rendering judgment

The Tower Replacing the Grand Hyatt Is an Absolute Behemoth

The view from the corner of 42nd and Lexington. Art: Courtesy of SOM

Today’s big architectural revelation, via the Commercial Observer, is 175 Park Avenue, which is not quite on Park Avenue. It’s the big building intended to replace the Grand Hyatt, the black glass prism at the corner of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue, next door to Grand Central Terminal. And we do mean big: The 26-story Grand Hyatt is 295 feet tall, but its successor will be 1,646 feet high, with 2.2 million square feet of space. The Chrysler Building, face-to-face with it across Lexington Avenue, is just over 1,000 feet, with barely half the square footage inside. It will be pretty nearly overwhelmed by this new tower.

There’s no question that 175 Park is a bulky building. The architects, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, have done what they can with setbacks, reducing the cross section every 15 floors or so as the structure rises to its latticework top. The form is meant to echo the stepped-back details of the Chrysler Building, a pattern that itself is sometimes known as “skyscraper Deco.” But the grace of that older tower comes in large part from its slim, almost needlelike proportions — the higher floors in particular are relatively small, and horizontal brick patterns make it look wider than it is. The new tower at 175 Park has the big floor plates that contemporary tenants demand (indeed, the new Midtown East zoning was explicitly written to encourage megabuildings like this), and what’s on view is less grace, more brawn. The big, ropy structural members gathered at the base are more of the same.

Green space on the mezzanine. Art: Courtesy of SOM
How it will look next to One Vanderbilt (left), Grand Central Terminal (center), and the MetLife building (outline behind GCT). Art: Courtesy of SOM

One thing 175 Park does is balance One Vanderbilt, the 1,500-foot tower on the other side of Grand Central. That new building, which Justin Davidson wrote about in October, seems to want to play nice with the terminal, to which it connects through a concourse faced in that same creamy beige limestone. When you approach One Vanderbilt from the west on 42nd Street, you’ll notice that the base is cut away so the side of Grand Central remains visible. This new post–Grand Hyatt tower does something similar, with a cinched-in base, and its lower levels will funnel commuters into the rail infrastructure, including the really, truly almost finished East Side Access project. Up above, Grand Central itself will be fully boxed in, with the MetLife building as a backdrop and these two super-talls on its flanks. (So much for those famous shafts of sunlight.) That said, a landscaped area of significant size is attached to the new tower, a 22,000-square-foot privately owned public space next to the Park Avenue viaduct that is likely to be a big hit in this parkless swath of midtown.

Art: Courtesy of SOM

Although the Grand Hyatt, which will be coming down to make way for this, is hardly a preservation candidate, it is nonetheless a minor landmark. When it opened in 1919, it was the Hotel Commodore, a stolid, traditional brick building, its doorknobs custom-made, its rooms filled up by banquets and conventions. (In the days when Grand Central served long-haul trains, there was a cluster of hotels nearby, including the Biltmore, the Ritz-Carlton, and the Roosevelt; two of them are long gone, and the third is likely to follow.) And in the 1970s, when both the Commodore and much of 42nd Street had gone to seed, the building fell into the hands of one Donald John Trump, who wrapped its old walls in reflective black glass and polished golden trim and gut-renovated the interiors. He partnered with Hyatt, and the deal was financially successful — in part because of a huge 40-year tax break that Trump strong-armed out of Mayor Abe Beame and Governor Hugh Carey. Trump’s partners bought him out in 1996, but the tax break lasted through April 2020, which is approximately when the Grand Hyatt, presumably unprofitable if it had to pay full fare, was closed for redevelopment.* The upper floors of the new building will contain a new Grand Hyatt, and the working name for the whole shebang is Project Commodore.

Clarification, February 4, 2021: A spokesman for Hyatt asked us to clarify that the hotel has suspended operations but not officially closed, and that the company will consider resuming operations once demand returns.

The Tower Replacing the Grand Hyatt Is an Absolute Behemoth