Emery Roth and his sons Julian and Richard may be the most prolific New York architects you have never heard of. Together they formed the architecture firm, Emery Roth and Sons. Manhattan’s upper east and upper west sides are dotted with Roth’s pre-war works such as the El Dorado, 930 5th Avenue and the San Remo. Post-war, after Emery’s death, his sons went on to design dozens of Midtown and Downtown Manhattan office towers and were associated with a handful of notable projects, including the first World Trade Center and the Pan Am Building. However, unlike similarly prolific contemporary architects and their epochal peers, Emery Roth and his work lives on in relative obscurity.
The office building where I work, 2 Broadway in the Financial District, a boxy and asymmetrically massed and set-back tower adjacent to Bowling Green is an Emery Roth and Sons design from 1959. I discovered Emery Roth for the first time when I saw the name of his firm carved into stone at the entrance to the building. After that I began to notice Roth’s name on office buildings throughout the Financial District. I also discovered that Emery Roth and Sons designed my high school, the Bronx High School of Science. Combined with my time working at 2 Broadway, I have spent close to seven years in buildings of their design.
Much of Emery Roth and Sons’ work, particularly their post-war office towers, lack architectural significance which likely contributes in no small part to their relative lack of name-brand recognition. There is a high degree of similarity between the towers they designed, most in the International Style, defined by an imposing rectilinear form and uniform glass curtain wall. This is exemplified in structures like 55 Water Street and Paramount Plaza. Others are set back in complex ways, likely to achieve their maximum floor area ratio within the confines of local zoning regulations, like 60 Broad Street.
Emery Roth and Sons also collaborated with more famous architects on a number of New York’s most controversial skyscrapers. Many will remember that Japanese Architect Minoru Yamasaki was responsible for the polarizing design of the first World Trade Center towers. However, fewer likely know that Emery Roth and Sons was the architect of record on the project. The Pan Am building (now MetLife), which looms over Grand Central Terminal, was designed by Emery Roth and Sons along with Walter Gropius and Pietro Belluschi. The latter two and in particular Gropius, one of the 20th Century’s most famous architects, are surely better remembered.
Present day architects as prolific in New York today as Emery Roth and Sons were in their day, like Robert AM Stern, Kohn Pederson Fox and Rafael Vinoly, are well known for the large-scale projects they have designed. Stern’s neo-classical, grandiose yet austere luxury apartment towers like 220 Central Park South and 30 Park Place even emulate Roth’s pre-war works like 880 5th Avenue and the Ritz Tower. But, while Stern continues to earn commissions for his stone-clad luxury towers, early 20th Century incarnations and their architect Emery Roth languish in relative obscurity.
Emery Roth and Sons designed over 100 buildings, primarily in Manhattan, over a remarkable 100-year period, yet occupy an obscure place in New York architectural history. It is hard to pick a stand out building from their catalog of post-war office buildings, built en-masse in the International Style in Midtown and the Financial District. Further, their work on famous, if controversial buildings is obscured by the reputations of their fellow architects like Walter Gropius and Minoru Yamasaki.
I am curious if anyone reading has ever heard of Emery Roth and Sons and encourage you to comment either way. Going forward I would like to learn more about the history of this prolific architecture firm and to hear some other opinions on their work and significance. I have included a number of pictures of their New York buildings, many of which you have likely seen or passed but never thought twice about.