One look down West 57th Street and it is easy to see how Manhattan is quickly becoming an ultra-modern metropolis, with tall, narrow glass towers more akin to Cloud Atlas than the old-world European charm from which New York was formed. While the dazzling skyscrapers of staggering heights have served to attract billionaire investors for the world over, some neighborhoods are less than welcoming to the new look of the city.
The Upper East Side of New York has always had a rich past, from the Roosevelts to the Rockefellers, to the Astons. The old money inhabitants that remain have no desire to change with the times, and would very much prefer to maintain the status quo, no matter the price.
At One57, two suites have already sold for $95 million apiece. The sleek Shard down the street will be over fifty stories high, yet thin enough to stand in a lot built for two townhouses. The average price tag is expected to exceed $20 million. These swaying glass palaces have no place amidst the heritage homes of the Upper East Side, or so say its current tenants.
One of the most outspoken against the encroaching modernity is none other than novelist Tom Wolfe. When Aby Rosen attempted to erect a 30-story glass tower at 980 Madison Avenue, Mr. Wolfe ran straight to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which put the brakes on the project, much to the developer’s chagrin.
According to the locals, out-of-place modern buildings have met with more market resistance than their classic limestone counterparts. Glass apartments at 949 Park Avenue sold 27 percent below asking prices. At 1055 Park Avenue, modern style homes closed for 30 percent to 40 percent below asking. Meanwhile, buildings with traditional architecture matching the neighborhood have sold out almost instantly.
New York is no stranger to architectural controversy. In 1915,the 38-story Equitable Building produced an oppressive amount of shade. The building was said to “cast a noonday shadow four blocks long”which effectively deprived neighboring properties of sunlight. This gave rise to the 1916 Zoning Resolution that required setbacks in new buildings, and restricted towers to a percentage of lot size, to allow sunlight to reach the streets below. Today, with buildings such as One Madison Avenue and 107 West 57th Avenue, these height-to-width restrictions have gone out the window.
New York City has always been synonymous with progress and modernity. The architecture of the city is said to be most closely associated with the skyscraper. Therefore, it is not without its irony that the old money of progress is trying to suppress the new wealth of the same intention.
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