After nearly 30 years at its current location, Rizzoli is threatened with eviction once again. The Rizzoli Publishing House, which was originally established in 1929 and is affiliated with Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper, came to New York City in 1964. Rizzoli’s first New York bookstore was located on Fifth Avenue adjacent to the building that now houses Henri Bendel and a tower that’s home to hedge funds and investment firms. At the time, Fifth Avenue was home to several important bookstores, including Scribner’s and Doubleday. [Update: the 57th Street store was demolished to make room for a luxury hotel but Rizzoli will reopen in a new space in Nomad].
Sadly, Rizzoli and the occupants of the Coty Building next door were kicked out of their home in 1985, when a developer wanted to make way for a generic office tower. The proposed demolition sparked a fierce debate, but preservationists gained headway when they argued for the protection of the Art Nouveau glass windows by René Lalique on the Coty Building. The Rizzoli Building and the Coty Building were designated landmarks in 1985. The developer ended up incorporating the windows into a renovated building, rather than tearing the buildings down, but Rizzoli and its next-door neighbors had to go. That’s when the bookstore moved to its current location on 57th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. The building had once been a piano showroom for Sohmer & Co, near the old Steinway showroom.
Luminaries like Joan Didion flocked to Rizzoli’s opening party on 57th Street, solidifying its place in New York City’s literary landscape. With its vaulted ceilings, stately wooden bookshelves, and hand-wrought chandeliers, the three-story bookstore seems like it might have been airlifted out of Italy and reassembled piece by piece. Amidst Midtown’s cold glass towers, its Old World warmth is much appreciated. Previously, we included Rizzoli at the top of our list of the Top 10 Bookstores in Manhattan.
Now it looks like Rizzoli is losing its home once again. The LeFrak real estate family and Vornado Trust informed the bookstore of their plans to demolish the building, and two others on the block, to make way for yet another skyscraper. The Landmarks Preservation Commission has declined to grant landmark status to the building on the grounds that it “lacks the architectural significance necessary to meet the criteria for designation,” even though the Community Board voted unanimously to designate 31 W 57th Street a landmark in 2007.
The only way to save Rizzoli is to generate enough opposition to convince City officials, according to Peg Breen, President of the NY Landmarks Conservancy. The petition on Change.org currently has over 8,600 supporters, and it needs to reach 10,000. Sign the petition here and make your voice heard.
Get in touch with the author @lauraitzkowitz