Hoffman Auto Showroom Is Gone

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hoffman Auto Showroom at 430 Park Avenue was gutted sometime
around March 28 to April 3. Although altered twice over the years, when it was destroyed the showroom retained the central and distinctive Wright-designed elements of the spiral ramp and turntable.

In June 2012 the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy learned aware that the current lease by a Mercedes Benz dealer would expire in December and contacted the leasing agent who told us the intention was to secure another high-end auto tenant. In August the Conservancy requested that the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission evaluate the showroom and consider designating it a landmark; the Conservancy continued to check on its status with the city. DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State and the Historic Districts Council also supported this evaluation request and advocated for protection of the Hoffman Showroom.

Conservancy President Larry Woodin pointed out:

The Conservancy was actively involved in efforts to assist in attracting another car company to this prestigious space, a unique venue for special cars with the added cachet of the Frank Lloyd Wright design. It is very disappointing that the City of New York was not able to move quickly enough to prevent the demolition of this Wright space.

The destruction of the Hoffman Auto Showroom is a special loss for New York. It was one of just three Wright works in the citythe Guggenheim Museum and the Cass House on Staten Island are the other two. (New York has another Wright interior that was saved from total destruction in 1972 when the living room from the Little House in Minnesota was salvaged, transported to New York and installed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

The Hoffman showroom was a part of Wright’s ongoing design experimentation with the spiral, completed a few years before his NYC spiral masterwork, the Guggenheim, and also seen in the V. C. Morris store in San Francisco and the David Wright House in Phoenix, Arizona. These spiral design buildings are protected or in the process of becoming protected, which is the Conservancy’s goal for all Wright’s remaining built work.

It was one of Wright’s few retail spaces. Wright’s client, Max Hoffman, requested a showplace for the foreign cars that he imported, and Wright shared Hoffman’s enthusiasm for luxury automobiles and sports cars, including the Porsches, BMWs, Alfa Romeos and Mercedes that would be displayed there.

New Yorker Debra Pickrel, former Conservancy board member and co-author of Frank
Lloyd Wright in New York: The Plaza Years, 1954-1959
, commented:

The showroom was Wright’s sole design gesture along Manhattan’s Park Avenue corridor, the hotbed of commercial development in mid-century New York. Wedged in among the rising tide of International Style buildings designed by the ‘glass box boys’ he abhorred—including Mies van der Rohe; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Emery Roth & Sons, and others—it may have been a small space, but it gave ‘America’s greatest architect’ a voice in that of-the-moment architectural mix that was so reflective of the post-WWII consumer boom.

Fellow New Yorker Kyle Johnson, architect, vice president, DOCOMOMO New York/Tri State and also a former Conservancy board member added:

The showroom also presented part of an important story of architectural patronage, as the same client, Maximilian Hoffman, commissioned Wright to design his house in Rye, New Yorka situation comparable to Wright's work for Herbert F. Johnson in Racine, Wisconsin (Johnson Wax headquarters and the Johnson residence, Wingspread) or the Harold C. Price commissions in Bartlesville, Oaklahoma (Price Tower and Price residence).

This was a difficult situation to address and a tough loss as Conservancy Executive Director Janet Halstead pointed out:

An interior leased space presents some special challenges in terms of preservation. It is not common but it is possible to landmark such spaces. There are 115 interior landmarks in New York such as the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Plaza, which was designated in 2012, and the lobby of the Chrysler Building. We wanted the Hoffman Auto Showroom, even in its altered state, to join that great New York list.

>>Read more about the importance of the Hoffman Auto Showroom by David De Long

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