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608 Fifth Avenue

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

608 Fifth Avenue
608 Fifth Avenue (51396227929).jpg
Alternative namesGoelet Building, Swiss Center Building
General information
Architectural styleArt Deco
Location608 Fifth Avenue, Midtown Manhattan
Town or cityNew York City
CountryUnited States
Coordinates40°45′29″N 73°58′42″W / 40.75806°N 73.97833°W / 40.75806; -73.97833
Construction started1930
Height132 feet 11 inches (40.51 m)
Technical details
Floor count10
Design and construction
ArchitectVictor L.S. Hafner
DesignatedJanuary 14, 1992
Reference no.1810 (exterior)
1811 (lobby interior)

608 Fifth Avenue, also known as the Goelet Building or Swiss Center Building, is an Art Deco style office building at Fifth Avenue and West 49th Street in the Midtown Manhattan neighborhood of New York City, adjacent to Rockefeller Center. It was designed by Victor L. S. Hafner, with E. H. Faile as structural engineer.

608 Fifth Avenue was built in 1930–1932 for Robert Walton Goelet, a member of the wealthy Goelet family, on the site of Ogden Goelet's old mansion. The structure was built while the construction of Rockefeller Center was ongoing, and its design was meant to complement that of the other buildings in Rockefeller Center. The structure, built in the Art Deco style, consists of a two-story base and an eight-story upper section, with a facade of green and white marble. The interior was elaborately designed in the Art Deco style. Both the first-story interior and the exterior were designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission as official city landmarks in 1992.


Ogden Goelet's mansion at 608 Fifth Avenue, designed by E.H. Kendall
Ogden Goelet's mansion at 608 Fifth Avenue, designed by E.H. Kendall

608 Fifth Avenue is in the Midtown Manhattan neighborhood of New York City, on the southwestern corner of Fifth Avenue and 49th Street. The land lot is slightly "L"-shaped, covering 13,150 square feet (1,222 m2) with a frontage of 70 feet (21 m) on Fifth Avenue and a depth of 161.5 feet (49.2 m). Nearby buildings include 600 Fifth Avenue to the south, 1 Rockefeller Plaza to the west, the British Empire Building to the north, the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship store to the northeast, and 597 Fifth Avenue to the southeast.[2]

Fifth Avenue between 42nd Street and Central Park South (59th Street) was relatively undeveloped through the late 19th century.[3] In the latter half of that century, mansions and other residences were constructed along the avenue.[4] Among these were two country mansions that Edward H. Kendall designed for brothers Robert and Ogden Goelet, within one block of each other.[4][5] The brothers were part of the Goelet family, a wealthy Dutch family[6] that had founded the Chemical Bank.[4][7] Robert's estate was at 589 Fifth Avenue, near present-day 48th Street, while Ogden's estate was at 608 Fifth Avenue one block north. By the beginning of the 20th century, most of the area's mansions had given way to office and commercial buildings.[4]


Buildings and structures in Rockefeller Center:
1 Rockefeller Plaza
10 Rockefeller Plaza
La Maison Francaise
British Empire Building
30 Rockefeller Plaza
International Building
50 Rockefeller Plaza
1230 Avenue of the Americas
Radio City Music Hall
1270 Avenue of the Americas
75 Rockefeller Plaza
600 Fifth Avenue
608 Fifth Avenue
1271 Avenue of the Americas
1251 Avenue of the Americas
1221 Avenue of the Americas
1211 Avenue of the Americas

608 Fifth Avenue is a ten-story building in the Art Deco style, with elements of the International Style.[8][9][10] It measures 70 feet (21 m) on Fifth Avenue to the east, and 161.6 feet (49.3 m) on 49th Street to the north.[8][9] The building's footprint is in an "L" shape, with the longer leg of the "L" extending west-east along 49th Street, and a shorter leg extending north-south from 49th Street, on the opposite side of the building from Fifth Avenue.[11]

608 Fifth Avenue was designed by Victor L. S. Hafner[12] and built by structural engineer E. F. Faile & Co.[8] However, the planning application to the city's Department of Buildings was submitted by Roy Clinton Morris on behalf of Edward F. Faile, leading to occasional disputes over who was the building's architect.[13]

608 Fifth Avenue is one of three buildings on the western side of Fifth Avenue between 48th and 49th Streets. Directly to the south is the Childs Restaurants building at 604 Fifth Avenue, built in 1925 as the United States' first building with no columns at its corners.[14] The southern side of the block, 600 Fifth Avenue, was built in 1949–1952 and was later incorporated into Rockefeller Center.[15][14]


