Guardian Life Building - photo credit Carl Forster

Guardian Life Insurance Company of America Annex (1963)

108-116 E. 18th Street, 105-117 E. 17th Street
Architects: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Designated in 2008

This modern low-rise building, located between Park Avenue South and Irving Place, in keeping with its neighbors, is considered by many to be a fine example of post-World War II architecture. Guardian Life built the through-block, 77,000-square-foot, four-story annex on a lot directly to the east of its 1911 mansard-roofed, neo-classical headquarters (landmarked in 1988) at 17th Street and Park Avenue South. Constructed of stylish anodized aluminum panels and tinted glass windows, the annex was designed in the International Style by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and completed in 1963.

”SOM was renowned for its interpretation of 20th- century European Modernism, and this approach is in full view at this building,” Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Robert Tierney said at the November 18th hearing. “The crisp curtain walls and large, almost square, plate glass windows on the north and south sides of the building bear the influence of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Its scale and understated style also show enormous respect for its nearby, low-rise residential neighbors.”

The annex was modeled after SOM’s Pepsi-Cola Building, a New York City landmark, which was completed in 1960 to critical acclaim. Several members of the team that designed the Pepsi-Cola building also worked on the annex. Other major local works by SOM include Chase Manhattan Plaza in the Financial District and three other New York City landmarks: Manhattan House on the Upper East Side, the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company Building and Lever House.

Founded in 1860 by a group of German immigrants under the name of Germania Life, the company changed its name in 1917 because of negative sentiment towards Germany during World War I. The company occupied the tower and annex until 1999, when it moved to Lower Manhattan. Both buildings were acquired by the Related Companies. The tower is now a hotel and the annex is currently leased by the Zurich Insurance firm.

Source: Landmarks Preservation Commission and Jack Taylor, USCC Historic Preservation Committee chair

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