Rescuing Lalique's Glass Façade for

Coty's Fifth Avenue Store

Interview with Andrew S. Dolkart

Andrew Scott Dolkart, Professor of Historic Preservation at Columbia, discusses his role in the discovery of New York’s only Lalique-designed glass building façade. It would have been destroyed but for his curiosity and determination. Restored and repaired, Lalique’s windows now sparkle above the entrance to what was Henri Bendel at 712 Fifth Avenue.

ADSNY: How did you discover this long-forgotten Lalique?

 

Dolkart: While walking on Fifth Avenue one day I noticed a building whose windows had three-dimensional ornaments. They were so filthy I couldn’t tell what they were. But I was curious about them. It happened that the Municipal Art Society had asked me to review some Fifth Avenue buildings, which gave me the opportunity to research those curious windows. I took the elevator to the building’s third floor. From up close, the floral ornament in the glass looked like Lalique. My next step was to find a glass expert.

 

ADSNY: Who?

 

Dolkart: Nonnie Frelinghuysen, a curator of American Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum. We met at the building, and she said, “Lalique.” So I continued my research, hoping to confirm this attribution and discover how these windows came to Fifth Avenue.

 

ADSNY: What did you find?

 

Dolkart: The building was an old house that had been rebuilt as a commercial structure in 1906; the new façade had a large expanse of clear glass set within steel framing. Then, in 1910, François Coty rented the building for his American headquarters.

 

ADSNY: Coty already had a relationship with Lalique?

 

Dolkart: Lalique had designed Coty’s perfume bottles. I called Coty, and spoke with a senior executive. He said the records were gone, but suggested I talk to Jean Després, who’d been sent to New York in the early twentieth century to run the Coty store. I phoned, and Després confirmed that Coty had specifically commissioned the Fifth Avenue windows from Lalique, to fit into the existing steel frames.

 

ADSNY: So that clinched it?

 

Dolkart: That plus Coty’s connection to Lalique, and the attribution by Nonnie and other Lalique experts. I also found historic photos taken after the windows had been installed. The photos, incidentally, show a short, mezzanine level with Lalique glass that has since disappeared.

 

 Lalique Window Detail.

ADSNY: So now the Landmarks Commission became interested?

 

Dolkart: I showed everything I’d found to the MAS, and we leaked it to the press. A small piece in The New York Times generated publicity. To everyone’s surprise, the Commission announced a public hearing.

 

ADSNY: How did the developer of the proposed tower, Steadsol Fifth Associates, take this?

 

Dolkart: They were very much opposed. But they deserve credit: instead of arguing financial hardship, they had the tower redesigned and set back from Fifth Avenue, and turned the Coty Building into its atrium entrance. Then they restored the glass – recasting several damaged pieces – and made them publicly accessible.

 

ADSNY: What a happy ending!

 

Dolkart: Every time I pass the building, it makes me smile. I call them “my windows.”

Article originally published in the Art Deco New York journal, Vol. 3, Issue 1, Spring 2018. View a digital version of the full journal here.

© 2019 Copyright Art Deco Society of New York, Inc. 

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