From the outset, 608 Fifth Avenue was designed as a commercial structure that would maximize the rapidly rising land value of the area, with retail on the lower floors and office stories above.[4] At the time, retail space was more profitable per square foot than office space was, but the retail space also required large display windows facing the street, which nonetheless were extremely profitable. To maximize the surface area of these show windows, Faile designed the third and higher stories on a cantilevered structure located on two-story-tall outer columns recessed 5 feet (1.5 m) from the boundary of the property.[16] Though the building was also outfitted with a recessed "light court", Faile designed the building's columns to be strong enough that the light court could be converted into additional office stories.[9][17]

The construction of Rockefeller Center made it difficult to forecast whether numerous small stores or a large retailer would be more suitable for the site.[13][17] To ensure that the retail space could more easily be converted into a department store if needed,[18] 608 Fifth Avenue included features such as wide staircases and fire sprinklers, as well as a 17-foot-tall (5.2 m) ceiling in the rear of the first floor.[8] When the second-floor mezzanine was built, it was suspended from this cantilever, instead of being supported by columns above the first floor, thus maximizing the first-floor retail space.[16] In total, the retail space measures 44,000 square feet (4,100 m2) in area.[19]


Entrance on Fifth Avenue
Entrance on Fifth Avenue

The facades at the first story and the second-level mezzanine are composed of glass curtain walls. Green marble fills the spaces between each floor. An archway surrounded with green marble is located along the 49th Street facade.[9][10] A metal screen, painted bronze, is located at the second story.[20]

Above the two lowest stories, the 49th Street facade contains a recessed "light court", which allows additional windows to be placed further inside the building.[9][10] The exterior is made of two main types of marble. The horizontal panels are made of white marble, and the vertical piers are made of green marble.[13][9][10] The third through ninth stories also contain several series of centrally-positioned vertical "ribs" that separate each of the architectural bays. Each series of ribs frames a dormer at the tenth story, above the central architectural bay on each facade. The tenth story and penthouse are sheathed in green marble, and the penthouse has white trim lines.[9]

Ornamentation on the exterior includes aluminum mullions on the windows and at the corners. Other decorative elements include a monogram consisting of interlocked letters "G", as well as the Goelet family crest of a swan. These elements are displayed above the second story on Fifth Avenue facade. The crest and monogram hung above the original main entrance arch on Fifth Avenue, demolished in 1965, as well as the arched entryway on 49th Street.[20]


The building's lobby was designed in a full Art Deco style, as Victor Hafner was not constrained by a need to conform the building's interior with those of nearby buildings.[17][21] The lobby is reached from a doorway on the southernmost portion of the Fifth Avenue facade. Its entrance vestibule is made of dark marble.[21] The ceiling is made of aluminum painted in a bronze color.[13][21] Inlaid in the middle of the vestibule's ceiling is a depiction of the Goelet swan, surrounded by geometric patterns.[17][21] Art Deco motifs are located on the ceiling and walls.[22]

A set of three swinging silver doors leads to an S-shaped passageway, which in turn leads to the elevator lobby.[22] The floor contains marbles in various tones, and the ceiling is also of bronze-colored aluminum.[13][22] The walls of the elevator lobby are composed of light-colored marble, interspersed with darker horizontal strips. The elevator lobby contains three openings for elevators, as well as a staircase to the floors above; the elevator doors also contain intricate carvings.[22]



View of the Fifth Avenue facade
View of the Fifth Avenue facade

When Ogden Goelet died in 1897, his widow inherited his property, while his brother Robert became the trustee of the property. Later, Robert's son Robert Walton Goelet became the trustee.[4] In 1920, Robert Walton commissioned the construction of an art gallery at 606 Fifth Avenue, directly south of Ogden's estate at 608 Fifth Avenue. The gallery was occupied at the time by Henry Reinhardt & Son.[4][23] Ogden's widow continued to live in the 608 Fifth Avenue mansion until 1926, and retained ownership of the structure through her death in February 1929.[24] By then, the construction of Rockefeller Center was ongoing in the area immediately surrounding the Goelet lots.[4] Rockefeller Center Inc. allowed Robert Walton Goelet to keep the lots at 2–6 West 49th Street because the company considered his "interest and concern" to be a "large concern". However, Goelet could not yet develop the western part of his site due to an easement that a neighbor held on the land.[25]: 97 

