E. 42nd Street: Socony-Mobil Building
And now for something entirely different…
Geographically, the 42-floor Socony-Mobil Building (1956) occupies the southeast corner of E. 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue, and the entire block to E. 41st Street and Third Avenue.
In terms of architectural style, it occupies a transition between the masonry-clad, wedding-cake-setback, Art Deco buildings that were common before it and the post-1960 glass-and-steel slabs of the International Style.
In fact, the architects, Harrison & Abramowitz, originally designed the structure with a masonry exterior, but completely redesigned it during 1953 and 1954 as a metal-sheathed building.
Besides the embossed surfaces, what is most unusual about the metal exterior is that it is stainless steel, rather than aluminum more commonly used. Stainless was more expensive than aluminum, but the developers had close connections to United States Steel Corporation, who wanted to promote steel as an alternative to aluminum. US Steel actually made up the extra cost of stainless. Unfortunately for them and the rest of the steel industry, stainless never caught on as a wall material for large structures.
In contrast to its older neighbors, clad in light-colored brick or terra cotta, the four-story base features dark blue structural glass. Above the fourth floor, the entire surface, other than windows, is covered with seven thousand embossed stainless steel panels.
The building was named after its original major tenant, which changed it’s name to Mobil Oil Corporation in 1966; and so the building too changed its name to the Mobil Building. The company relocated to Virginia in 1990. The property is now owned by Hiro Real Estate Company and is called 150 East 42nd Street.
According to the original marketing information for this building, one of the reasons for embossing the panels was to create a surface for which “…dirt and grime can readily be washed away by rain.” In any event, the stainless was showing its age after almost 40 years; but in 1995, the panels were thoroughly cleaned, and more than fifteen years later, the building still looks new.