14 August 2008

Inadvertant New York Landmarks: 9 E. 57th Street

Some New York buildings, parks, statues and sundry structures become civic landmarks by sheer virtue of their architectural beauty. Others achieve landmark status through connections to local and national history. Still other become somewhat beloved by dint of their sticking around long enough without getting torn down.

I have a love-hate relationship with this last category, into which I feel such items as the I.M Pei Silver Towers at NYU and the threatened O'Toole building on Seventh Avenue fall. I don't want to confuse admiration with familiarity. I may get some warm feeling from seeing a certain building day after day, but one has to be careful of diluted the meaning of "landmark" by calling every creature comfort a classic.

I've looked at the big, bulbous orange-red number "9" outside 9 W. 57th Street at least once a month for years now, and I've never been quite at one with how I feel about it. Sometimes, rarely, it's struck me as fun and whimsical; usually around Christmastime. But mostly I feel cross and irritated whenever it catches my eye. It's goofy and somewhat embarrassing. The font of the "9" is terribly dated, speaking of the time the office building was erected, 1974, when "fat" lettering was in. (Think all those "Keep on Truckin'" t-shirts.) It strikes me a rather pathetic attempt at hip street art, the sort of thing a smaller and less cosmopolitan city than New York might come up with, and be inordinately proud of.

Now mind, I'm not trashing the building here, which was built by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. I know it's swooping glass wall has it's fans out there. I don't personally love it, but I acknowledge its appeal. We could all do a lot worse. I just mean the dumb old "9." I'm sure it, too, has its advocates, people who smile every time they pass it. But I wonder if they truly like the garish thing, or if they're just used to it.

The "9" was designed by Ivan Chermayeff of the firm Chermayeff & Geismar, who seem to have a thing for big, red objects (see here and here and here). According to their website, it is sits on City property (so Bloomberg could kick it to the curb if he wished), is made out of half-inch steel plate and weighs three tons. They also say "It has become something of a New York landmark."

Something of a New York landmark. There's the rub.


yojimbot said...

Stop hatin' its cool! Definitely cooler than the oft photographed LOVE on 55th and 6th.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

The LOVE sculpture's on my list, Yojimbot. In art as in everything, there are differences in opinion. The detractors are not "haters." That's simplistic thinking.

Jesse said...

I have to thank you for this. On a middle school field trip to NYC, we passed by this and some friends and I took pictures with it. A year or so later I saw it again on a trip with my family and again took pictures. My little sister and I talked about it for years. I've lived in the city for over a year now and spent two summers and a semester here on top of that, and the whole time I've had my eye out. I never would have guessed that my field trips--which of course were totally Times Square/Theatre District-centric--would have gotten so far North. And the reason that the internet was no help?

We thought it was an "e".

Anonymous said...

I like it. I appreciate anything at all odd on 57th Street, even if its oddness is simply a throwback to the Pushpin era of graphic design. 57th is so boring since the umbrella store closed.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

You're right, Carol. 57th sure is boring. Say, I've notice you trolling quite a bit lately on the South Brooklyn Network. Way to go.

Anonymous said...

I'm always fondly reminded of the final scene in "Lost in America" when Albert Brooks finally gets a job in that building, after Julie Hagerty lost their "nest egg" playing the number 9 in Vegas. Great tie-in.

Lisanne said...

I like the "9". So 70's. I agree with Carol G. There were some good fabric stores on 57th Street at one time too. Theatrical fabrics.