An Iconic Bookstore Facing Demolition Fights to Survive

After 29 years, Rizzoli Bookstore, on 31 West 57th, risks to be replaced by high-rises. More than 10,000 patrons from all around the world signed an online petition showing their support against the demolition. (Lucia De Stefani/NY City Lens)

After 29 years, Rizzoli Bookstore, on 31 West 57th, risks to be replaced by high-rises. More than 10,000 patrons from all around the world signed an online petition showing their support against the demolition. (Lucia De Stefani/NY City Lens)

Rizzoli Bookstore may be old and elegant, but it is not going down without a fight.

The bookseller – housed in a beautiful six-story townhouse at 31 West 57th – is facing eviction from its home of almost 30 years. The structure’s owners are planning to tear it down in favor of a luxury high-rise, on a street already becoming known as Billionaires’ Row.

An online petition initiated by a group calling itself Save Rizzoli Bookstore, which includes Rizzoli staff members, is collecting a passionate outpouring from friends and patrons of the store. The aim is to get the New York City Landmark Commission to reconsider and designate the building as a landmark, blocking the development.

In two weeks, more than 10,000 patrons have signed the petition. The number was up to 12,879 by Thursday afternoon, and many signers left comments. “The Rizzoli Bookstore is the most beautiful bookstore in NYC, it should be preserved and not demolished,” says a man from Canada. “The building is beautiful and perfect home for a fantastic bookstore,” adds a lady from New York. “This is one of New York’s very beautiful buildings,” writes a woman from Sidney, Australia.

Despite the antique features that distinguish the three-floor shop—the stucco ceilings, the hand-made marble front-door frame, the 32-foot arched entrance—the Landmark Preservation Commission didn’t granted individual and interior landmark status to the building in a decision on January 17. The property “lacks the architectural significance necessary to meet the criteria for designation,” stated the commission, giving green light to new construction.

The Rizzoli Bookstore features cherry wood bookcases, hand-wrought chandeliers and a stucco ceiling that embellishes the 32-foot arched entrance. (Lucia De Stefani/NY City Lens)

The Rizzoli Bookstore features cherry wood bookcases, hand-wrought chandeliers and a stucco ceiling that embellishes the 32-foot arched entrance. (Lucia De Stefani/NY City Lens)

The owners of the building, the LeFrak real estate family and Vornado Realty Trust, have a big plan in mind: another luxury high-rise on a street that is becoming known for them. A spokesman from Vornado Realty Trust declined to comment about the project and requests for comment to LeFrak have not yet been returned. New construction sites are not new to West 57th Street. Its proximity to Fifth Avenue and the view of Central Park makes it, indeed, the perfect location for new luxury buildings. A “Billionaires’ Row,” as described in The New York Times, seems to be the future for this neighborhood.

Rizzoli has long been a gathering place and destination for book lovers, and the identification between the shop and the building is particularly strong. “Rizzoli is Fifth Avenue, is Midtown, is a place of warmth inside the skyscrapers,” says Antonio Monda, well-known Italian journalist, writer and professor at New York University. “Losing it, it means losing something that is central to the evolution of the history of this city.”

Supporters on the website are not only New Yorkers. Messages have arrived from Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Greece, South America, Australia, Azerbaijan, India, South Africa, and Canada. Patrons describe themselves as Rizzoli aficionados, who stop at the store every time they come to New York. Or as one-time visitors to the bookstore, who still remember it. Or as intellectuals and booklovers, who appreciate the store’s value.

“I first visited Rizzoli bookstore in the ‘80s with my father,” says Annie Ragia, a publisher from a Greek publishing house based in Athens. “My father knew it and he wanted it me to see it. It was the most impressive bookstore I had ever seen. I believe it is a historic landmark of the city and they definitely shouldn’t tear it down.”

“Rizzoli is this magic place where you feel you could find some secret code or pass way,” says Malene Hald, a freelance graphic designer and illustrator from Copenhagen. An art and design lover, she visited Rizzoli during a class-trip in high school. The memory remains vivid.

The Rizzoli Bookstore has an extensive and unique collection of design, photography, landscape and art books, as well as books in Italian, French, and Spanish. (Lucia De Stefani/NY City Lens)

The Rizzoli Bookstore has an extensive and unique collection of design, photography, landscape and art books, as well as books in Italian, French, and Spanish. (Lucia De Stefani/NY City Lens)

The response to the website has been gratifying, says Thomas H. Collins, a fine-book art buyer at Rizzoli. “We are confident we can show local politicians just how much a place like Rizzoli matters in New York City,” Collins said.

Midtown, meanwhile, has already lost some of its iconic bookstores. Doubleday and Scriber’s Son bookstores, both on Fifth Avenue, are long gone. Rizzoli was first located on 712 Fifth Avenue, before moving to the current address in 1984. From the first iconic site—where movies like Manhattan and Falling in Love included shots—Rizzoli preserved the cherry wood bookcases, the hand-wrought chandeliers and its extensive and unique collection of design, photography, landscape and art books, as well as books in Italian, French, and Spanish.

The building is one of three slated for destruction. Peg Breen, President of NY Landmarks Conservancy, an advocacy group, told the International Business Times, “it’s unlikely at this point that the “three little gems” will be saved unless a public backlash is strong enough to convince city officials otherwise.”

That’s the idea. “To save this bookstore requires a lot of action,” says Davide Di Cagno-Hagen, operations manager at Rizzoli. “And the petition is one part of this action.”

 

To know more about the petition, please click here.

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