So Long, 666 Fifth Avenue

Before the old shell (and that last six) came off. Photo: Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times/Redux

So long, 666 Fifth Avenue; hello, 660 Fifth. That slight change of address, eliminating the Mark of the Real-Estate Beast from the tower between 52nd and 53rd Streets, has started to take physical form in recent days as a crisp new glass curtain wall began to replace the building’s textured-aluminum panels. The recladding, by Kohn Pedersen Fox, is a pretty low-key milestone in the context of the building’s past: When 666 opened in November 1957, a few weeks after Sputnik circled the earth, the building’s ribbon-cutting was accomplished with a 12-inch rocket with a flare attached, and it severed the ribbon to unfurl a 125-foot-wide American flag down the façade. Take that, ya commies!

Back then, a sheer-walled, flat-topped, open-plan modernist skyscraper, particularly one nearly 500 feet tall, was news, and only a few such buildings had appeared on Fifth and Park Avenues since the war. This one — it was called the Tishman Building when it was new because it had been built by Tishman Realty, a predecessor entity owned by the co-founder of today’s Tishman Speyer — got the deluxe treatment. The unusual, showy lobby had a kind of through-arcade opening onto both side streets as well as on Fifth, and another array of stores down below led to the subway. The lobby ceiling got an undulating finned sculptural treatment by the master Isamu Noguchi, twinned with a water feature at the back. It wasn’t the best or hottest building in New York, but it was still pretty cool. At the roofline, three underscale digits displayed the address in red neon, wittily. Because the building sat in the middle of midtown, as you navigated the city you would periodically catch a glimpse of a tiny “666” floating against a dark background, appearing and disappearing among the towers of the skyline. Take that, ya God-fearing rubes!

A rendering of the future reskinned building. Photo: Rendering Courtesy of Brookfield Properties

Those out-of-towners, however, had reason to come to 666, because the 41st floor had a restaurant just for them. Top of the Six’s, it was called (and yes, the spelling was mangled that way on the signage and menus). It was run not by some glam New York chef but by Stouffer’s, which at the time operated restaurants and hotels and was just beginning to head into the frozen-mac-and-cheese business by which you know it today. It was meant to be a swingin’ place, pitched as a modernist Rainbow Room, but it pretty soon became your classic tourist trap with expensive drinks and dodgy food. In 1964, the “filet of sole, East Indienne” (“Enjoy the mystic flavors of the far East in our curry sauce served over broiled sole with mushroom caps”) would run you $5.45, or about 50 bucks today.

The building changed hands a few times over the years, including an ownership stretch with Sumitomo Realty back when Japanese companies went through a phase of buying everything they could in Manhattan. But, of course, the contemporary association of 666 Fifth Avenue is with Jared Kushner, who overpaid for it in 2007 and panic-sold it to Brookfield Properties in 2018 after a couple of very sweaty failed attempts that very possibly compromised the national security of the United States. Zaha Hadid drew up an unbuilt scheme to take the building down to its skeleton, add 40 floors, and (if the rendering was to be believed) somehow magically append a nonexistent park in front.

The menu. Photo: New York Public Library

By then, the building’s Sinatra-era charms had mostly been peeled off and discarded. The neon 666 had given way to a Citi umbrella in the 1990s. Top of the Six’s had become the Grand Havana Room, a cigar bar that became a Rudy Giuliani hangout and stank up the building right down to the lobby. (It too closed, in 2020.) The arcade was partly walled off to stuff in more retail; the fountain went dry. The Noguchi ceiling lingered for a little longer, but this year it too was dismantled. The last nongeneric aspects of the building were probably its distinctive paneling and the address itself, and now both are gone, the latter because most real-estate moguls today are unable to countenance even the slightest bit of creatively risky wit. Take that, ya sophisticates!

So Long, 666 Fifth Avenue