Gorgeous Art Deco lobby ceiling, right? The 28-story building was built in 1928 at Seventh Avenue and 25th Street as the Lefcourt Clothing Center to serve the garment industry. Its builder was Abraham E Lefcourt, who rose from newspaper boy on the Lower East Side to become the Donald Trump of Roaring ’20s Manhattan. He owned 24 buildings, and he grandly affixed his own name to many of them to secure his own reputation.
In 1928, when he was worth $100 million, he made his first foray into construction. The Garment Center was designed by Eli Jacques Kahn (the Costas Kondylis of his day—workmanlike, prolific, essentially uncool) and its touches were designed to impress—Deco became a Lefcourt hallmark—and it mostly served men’s and boys’ clothing manufacturers.
It was such a success he ended up building six more skyscrapers—never allowing people to forget that he used to sell papers on the corner. He even founded his own bank.
And then he lost it all. First, the Depression ruined him. Then, in 1930, his son Alan died of anemia, aged just 17. Brokenhearted, Lefcourt named his latest building the Lefcourt-Alan Building in his honor. Located north of Times Square on Broadway, it was sanctified with a bronze of his lost boy looking out from a position above its entrance.
But by November 1931, financially drained, he had defaulted on its sublease, and by April 1932, his tribute to his dead son was now and forevermore known instead as the Brill Building. As the Lefcourts faded from memory, the renamed building assumed its own indelible destiny in American culture. The bust of poor Alan Lefcourt, gone when only a teenager, still looks out from the Brill Building, but it, too, no longer bears the Lefcourt name.
In 1932, Lefcourt, having lost everything, had a heart attack in one of his own buildings, a hotel, the Savoy-Plaza. Just two years after his son, he was dead, at age 55. The probate documents said he had only $2,500 in assets by then, and none of it was in real estate. His death site, at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, was demolished in 1965 to make way for the General Motors Building.
Unfortunately, the Lefcourt Garment Center’s stunning Art Deco lobby ceiling wasn’t protected. This spring, its owner, 275 Seventh Avenue LLC (manager: CB Richard Ellis), ripped it out. Today, it’s nothing but exposed ducts and work lights. The central section is obscured by hoarding, but the corridors leading to 25th and 26th Streets are nakedly obliterated.
So I asked the security guard if the ceiling was being conserved somewhere. He told me the ceiling wasn’t saved, that they’re putting in a new one.
This is how our heritage is destroyed every day.
We ignore it, then we forget it, then it vanishes for good.
Last winter, when I happened to be in the Lefcourt Clothing Center, I was astounded by what I saw overhead. When I took out my camera to capture images of that glorious ceiling, a security guard rushed me and barked that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures in their lobby, that it was private property.
Now I know why he didn’t want it documented. He knew they were about to destroy it.