State Insurance Fund building desecrated

I was actually nauseated and a little teary when J. texted over this picture yesterday. This is my favorite building in Tribeca, and since I knew it was eligible for the historic register yet not on the list OR set as a city landmark, I had a post poised to start a campaign to designate it. Now I am just sick to see this, and furious with myself for not acting sooner. And the way they did it — it’s like they amputated an arm. I want to lash out and blame someone for allowing this to happen, even though it could have easily been any of us who led the charge… (In the meantime I have calls in to the State Insurance Fund.)

The text below is from the preservation organization Docomomo, a Dutch group that advocates for the protection of Modern movement architecture, landscape and urban design across the globe through local chapters.

The New York State Insurance Fund building was designed by Lorimer Rich Associates. Rich (1891–1978), a New York architect best known for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, VA’s National Cemetery, worked for Charles A. Platt [believe it or not, this is my great-grandfather] and the firm of McKim, Mead & White prior to opening his own firm in 1928. During the 1930s, Rich designed a number of Post Office buildings, and in 1950, he was elevated to Fellowship in the American Institute of Architects.

The 15-story body of the New York State Insurance Fund is defined by alternating bands of glazed, white brick and ribbon windows that rise out of a polished, red granite base. The curved, green mosaic entrance canopy, centered on the Church Street elevation, rests on contrasting red granite piers and retains its original metal signage. Terrazzo flooring with inscribed circles completes this pedestrian-friendly, outdoor room. Elliot Willensky and Norval White wrote in their AIA Guide to New York City (1988): “The funky flaring stainless steel entrance canopy just screams ‘fifties.’”

One of the most distinctive qualities of Rich’s work, fully in evidence at this building, was his incorporation of sculptural elements into his otherwise minimalist compositions. A striking relief by artist C. Paul Jennewein (1890–1978), entitled Dedicated to the Service of the People of the State of New York, is located within the Church Street entrance. A second work, on the Duane Street elevation, is entitled Unity of the Family, and was completed by sculptor Oronzio Maldarelli (1892–1963). The figurative works, executed in a Modern Classical style, reference the occupant’s purpose and complement the building’s simple, elegant design.

 

19 Comments

  1. Do not feel bad about delaying. It is not clear anything could have be done. The City’s Landmarks Law would not apply to this State-owned property, nor does NYS have to file plans with NYC Department of Buildings.

    • Thanks, James. As always, enlightening. I didn’t know that about state property. But I still feel sick…

  2. Why on earth would they do that? It’s not like they’re the landlords who stripped ornamentation from Upper West Side building when Local law 11 passed.

  3. They do not follow any rules. The scaffolding on the back of the building is like nothing I have ever seen. There is an actual staircase from the street to the roof on the outside of the building.

  4. Sadly, while most people love certain architectural styles, like Art Deco or Victorian or Gothic, others like Mid-Century Modernism or Brutalism garner little love and rarely get the protection for stellar examples. Except for the TWA terminal, what MCM building can most people even think of…?

  5. How can we make this viral. Has anyone tweeted Cuomo?

  6. The building is not owned by NYS, but instead by New York State Insurance Fund.

    • As stated in its annual report:

      “The State Insurance Fund […] is a nonprofit agency of the State of New York”

  7. I FEEL ILL!!!!

  8. And the cowards did it behind high tarpaulins so we would not notice until it was too late.

  9. I cannot believe it would have happened without Cuomo’s adminstration’s consent. NYSIF is not that independent.

  10. How sad. I have fond memories of that building. Worked there from 1988 to 1999.

  11. I think the State Troopers have an outpost in that building now, the State Trooper SUVs are always parked on Thomas Street.

  12. The troopers do have an outpost and new entrance on Thomas St. I understand from staff they are taking the entire floors and we are already seeing trooper vehicles on Thomas St. I live on Duane and know State Insurance Fund owns Trimble Place the little side street behind its building. They send us letters once a year when they close it. SIF has been gutting this building from the inside for years and years. Noise has been and issue but we hadn’t seen any changes at all to the outside until very very recently so this is shocking news. I’d check to see if it’s permanent, or are they doing restoration??

  13. If the State of NY had anything to do with it–funding or approvals– it would have needed to undertake review under state environmental law for effects on historic resources (SEQR). The building could have been designated as a local landmark regardless, though if state owned, the state might argue it is exempt from city regulation. Many state and federal buildings in the city are locally-designated landmarks.

    • They apparently had the review and decided there would be no “significant adverse impact” here.

      State Historic Preservation Office records state:

      Consultation Projects
      Project Number: 18PR07036
      Name: Renovation of New York State Insurance Fund Building at 199 Church Street
      Status: Closed
      Location Desc: Interior of building and exterior facade, including exterior canopy and entrance area

    • See also https://www.dec.ny.gov/enb/20170726_not2.html

      ENB – Region 2 Notices 7/26/2017

      Negative Declaration

      New York County (Manhattan) – The New York State Insurance Fund (NYSIF), as lead agency, has determined that the proposed Renovation of 199 Church Street will not have a significant adverse environmental impact. The action involves the renovation of existing 296,167 square foot, 15 story office building on a 0.4 acre lot located at Church Street, between Duane Street, Thomas Street and Trumble Place in New York City, New York. The proposed action would include 291,167 square foot of office space and 5,000 square foot of retail use. The building will continue to house the staff of the New York State Insurance Fund, as well as two floors leased to the New York State Police for office space and a portion of the ground floor being used for retail. The number of employees will be reduced from 1,300 to 1,125 (960 NYSIF, 150 State Police and 15 retail). The New York State Police office will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

      Work includes asbestos abatement, installation of a sprinklers, installation of an emergency generator, concrete and structural steel work, replacement of an elevator, demolition, lighting, flooring, ADA restrooms, ceilings, HVAC systems, electrical and cabling, glazing and storefront construction, interior finishes to include carpet and paint.

      Contact: Alan Angelo, NYSIF, 15 Computer Drive West, Albany, NY 12205, Phone: (518) 437-4291, E-mail: aangelo@nysif.com.

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