NYC Landmarks Panel Rejects Four Seasons Alterations

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New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission approved changes to the carpet at Four Seasons, the restaurant inside the Seagram Building, while declining to vote on bigger renovations sought by the tower’s landlord.

RFR Holding LLC proposed to replace a non-original fissured glass partition with planters and to replace a fixed walnut panel between the public and private dining rooms with a movable one. The plans drew opposition from Phyllis Lambert, daughter of the late Seagram Co. President Samuel Bronfman. Lambert, in the 1950s, oversaw the design of the skyscraper and selected its architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

The inaction on the changes is, in effect, a rejection of RFR’s proposal, according to Mark Silberman, the commission’s general counsel. All members of the panel who were present and spoke at a hearing Tuesday in lower Manhattan were opposed to the plans.

“There is no good reason why they should make these changes,” said Meenakshi Srinivasan, the commission’s chairwoman. “There’s no rationale. The space could function perfectly well without these changes, so why do it?”

The restaurant’s lease at the landmark tower expires in July 2016, and RFR, the investment company run by Aby Rosen, hasn’t committed to keeping it in the space, said Alex von Bidder, who owns the Four Seasons along with partners Julian Niccolini and the Bronfman family. Von Bidder said they have been looking for alternative locales for the restaurant.

‘Stay Tuned’

The partners have talked to SL Green Realty Corp. about taking space at 280 Park Ave., a recently renovated office tower south of the Seagram Building, an SL Green executive said on a conference call last month. Discussions with RFR and other landlords on the restaurant’s location were on hold pending the outcome of Tuesday’s hearing, Von Bidder said. The partners weren’t consulted on the alterations proposed by RFR, he said.

Following the hearing, Von Bidder said the decision “has no effect on our lease. Our lease is a separate document that has nothing to do with landmarking. So stay tuned is all I can say.”

The Four Seasons space, designed by Philip Johnson, consists mainly of two large dining halls -- the Pool Room, dominated by a marble pool in the center, and the Grill Room, which has a square bar in one corner. The restaurant was given landmark protection in 1989, at the same time the Seagram Building itself became an official city landmark.

Following public protests, RFR backed away from proposals to replace the restaurant’s wine cellar with bathroom space and to create a larger coat room in the lobby, Lambert wrote in a May 16 op-ed piece in the New York Times.

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