Threatened: Midcentury Modern Lord & Taylor
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Nov. 11, 2009
When a famed Manhattan design firm unveiled plans for the biggest suburban Lord & Taylor department store 40 years ago, the building looked as sleek and modern as the iconic Shell and Exxon logos that the Raymond Loewy/William Snaith, Inc. firm had also crafted.
"The Raymond Loewy firm built it, and it was spectacular," says Phill Esser, historic preservation consultant based in Ridgefield, Conn. "That was the place to shop. The building was their identity."
Now Lord & Taylor and the building's owner, a New York-based developer, want to tear down the 150,000-square-foot store, located in in Stamford, Conn., and build a retail complex on the 12-acre site. Only eight acres are currently zoned for commercial use.
Hundreds of neighbors protested the plan after it was announced by National Realty & Development Corp. in June 2007, and voiced opposition at several subsequent zoning meetings. In response, the developer withdrew its application. National Realty's scaled-down application, currently under development, still calls for the demolition of the three-story building.
The Stamford store is one of 12 Lord & Taylors designed by Andrew Geller, Loewy's in-house architect. Geller's grandson, Jake Gorst, met with the president of National Realty & Development Corp., John Orrico, in October, but failed to convince him to preserve the building. Orrico's letter to the state Historic Preservation Officer last summer said, "There is a small group that is opposing this project, and I believe that, in their effort to try to block us, they are using [the state historic preservation] office as a pawn."
Neighbors became interested in the store's fate when trees nearby were cleared for a new CVS pharmacy. "Suddenly the building was exposed, and you [could] really see what a gorgeous building it is," says Renee Kahn, executive director of the Historic Neighborhood Preservation Program, based in Stamford. In June, the Lord & Taylor branch was placed on the state's register of historic places, a designation that does not prevent it from being demolished.
Some say there's a chance that the economic crisis will delay the project.
"I've almost lost several significant buildings, only to have the [weak] economy save them at the last minute," Kahn says. "Poverty preserves."
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