By the summer of 2014, a Flatiron neighborhood fixture will have a new identity. The Commodore Criterion building at 202 Fifth Avenue is best known for ceramic statuettes of Christmas carolers perched above its entrance and window displays featuring Santa and his elves. But in 2012 the building was purchased for $40 million by Porcelanosa, a manufacturer of tile and bathroom fixtures. The Spanish company, which has 18 showrooms throughout the United States, has gutted the interiors and plans to convert the six-story landmarked building into a swanky Fifth Avenue flagship designed by Norman Foster.
“The design will restore historic aspects of the exterior and create a new interior experience of large-volume showroom spaces—all within the context of a sustainable agenda,” Foster said in a statement. The exterior will be largely preserved, he said; and any proposed changes will be presented for approval to the LandMarks Commission.
For now, renderings of the 18,000-square-foot interior show a sleek, multi-level showroom connected to the street with large, open windows. The top floor will house a tile and stone materials library that will be open to architects and designers. Santiago Mament, Porcelanosa’s U.S. director of sales and marketing, said that because of the structure’s location on an open plaza, just across from the iconic Flatiron Building, 202 Fifth represents an enormous branding opportunity. “We want the building to be a meeting point and a place for events conferences,” he said.
Originally designed by architects Ely Jacques Kahn and Alan Buchman, and completed in 1918, 202 Fifth was once home to Commodore Manufacturing Corp. and Criterion Bell & Specialty Co., Brooklyn-based companies producing Christmas ornaments. The prominent “Commodore Criterion” name atop the building will be replaced by that of Porcelanosa. And the Dickensian Christmas carolers? They will most likely be retired, said Mament.
Porcelanosa’s new store will have a prominent place in a neighborhood that has undergone a renaissance in the last five years. Boutique hotels like the Ace and NoMad just to the north have brought a new cachet, while emporiums like Eataly have dramatically increased foot traffic on the surrounding blocks. Jennifer Brown, executive director of the Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership, said that increased use of ground-floor space in many buildings has given the area new vitality.