As an editor of a publication focused on excellent commercial interiors, as a designer, and after eight years as an acquisitions editor for a book publisher, it pains me to see that the beautiful Rizzoli bookstore at 31 West 57th Street could potentially be destroyed. Architecture and design book lovers, visiting from around the world, have made the trip to the Rizzoli store not only for the selection of books but also to enjoy the vaulted interior that was carefully designed by New York architect Hugh Hardy. But those days may be numbered.
Manhattan’s West 57th Street is a hotbed of development activity, with many new, tall condo towers being developed on and near the street. Rizzoli, which has been in this space since 1985, was told that it may need to vacate this year. While the owners of the building that houses the Rizzoli store have yet to disclose specific plans, asking Rizzoli to vacate likely means that they plan to demolish the 109-year-old, six-story building to build something taller in its place. The owners, the LeFrak real estate family and Vornado Realty Trust, own 31 West 57th that holds the Rizzoli store, as well as two adjoining buildings similar in scale that are all former limestone mansions converted to commercial use years ago.
The three buildings are not landmarked, so the owners could proceed with demolition. Advocates for the store and the building are pressuring the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the building and the interior as individual landmarks. The Landmarks Preservation Commission has not considered a vote for landmark status to 31 West 57th Street on the grounds that the property “lacks the architectural significance necessary to meet the criteria for designation.” But that does not mean that the commission will never consider a vote on the matter, and it has not stopped people from keeping the pressure on. A petition on change.org has garnered 15,662 as of April 1. You can access it here.
While the effort continues to potentially landmark the building, it is a fight not only for a structure and an interior, but also for the cultural life of New York. Book sellers have had a challenging time in recent years, and New York City has far fewer bookstores than it had just a decade ago. The loss of this store, specifically, would be a loss for all New Yorkers and visitors to the city.