Albert Ledner Defends His White Elephant

Can St. Vincent's Medical Center's O'Toole Building be saved? Moderinist mavens hope so, and many of them, in chunky art-director glasses, gathered in Chelsea last night to hear its architect, Albert Ledner, 83, defend it. Ledner designed two nautical-themed New York buildings for the National Maritime Union in the sixties; one is now the Maritime Hotel, with its slab of porthole windows looking down on meatpacking revelers, while the other, a levitating rectangle that flares at the top with two rows of stylized sea "waves," has long since become the O'Toole Building. St. Vincent's wants to build an energy-efficient, seventeen-story hospital on the site, and many Villagers are happy to see Ledner's boxy, "wave"-bedecked rectangle go. (Its façades are "closed and forbidding," says local activist Zac Winestine.) Ledner's fans, however, want to preserve it.

The building "presents an alternative to the orthodoxy of an International Style sheer-glass curtain wall," gushed Michael Gotkin of the Modern Architecture Working Group, who turned out for the talk. "It has good scale, it has texture, it has rhythm," said John Kriskiewicz, a Parsons architectural-history professor, of the current building. The architect, who now lives in New Orleans, said he'll gladly come back to New York to testify on the building's behalf. "If it were removed, it would be very well missed," Ledner declared, cheerfully unaware that at least as many people detest the building as cherish it. But there's another modernist structure in town he'd part with: Edward Durrell Stone's 2 Columbus Circle — which, also unknown to Ledner, is undergoing a major redesign after preservationists lost a battle to maintain it. "I always thought that building had some strange elements," he shrugged, when we told him. Like an oddly windowless façade? —Tim Murphy