|From Spring 2009|
(revised) Originally named The Summit (later, Loews New York and after, the Metropolitan, before the Doubletree), the hotel was the creative inspiration of architect Morris Lapidus. Opened in January 1961, the building seemed way outside the limits of New York architectural tastes. Flamboyant and excessive, it stood in contract to the more minimalist designs of International Style buildings nearby, classics such as the Lever House (SOM) and the Seagram Building (Mies van der Rohe in collaboration with Philip Johnson). According to an article in the New York Times from March 2005, "When the Summit Hotel (now the Doubletree Metropolitan) opened on Lexington Avenue at 51st Street in 1961, with its curving facade coated in sea-foam-colored brick, the joke was that it was too far from the beach."
Lapidus is most famous for his Miami Beach hotel, The Fontainebleau, built in 1954, so naturally, this dramatic building on Lexington bears some resemblance to that resort. According to the Wikipedia article on the Fontainebleau, the architect, based in New York, dreamed up the designs for the Miami hotel while riding the subway from his home in Flatbush to his office in Manhattan. When the Summit opened in 1961, the critical reception was less than enthusiastic. Over the last few decades, his reputation has been resuscitated, even to the extent that designs such as this hotel are said to prefigure the post-modernist movement. Playfulness and fantasy in design are OK now, as witness to pretty much everything constructed in Las Vegas. This was not true in the heyday of the International Style in the post-war period and especially not in buttoned-down New York.
The hotel was extensively renovated a few years ago with the help of Alan Lapidus, an architect and son of Morris, who was on the original design team. In the fall of 2005, the hotel was designated as a New York City Landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Committee. Morris Lapidus also designed the Sheraton Hotel (originally the Americana) on E. 53rd St. near Seventh Avenue. That building features a bent slab shape but is more restrained than the Doubletree. Another Lapidus building in the city, the Paterson Silk Building (or Odd-Job building) on the southwest corner of University place and 14th St., was demolished in 2005, about the same time as the renovations for the Doubletree, setting off a controversy at the Landmarks Preservation Committee. (The City Review article on the matter here.)
Website for the Doubletree Metropolitan Hotel. The website shares the tidbit that Judy Garland and Noel Coward attended the opening of the hotel in 1961. A convenient subway stop is right outside the door.
Image by Walking Off the Big Apple. It's big picture day.