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The "Warmth" of Broadway Plaza

By Eric Richardson
Published: Friday, May 04, 2007, at 10:34AM
Broadway Plaza Eric Richardson [Flickr]

When the topic of Macy's Plaza comes up these days, you typically hear comments that run along the lines of "How did that thing ever get built?" The massive brick exterior towers over pedestrians below. Only the 7th street face presents any sort of a relief from the fortress design.

And yet when the then Broadway Plaza opened in 1973 people were winging a very different tune. An article in the Times said it had "touches of" the Victor Emanuel II Galleria in Milan, the Place Ville Marie in Montreal, and the Rockefeller Center in New York.

Perhaps more striking is the disconnect around what the brickwork was intended to convey and how it is experienced today. An article in the Times from August of 1973 says that these were specifically chosen by architect Charles Luckman.

Part of its uniqueness also stems from the widespread use of brick. One million -- fired especially for the project in the Sacramento area -- were used to reduce the vastness of the exterior walls and inner galleria.

Luckman, who gave final approval to everything from bathroom fixtures to the megastructure's air conditioning systems, insisted on brick facing.

The large iron-spot bricks, Luckman feels, serve as a common denominator among the three main buildings, producing a warmth that could not be achieved with other material.

Standing along 8th street together it's tough to see how the brick walls -- complete with slits the Times elsewhere said were "proportioned like the holes in a computer punchcard" -- could possibly be making the building feel smaller or giving it "warmth."

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