Frank Lloyd Wright had designed for The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
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