Goelet started selling the objects in the house in December 1929,[26] hosting four such sales. The house and adjacent art gallery were demolished in March 1930.[4] Plans for a commercial building were filed with the New York City Department of Buildings the same month.[27] By that May, Goelet was still deciding between two different plans for a 15-story building. Though both options included office space above a two-story retail area, one of the options provided space for a showroom, and the other did not.[28] The plans for the current 10-story commercial building was announced in December 1930.[8]


The building was completed by 1932, but due to a lack of interest from large tenants, the space was subdivided into smaller units.[29] Within the area bounded by Sixth and Fifth Avenues between 48th and 51st Streets, the Goelet Building was among the few plots that was not owned outright by Rockefeller Center's developers by the end of 1932.[30] The newly completed structure was expanded westward in 1936, taking the unoccupied lot at 6 West 49th Street.[31][20] The annex was four stories high.[20] According to contemporary photographs of 608 Fifth Avenue, the ground floor was first occupied by several small stores, and by the 1960s, was taken up by the men's store John David.[13]

608 Fifth Avenue became the Swiss Center Building in 1964 when fourteen Swiss-owned enterprises formed a coalition to "foster commercial, cultural, travel and financial activities identified with Switzerland".[32] The companies held a 17-year lease on the structure with options for a 45-year extension.[32] Lester Tichy was hired to redesign both the interior and exterior of the first and second floors,[20] and the Swiss Center opened in 1966.[33] The lease was sold to RFR Holding, a company held by German investors, in 1998.[34]

49th Street facade
49th Street facade

In 1990, the building was proposed to become a New York City landmark. The building's then-owner Sarah Korein objected, as she wanted to expand the building by several stories once the Swiss Center's lease expired in 1996.[13] Despite this, 608 Fifth Avenue and its interior were designated as official city landmarks in 1992. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission noted in its reports that "The owner and long-term lessee are not opposed to the designation".[12][35] Garrison & Siegel renovated the lower floors to the original design in 1997.[15][36] Vornado Realty Trust assumed RFR's mortgage in 2013 and paid $8.5 million that RFR owed on the mortgage. At that point, the Korein family still owned the land under 608 Fifth Avenue.[37][38]

Critical reception

Robert Goelet felt that "the building had to be one of beauty and of durability in addition to being modern". In 1931, he presented several workers with medals based on their work on the structure.[18] Christopher Gray, writing for The New York Times in 1990, referred to 608 Fifth Avenue as "one giant Art Moderne cigarette case of marble".[13] Joseph Giovannini, another Times writer, listed 608 Fifth Avenue's lobby in 1984 as part of a walking tour of the "city's best lobbies".[39] However, The New Yorker architectural critic Lewis Mumford described 608 Fifth Avenue as "an excellent period reproduction — Modernique, 1925", regarding it as little more than a parody of the earlier Childs Restaurant building.[14] Robert A. M. Stern, in his book New York 1930, called the building "a luxuriously detailed but bastardized interpretation of the International Style".[10]

