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City landmarks modernist tower near Bryant Park

The city landmarked a slim, green-glass tower near Bryant Park Tuesday, marking the eighth time an individual modernist building has been protected in recent years.

The 21-story tower, known as the Spring Mills Building at 104 W. 40th St., protects a tower completed in 1963 for Spring Cotton Mills, a textile firm that sold it in 1999 but still has offices there.

Modernist preservation has enjoyed increasing attention in recent years, with architecture of that era increasingly imperiled because of development or changing tastes. The Landmarks Preservation Commission in announcing the unanimous decision promised Tuesday that more protection of such buildings is coming.

The tower is distinguished for several reasons, the commission said: For one, it uses deep-green Solex glass, the same modernist sheathing that gave the U.N. and Lever House its distinct appearance. The tower was designed by Harrison& Abramowitz, whose projects include the UN. Most of the design work was by Charles H. Abbe.

The tower is also significant because of its transitional design. Its 39th street facade is bulky, fills out its lot, and features two setbacks, indicative of the zoning codes of 1916 that are clearly seen in the "wedding-cake" towers of the 1920s through 1950s The 40th Street side is a sheer glass curtain facade rising from an open plaza, suggestive of the style pioneered by towers such as the Seagram Building and codified by the city in 1961. It was designed before the zoning law was changed.

"This sleek, sculptural form gave the building a unique and distinctive identity,” said commission Chairman Robert Tierney in a statement. “It’s not only a well-preserved example of a mid-20th century glass curtain wall skyscraper, it’s also one of the finest corporate buildings designed by Harrison & Abramowitz in New York City.”

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