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Rizzoli Bookstore's Historic Ceiling Destroyed as Preservation Plan Fails

By Mathew Katz | July 8, 2014 8:34am
  The ceiling will be demolished with the rest of the building, preservationists said. 
Rizzoli Bookstore Ceiling Destroyed
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MIDTOWN — Jackhammers have begun to destroy the historic ornamented ceiling of Rizzoli Bookstore after a last-ditch effort to save it failed, according to preservationists and workers on the site.

The demolition of the neoclassical plaster ceiling — which dates back to the building's original use as a Sohmer piano showroom in 1919 — is already underway, along with the demolition of the rest of the 31 W. 57th St. building, workers said.

The Save Rizzoli Committee struck a deal earlier this year with the building's owners to remove the ceiling and preserve it, but the owners went back on the agreement at the end of June, the committee wrote in a blog post.

"In the days preceding the ceiling extraction, we had been in communication with Vornado Realty Trust to acquire their permission and insurance requirements for our highly experienced crew to enter the site and remove large portions of the ceiling," the committee wrote on its website. "By all accounts, they initially supported the endeavor, and everyone appeared to be on board."

The Rizzoli Bookstore closed in April after locals and politicians failed to convince the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission to protect its building.

Preservationists argued that the interior was worth landmarking, particularly because of the vaulted ceiling, ornamented with images of flowers and muses, but the city agency disagreed. 

“CB5 is appalled that developers are choosing to put our architectural heritage in dumpsters and that no gesture is made to save any historic fabric of the Rizzoli Bookstore and former Sohmer piano showroom," said Layla Law-Gisiko, chairwoman of the Community Board 5 Landmarks Committee.

The building's owners, the Lefrak Family and the Vornado Realty Trust, filed plans to demolish the building in May, records show. Much of the interior has already been gutted, and preservationists said the ceiling was the last remaining intact part of the building.

"Not since the demolition of the New York Aquarium by Robert Moses has such petty vindictiveness resulted in the senseless loss of a cherished public space," the Save Rizzoli Committee wrote. "We deplore the demolition of landmark-worthy buildings and those who seek to profit from their destruction."

Vornado and Lefrak did not immediately respond to requests for comment.