See also



  1. ^ Swiss Center (Goelet) Building at Emporis
  2. ^ "608 5 Avenue, 10020". New York City Department of City Planning. Retrieved March 20, 2020.
  3. ^ Bridges, William (1811). Map of the city of New York and island of Manhattan :with explanatory remarks and references /. T&J Swords. hdl:2027/nnc2.ark:/13960/t6ww9pp9g. OCLC 40023003.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Landmarks Preservation Commission 1992, p. 2.
  5. ^ Rider, F.; Cooper, F.T.; Hopkins, M.A. (1916). Rider's New York City and Vicinity, Including Newark, Yonkers and Jersey City: A Guide-book for Travelers, with 16 Maps and 18 Plans, Comp. and. H. Holt. pp. 198–199. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  6. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. 35. 1930. p. 417 – via HathiTrust.
  7. ^ History of the Chemical Bank, 1823–1913. Country life Press. 1913. p. 104. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e "Building Designed for Future Needs – Goelet Business Edifice on Fifth Avenue Planned for Long Serviceability – Marble Facade Finish – Second Floor Hangs From Cantilever Girders – In Rockefeller Development Block". The New York Times. December 7, 1930. p. RE1. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Landmarks Preservation Commission 1992, p. 4.
  10. ^ a b c d e Stern, Robert A. M.; Gilmartin, Patrick; Mellins, Thomas (1987). New York 1930: Architecture and Urbanism Between the Two World Wars. New York: Rizzoli. p. 531. ISBN 978-0-8478-3096-1. OCLC 13860977.
  11. ^ Landmarks Preservation Commission Interior 1992, p. 9.
  12. ^ a b Landmarks Preservation Commission 1992, p. 1.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h Gray, Christopher (December 16, 1990). "Streetscapes: The Goelet Building; A Facade Rich in Marble". The New York Times. p. R7. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  14. ^ a b c Gray, Christopher (July 25, 2010). "The History of 3 Midtown Neighbors". The New York Times. p. RE9. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  15. ^ a b White, Norval; Willensky, Elliot & Leadon, Fran (2010). AIA Guide to New York City (5th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. p. 327. ISBN 978-0-19538-386-7.
  16. ^ a b Landmarks Preservation Commission 1992, p. 3.
  17. ^ a b c d Robins, A.W. (2017). New York Art Deco: A Guide to Gotham's Jazz Age Architecture. Excelsior Editions. State University of New York Press. p. 110. ISBN 978-1-4384-6398-8. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  18. ^ a b "Good Craftsmanship Praised by Goelet – Was Important Factor, He Says, in Construction of New Edifice of 608 Fifth Avenue". The New York Times. June 14, 1931. p. RE1. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  19. ^ "608 Fifth Avenue | TRD Research". Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  20. ^ a b c d e Landmarks Preservation Commission 1992, p. 5.
  21. ^ a b c d Landmarks Preservation Commission Interior 1992, p. 3.
  22. ^ a b c d Landmarks Preservation Commission Interior 1992, p. 4.
  23. ^ Field, H.E.; Watson, F. (1920). The Arts. Hamilton Easter Field. p. 9. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  24. ^ "Mrs. Ogden Goelet Buried From Home – Services in Fifth Avenue House at Her Wish, Though Unoccupied for Three Years – Bishop Stires Officiates – Only Relatives and Close Friends Present – Crowds Stop for Funeral in Shopping District". The New York Times. February 26, 1929. p. 20. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  25. ^ Okrent, Daniel (2003). Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center. London: Penguin Book. ISBN 978-0-14-200177-6.
  26. ^ "Goelet Furnishings Sold – Antiques and Rugs Bring $12,000 at First Day's Auction". The New York Times. November 14, 1929. p. 27. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  27. ^ "Goelet Estate Plans New Midtown Building". The New York Times. March 7, 1936. p. 31. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  28. ^ "Goelet Building Plans – Two Types of Commercial Structure Considered for Fifth Av. Corner". The New York Times. May 18, 1930. p. S10. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  29. ^ "Fifth Av. Chances in Midtown Section – New Foreign Units for Rockefeller Frontage – Jewelry Firm in Goelet Building – Union Club Moving Plans Northward Expansion of Trade Shown by Recent Building and Leasing Activity". The New York Times. June 12, 1932. p. RE1. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  30. ^ "Rockefeller Buys Last Lots For Site – Purchase of Six From Fox Rounds Out Holdings of Center to Carry Out Full Project – 31-Story Building Planned – Complete Architectural Balance Is Assured – Price of Sixth Av. Property Not Disclosed". The New York Times. December 9, 1932. p. 23. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  31. ^ "Goelet Estate Plans New Midtown Building". The New York Times. March 7, 1936. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  32. ^ a b "Building on 5th Ave. to Be Swiss Center". The New York Times. May 3, 1964. p. 123. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  33. ^ "Swiss Center Will Open On Fifth Avenue Today". The New York Times. June 23, 1966. p. 52. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  34. ^ Ravo, Nick (August 12, 1998). "Metro Business – Swiss Center Lease Is Sold". The New York Times. p. B9. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  35. ^ Landmarks Preservation Commission Interior 1992, p. 1.
  36. ^ New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; Dolkart, Andrew S.; Postal, Matthew A. (2009). Postal, Matthew A. (ed.). Guide to New York City Landmarks (4th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons. p. 117. ISBN 978-0-470-28963-1.
  37. ^ Clarke, Katherine (June 9, 2017). "Meet the family that's got Aby Rosen over a barrel at Lever House". The Real Deal New York. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  38. ^ Barbarino, Al (February 11, 2013). "Vornado Scoops Ground Lease at Art Deco Gem Swiss Center". Commercial Observer. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  39. ^ Giovannini, Joseph (March 9, 1984). "The Great Indoors – A Stroll Around City's Best Lobbies". The New York Times. p. C1. Retrieved January 3, 2020.


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