After decades of waiting, action is finally beginning on the decrepit Windermere, located at 400 West 57th Street. The building stands as a legacy of Hell’s Kitchen’s tumultuous history; while it is an architectural gem, the structure has existed in a semi-abandoned state for two decades. The reason for this had been a select-few tenants that had refused to move, in addition to the building owner’s reclusion in Japan – since the building was bought by Mark Tress back in 2009, bureaucratic red tape has further encumbered the redevelopment process.
With construction workers now moving in and out of the building, it appears that the most visible legacy of Hell’s Kitchen’s neglected past is finally in for restoration. A slew of permits have been filed in recent months – though some have been disapproved – further confirming the imminence of renovation.
400 West 57th Street’s redevelopment is significant for several reasons, but the most important is the building’s relative prominence, due to its highly visible location at the corner of Ninth Avenue and 57th Street. Scaffolding has covered the adjacent sidewalk for years, and the building’s dilapidation has attracted a resident homeless population that uses the surrounding pavement as a foothold. Back in 2009, there was a man living along the building’s Ninth Avenue frontage that literally had a television set installed on the sidewalk, adjacent to the building’s former entrance.
The homeless problem has become less visible in recent years, but the issues inside of 400 West 57th Street remain. Walking past the building, one can literally smell the dank, rotten interiors – the doors are semi-boarded up, giving the building an ‘insane-asylum-chic’ look that would be completely appropriate for a horror movie. Cityland NY has an excellent article on demolition-by-neglect cases, and explains the process by which 400 West 57th Street was saved, which involved a lawsuit and a record-setting $1.1 million fine for the former owner.
Per the Landmarks Conservancy, “[the] Windermere has endured two decades of virtually no maintenance, at the hands of an absentee owner, a foreign corporation […] it is not safe for occupancy. Much of the roof and floor framing has extensive water damage, [and] structural stability of the unbraced brick masonry parapets, cornices, and decorative features is also an active concern.”
The Windermere’s surroundings have been completely gentrified, and it stands in stark contrast to the gleaming new developments of 57th Street, with One57 rising to the East, and BIG’s Pyramid just beginning construction to the west. As 57th Street has evolved into ‘billionaire’s row,’ 400 West 57th has remained a hulking eyesore, made especially depressing by its location at a highly-trafficked intersection.
The Windermere’s ultimate fate remains uncertain, but construction workers on-site confirmed that re-development is finally underway; the last word from DNA Info indicated the building would be transformed into a hotel, though its existence in the Clinton subdistrict provides a minor complication, as all developments are required to include affordable housing. What seems most likely is a compromise involving a minor residential component to be included with the new hotel.
400 West 57th Street was formerly a beautiful structure, and definitely merits preservation; it stands eight stories tall, which isn’t large, but the exterior detailing is exquisite and ornate, and once renovated, it has the potential to become a luxury destination. Hopefully the decades of waiting are worth the final result, but regardless of the outcome, the building’s redevelopment will vastly improve the surrounding pedestrian landscape.