This might be the final sign that there is no more art in the business of selling cars. Max Hoffman’s showroom in Manhattan designed by Frank Lloyd Wright was fully demolished earlier this spring.
The former dealership had been Mercedes-Benz’s long-time flagship store up until the company moved all facilities uptown a few months ago. As they were vacating the prime Park Avenue address, New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) began to look at having Wright’s work become a protected space. The LPC contacted the building’s owners on March 22 to inform them of the commission’s intentions. Fearing the limitations of a protected retail space might scare away potential tenants, the owners secured a demolition permit within a week of receiving the LPC’s notice.
Earlier this month, Matt Chaban of Crain’s New York assembled a video on the final result:
A paring like Max Hoffman and Frank Lloyd Wright may unfortunately never be seen again. Hoffman had a deep love for art, and so he commissioned Wright to design his home in suburban New York as well as his showroom at 430 Park Avenue in Manhattan. Wright was a known auto enthusiast, and it was rumored that part of his payment were two Mercedes cars, including a 300 SL gullwing.
Wright created a showroom interior centered around a turntable featuring up to four of Hoffman’s import-sized cars. The display also included a spiral ramp that allowed for a second vehicle showcase. This was somewhat limited in size considering the retail space was little more than a single-story showroom, but Wright still used this ramp to create a small balcony overlooking the dealership. The spiral element of Wright’s work would be seen again on a much grander scale in the Guggenheim Museum.
The showroom was originally designed to display Jaguars, but by the time the space was ready in 1954, Hoffman had already moved on to Mercedes and Porsche as his chief import brands. Mercedes had remained the long-term tenant in this showroom after they bought out Hoffman in 1958.
The German company seemed to be a fair custodian for this original work as over the years they would update their showroom but respected the initial design. For example, in 1982 they added mirrors above the turntable, which was part of Wright’s initial specifications in the 50s. Fans of the 1986 Tom Hanks movie The Money Pit can catch a glimpse of the showroom with this first remodel at 45 minutes into the film (see below).
In 2002 Mercedes expanded and renovated the showroom again to give it a brighter and more modern look. Still, many of the original elements such as the turntable, ramp, lighting arrangements, and even the impractical balcony endured.
(photograph by Douglas M. Steiner, see more at his website)
The company would remain in this space using it as their flagship showroom for over 50 years, but in 2011, Mercedes opened brand new larger showroom a few miles away. As the focus shifted to this more convenient location, Mercedes traded original art for the cold teutonic feel of a modern facility. They vacated the showroom completely a few months ago, and the fate of Wright’s design on Park Avenue was sealed.