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51 West 52nd Street (5th Avenue and Avenue of the Americas), (CBS Headquarters), application for installation of removable planting trays on the granite knee wall around the building's plaza

At the scheduled monthly meeting of Community Board Five on Thursday, July 11, 2013, the Board passed the following resolution by a vote of 38 in favor; 0 opposed; 1 abstaining:

WHEREAS, 51 West 52nd Street, the CBS Building, also known as "Black Rock," constructed between 1961 and 1964, has been an individual NYC Landmark since October 21,1997; and

WHEREAS, The building was the only NYC skyscraper designed by the renowned Finnish architect, Eero Saarinen, who was commissioned by the then CBS Chairman, William S. Paley, with additional design work done by the eminent architects, Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo, after Saarinen's death; and

WHEREAS, The CBS headquarters is a freestanding 38-story, 800,000 sq. ft. tower sheathed in flame-textured Canadian black granite and glass and stands in a sunken plaza that occupies the entire western end of the block bounded by Fifth and Sixth Avenues and West 52nd and 53rd Streets; and

WHEREAS, The plaza is paved in a gray granite slightly lighter in color than the granite used in the building's piers and is sunken below street level by approximately two feet forming a retaining wall with parapets and vertical slits on the inside faces; and

WHEREAS, The owner has applied to LPC for approval for installation of  removable planting trays and granite logos on the granite knee wall around the building's plaza; and

WHEREAS, Saarinen is quoted in the 1997 LPC Designation Report:

"We tried to place the building on the site so that we could have a plaza and still not destroy the street line. A tower should not be tied in with lower street buildings. It should stand alone with air and light around it. A plaza is a very necessary thing in a city. It lets people sit in the sun and look at the sky. A plaza allows a building to be seen. Our buildings should be seen, because they are monuments of our time. But ... we have to remember the street line and we have to remember the space between is as important as the towers. These arrangements should be orderly and beautiful" - Eero Saarinen - On His Work

The Designation Report states: "Planters with trees have been placed in the plaza, planters with bushes have been placed on the parapets of the retaining wall"; and

WHEREAS, The proposal by the owner claims that the removable modular planting trays are intended to "soften the edges" of the plaza, however the installation of these elements would be to eliminate the seating available for those who want to sit along the low knee wall, contrary to Saarinen's intention that the plaza should be a place for respite and contemplation; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five recognizes that the use of the plaza for public seating may constitute  a maintenance burden for the building's owners, it is nevertheless clearly a part of the total design that it should be utilized for this purpose; and 

WHEREAS, The Application includes two, 2 sq. ft high granite blocks at the corners of the knee wall on Sixth Avenue to contain the CBS "Eye" logo, which is not part of the original design; and

WHEREAS, The plaza contains wooden Rosenwach tree planters which are not sympathetic to the building's International Style architecture; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five deems both the installation of the planting trays, the CBS granite logos and the existing tree planters all inappropriate with the building's design and the architect's intentions; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five recommends that alternative proposals more harmonious with the plaza, including provision of seating for the public along the parapet knee wall, should be considered; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, Community Board Five recommends denial of the Application for 51 West 52nd Street (bet. 5th Avenue and Avenue of the Americas), (CBS Headquarters), for installation of removable planting trays and granite logos on the granite knee wall around the building's plaza.

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