West 56th Street between Sixth and Fifth is an interesting block. One block north, on the major shopping artery of W. 57th, you've got ritzy shops and a few big box stores. It's major league commerce in action, which all windows and doors shining. Just to the south, hiding in the shadow of its big brother avenue to the north, slightly tawdry little W. 56th is chock-a-block with narrow, independent eateries. Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Italian, delis—this is where W. 57th Street goes to get a decently priced lunch. It's a very New York block, and very likable.
There are some small architectural gems on this street, including a townhouse built by Stanford White (No. 12). But this building is not one of them. This is number 20 W. 56th Street, most recently a Japanese restaurant, now a vacant curiosity clad in squares of green metal and polka-dotted by tiny blue windows. I'm sure there's a nice brownstone suffering underneath that hip, 1960s makeover. The building is set back from the street a bit, and, what with the roller shutters, dull pavement in front of it, and the rusty red hue of its ground floor, it looks like the back loading dock of some small department store.
According to Dept. of Building files, the address once contained a few apartments on the upper floors. The ground floor was a studio of some sort in the 1920s. There was a factory of a kind in the basement and on the second floor in the late 1920s. The ground floor had a restaurant by the 1940s. At some point before the dawn of the 21st century, all the apartments were removed and replaced by restaurant and retail space.
The place is for rent, but, honestly, who would want to set up shop inside this thing? It's so hideous. Duane Reade? They'll move into anything.