One of New York City’s most impressive Art Deco buildings has been closed to the public since the 1970s, but you can now visit its lobby and examine the marble-clad treasure yourself. Formerly a private office building, the towering structure at 70 Pine Street in the Financial District reopened this month as its developer, Rose Associates, began leasing freshly converted luxury apartments on its over 60 floors. Part of the building will also serve as a hotel. Anyone is free to roam the expansive, historic lobby.
Built in 1932 by oil and gas business Cities Service Company and designed by seasoned architectural firm Clinton & Russell, Holton & George, 70 Pine stood as the third-tallest building in the world upon completion, rising 952 feet. In 1976, Cities Service sold it to American International Group (AIG), sealing off the gleaming lobby from the general public, although it had previously been lined with shops such as a bookstore, a drugstore, a tobacconist, and a telegraph office. Rose Associates took over the skyscraper in 2012 and has been working on its conversion since then.
The developer has had to take extra care with any infrastructural edits: in 2011, the lobby as well as the building’s white brick, granite, and gray limestone exterior were designated city landmarks in a unanimous vote. During the announcement, Robert Tierney, the then chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), noted that while New York City welcomed many new Art Deco skyscrapers in the late 1920s and 1930s, “few from this era can boast the lavish interiors, intricate metalwork and visibility of this building.”
The lobby’s ornamentation is largely the work of Thomas J. George, who’s believed to have been the lead designer, as the LPC wrote in its 2011 report. The molded plaster ceilings feature heavy geometric corbels, with lighting fixtures of cast glass illuminating the space. Decorative metalwork of flowers embellishes the marble walls, while stylized reliefs of butterflies kissing flowers — possibly an allusion to oil production — top the revolving doors at the many entrances. Carvings of Cities Service’s triangular logo within a trefoil, set against geometric patterns, sit above what were New York’s first double-deck elevators; the elevator doors themselves display aluminum panels of figures shown in profile, designed by renowned architectural sculptor René Paul Chambellan.
Today, six of these elevator shafts are now mailrooms, with their doors permanently open to reveal sleek black boxes; the remaining ones still boast their Art Deco interiors, with glass panels added by AIG in the ’70s. The old storefronts are now rooms for commerce of a different kind, converted to a leasing gallery and the development’s offices; the counters and walls, however, still feature original aluminum details. Mostly left untouched since the 1930s, aside from restoration projects, the lobby is incredibly well-preserved, and it won’t be long until it witnesses heavy foot traffic once more.