Tomorrow, the Landmarks Preservation Commission will decide whether to approve the renovations of the historic Four Seasons restaurant proposed by landlord and real estate mogul Aby Rosen. Since Rosen filed the application to perform the renovations, he's faced pushback and skepticism, and over the weekend architect Phyllis Lambert chimed in with an op-ed in the Times opposing any and all changes to the space. Lambert is the daughter of Samuel Bronfman, the president of the Seagram Company responsible for the construction of the Seagram Building where the Four Seasons is housed. Lambert was the one who convinced her father to have Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson design the building, and needless to say, she is not happy about proposed changes to the Johnson-designed restaurant interior.
Rosen has already scaled back somewhat on his proposed changes. He no longer plans to replace the glass-walled wine cellar with a bathroom, or renovate the coat check lobby. But he still has what Lambert describes as "several disastrous alterations" on the table. He wants to remove the top row of French walnut panels lining the mezzanine above the Pool Room, and he wants to replace the glass partition between the Pool Room and the Grill Room with planters – reversing the "solution" Johnson came up with in the 80s to separate the bustling bar area from the more serene dining room. These changes, Lambert argues, might be minor in another restaurant, but "the beauty of the Four Seasons, and its significance as an architectural landmark, is precisely in those details." Rosen's changes, she says, would make the restaurant "just another high-priced Manhattan lunch spot." If the commission decides in favor of the proposal, she insists, it "verges on dereliction of duty."
Meanwhile, one major change for the restaurant seems by now almost certain: in 2016, it will no longer be the Four Seasons. In July of 2016, Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder's lease with Rosen is up, and the rent is set to skyrocket. Though both sides have long been involved in negotiations, the Four Seasons owners have been in serious talks to take over a space at 280 Park Avenue, and Niccolini recently told the Architectural Record that Rosen "has made it very clear in language I can't repeat" that he "has no interest in renewing."
By Wednesday, we should know a lot more.