Our Town: The Endo building

The Island Now
The lobby of the Endo building of Garden City

What is it about an architectural masterpiece that insists on being seen?

Why do we willingly travel thousands of miles and spend small fortunes to look at great the Eifel Tower, London’s Tower Bridge or Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia?

Something about their longevity, their perfection, a fanatical architectural vision and history that when combined is like a magnet drawing the world to its doorstep. So where are the structural masterpieces on Long Island?

Say hello to the Endo building.
For many years I’ve noticed this strange looking building on Stewart Avenue near the Meadowbrook Parkway and recently I mustered up the courage to go there and ask for a tour.

I am referring to the Endo building designed by the renowned modernist architect Paul Randolph chair of Yale University’s Department of Architecture.

The Endo building is located at the corner of Stewart Avenue and Endo Boulevard and it was greeted with such disdain and consternation when Randolph first constructed it in 1962 that the residences of Garden city insisted that they surround the building with big trees so no one would see it.

Parisian residents had a similar reaction when the Eifel Tower was first built and then when the Pompidou Center was built. Nietzsche once said that anything of great virtue and goodness will usually be hated by the public.

The Endo building is a case in point.
The original occupant and guardian of this building was Endo Pharmaceuticals but in 2007 the global powerhouse Lifetime Brands bought the building and invested $40 million in renovation.

Robert is the building manager and the guy who gave me the grand tour. It is his responsibility to watch over this architectural gem.
As I said Paul Randolph was given the commission to construct this building in 1962 and he decided to make it a castle-like cement structure, prototypical of the “New Brutalism.”

As I walked through the building it reminded me of the mighty Castel Nuovo which overlooks the bay of Naples. Strong, majestic, powerful, independent and solid.
Paul Randolph studied architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design under Walter Gropius but became a key figure in the “New Brutalism” which used concrete and natural flowing walls which gave the building a certain character.

This building has most of the architectural principles of Le Corbusier including a free façade, open plan, one continuous ribbon window and a beautiful roof garden.

The entrance way is a grand stairway which takes you into a lobby surrounded by windows and more winding stairways (see photo.)
The most controversial feature of this building is the corrugated cylinders that appear to rhythmically undulate on the building’s exterior and is often described as ‘corduroy concrete.’

Randolph’s philosophy was to use only one type of material and one color scheme and this made me think of the Louis Kahn designed Salk Institute in La Jolla California which had the same starkly brutal yet gorgeously spiritual quality. The twin to the Garden City Endo building is the Erich Lindemann Mental Health Building in downtown Boston.

You may remember that building from the Scorsese film The Departed which used it as the police headquarters. Film directors find these architectural gems and use them to add luster and richness to their films. We see that when Williston Park’s Hildebrandt’s Luncheonette is used in both films and television shoots.
Paul Randolph was one of the America’s great architects equal to Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson and Frank Gehry and would always remark that input from others was the greatest danger to any architect. Input tends to compromise the artist’s vision and weaken the final product.

As an example, Jasper Johns was so sensitive and guarded with his painting process that he once destroyed a painting he was working on simply because Robert Rauschenberg tried to make a suggestion about it.
So what is it about a great piece of architecture that draws us to it?

As I toured the outside and inside of this masterpiece I began to see that the wonder of this building was that a single man had held true to his own vision of what he wanted to do and he had the brutal strength to stick to his vision, ignoring all criticism, and ignoring all suggestions. In other words the brutal look of the Endo building a perfect reflection of the brutal artistic strength of Paul Randolph himself.
Nietzsche said that man’s most important trait was his ‘will to power.’

All great artists have this. Julian Schnabel has it in art. Madonna has it in music. Marilyn Monroe had it in film. Sinatra had it in song. Marilyn Monroe was often described as having an inner glow. Vladimir Horowtiz, the pianist, was often described in the same way by people who met him.

I think Paul Randolph also possessed this inner fire.
The Endo building is a piece of art more than a building and reflects the mind and soul of Paul Randolph. I think people unconsciously understand that when they walk up the grand staircase and enter this building they are experiencing something transcendent.
Gertrude Stein asked why masterpieces are so rare.

They are rare because it takes a miracle of strength to create them. So God bless you Paul Randolph for creating this building for Long Island and thank you Robert and Lifetime Brands for being guardian angels and restoring this masterpiece to its former greatness.

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