When potential bidders entered the Four Seasons restaurant on July 26th for an auction
of its interior ephemera, they walked past a plaque near the front door that was ostensibly meant to prevent their presence. The inconspicuous oval mounted to a limestone foyer wall read “Designated Interior Landmark New York City.” Yet every movable feature of the restaurant’s High Modernist interior was sold that day, from furniture to flatware and plates, leaving many observers to wonder how a much-beloved interior that was supposed to be legally protected could be disassembled and dispensed with such expediency.
Writ large, historic preservation seeks to prevent the destruction of buildings and architectural elements of high aesthetic or historic value, and most major American cities have passed landmarking laws that govern the designation and protection of exceptional structures. Yet such laws typically focus on building exteriors, often to the detriment of interiors, for which legal protection mechanisms vary widely. In New York, an interior must be at least 30 years old before it can qualify for designation. In San Francisco, in contrast, either an individual element or the whole interior site can be designated. Many city governments don’t address interior designation at all in their historic preservation laws, in part because it’s decidedly easier to claim that the public significance of a building is bound up with the street-level presence of its facades.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission in New York City is historically unreceptive to petitions for interior designation, and at present, the status of various highly important interiors remains pending. The Four Seasons was but one of several prized spaces facing dismemberment. Below, we survey it and three other interiors, four of the city’s most architecturally significant sites—recently dismantled or potentially threatened—that could soon be unrecognizable.
The Four Seasons