Study No. 8 · Rizzoli Bookstore · Farewell, old friend.
Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? —Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (written during her triumphant fight to save Grand Central Terminal)
At The Librarian HQ our hearts feel heavy over the closing of Midtown’s Rizzoli bookstore, due to loss of lease. Soon to be demolished by the greedy developers, LeFrak, the gorgeous building with the famous arched-window facade will be replaced with a “luxury apartment tower”. Here’s hoping the tenants are frequently visited by ghosts of drunk literary figures. There’s word that the enormous public outcry (over 16,000 people have signed a petition to save it) has persuaded New York’s Preservation Commission to allow an emergency appeal, that could designate the interior with landmark status (they’ve already lost the battle to save the exterior). If LeFrak lets the wrecking ball swing, with it flies their souls.
Along with the sadness of imagining New York City with one-less classic literary clubhouse, I’m also filled with weepy childhood nostalgia, remembering all the times my parents took my sister and me there to buy paper-dolls, Choose Your Own Adventure books, and Duran Duran fan mags. Always our favorite stop between hot chocolate at Bergdorf’s and carriage rides in Central Park (though I’m against them now), those early Rizzoli experiences instilled in me a deep love of bookstores. But this one was always more magical and sophisticated than other shops; with Brahms on the stereo, ladies in fur coats with arms full of decor tomes, and golden seashell bookshelves. For many Manhattanites, and the countless authors that have hosted parties here, it’s a sacred sanctuary. And how many other bookstores are lit by chandelier? Losing it will be a heartbreak.
Originally designed by Randolph Almiroty, 31 W. 57th Street resides on what’s known as Piano Row, due to a cluster of piano dealers located on that block in the early 20th century. Sohmer Piano Co. moved into the building in 1919, and was one of the New York’s most glamorous showrooms, specializing in fancy grand pianos and Victrola records. A rare surviving example of NY Neo-Classical commercial design, Almiroty took inspiration from ancient Roman monuments, Italian Renaissance frescoes, and the English interiors of architect Robert Adam, giving New York something uniquely ornate. Its pièce de résistance is the vaulted cream-plasterwork ceiling, featuring grotesques of birds, flowers, shells, hippocamps, maidens dancing to lyres, cherubs and chimeras. Hanging from the dreamy motif-laden ceiling is a massive bronze chandelier featuring Hercules fighting the lion. If the architectural aspects aren’t enough to make you swoon, the store was featured in Woody Allen’s classic film, Manhattan, and Falling in Love, with Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep.
We visited the Rizzoli bookshop for a sad final adieu last weekend, after attending the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, when we took these photos. How could anyone even consider demolishing a place this special? My dream is that a hotel chain like the Ace would offer to buy it from LeFrak, save the facade and interior, and turn it into a hotel with a bookstore in the lobby. Wouldn’t that be perfect?
But all is not lost . . . Rizzoli is currently moving into a new location (to be announced soon). So an independent bookshop survives, and that is awesome news. The battle now is to save the building itself, in memory of its two legendary tenants . . . one that encouraged the art of music, and one that promoted the luxury of reading.
Visit Save Rizzoli to read more about the building’s fascinating history, and the fight to preserve it. Be sure to sign the petition, as there’s always hope. There will be a rally outside the store TODAY. More info HERE.
37 W. 57th St.
NY, NY 10019