Inside the Four Seasons restaurant auction: A Manhattan landmark goes under the hammer

Emil Antonucci’s “Four Seasons” sign fetches $96K

TRD New York /
Jul.July 26, 2016 05:04 PM

There were no bargains to be had, but did anyone expect there to be? Tuesday’s auction featuring roughly 500 items from the iconic Four Seasons restaurant was still equal parts riveting, nostalgic, stressful and – at times – downright gleeful.

Starting at 10 a.m., Wright Auctions began selling off mid-century furniture and trinkets from the restaurant, which ended its run as real estate macher central at the Seagram Building earlier this month. On the sale block were banquettes designed by Philip Johnson, silver serving pieces by Garth and Ada Louise Huxtable, as well as Four Seasons dinner plates and bespoke pots and pans.

By mid-afternoon, one of the restaurant’s signature desserts – pink cotton candy – had been passed out, and an auctioneer was taking fast-and-furious bids for a corner banquette designed by Johnson that was used in the restaurant’s Grill Room, birthplace of many of the city’s most memorable real estate deals for more than half a century.

With a low sales estimate of $2,000, the price quickly escalated. “$9,500 and I can’t even keep up,” the auctioneer yelled. The winning bid came in at $28,000.

“Philip Johnson’s corner banquette Table 32 goes at ‪#fourseasons auction for $28K, which it probably generated w 2 months of lunch checks,” tweeted the architecture critic Paul Goldberger during the sale. “I doubt that I can afford a spoon at the rate this is going.”

The landmarked restaurant, designed by Johnson and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, was frequented by the likes of Jackie Onassis, Henry Kissinger, Princess Diana and Tina Brown over the decades. “My dad Lew Rudin had lunch almost every day at the Four Seasons,” Beth Rudin Dewoody told Town and Country magazine earlier this year, recalling Rudin’s penchant for hot dogs, which owner Julian Niccolini would bring in from a corner stand and plate for him.

On Tuesday, some of the marquee items went early, including Emil Antonucci’s “Four Seasons” sign, which fetched $96,000. A pair of Barcelona chairs designed by van Der Rohe went for $17,000, while the matching ottomans commanded $18,000. A custom Saarinen “Tulip” table with a bronze top sold for $36,000, while a quartet of Four Seasons ashtrays fetched $10,000.

While the bids came in at a brisk pace, not everyone approved of the auction.

“To see the dispersal of the furnishings at auction is painful,” Aaron Betsky, dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, told the magazine Dezeen.

The restaurant closed July 16 after a protracted fight with RFR Holding’s Aby Rosen, who owns the Seagram Building. Rosen opted not to renew the Four Seasons’ lease — “I love the guys but their time has passed,” he told the New York Times — and instead brought in Major Food Group’s Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi and Jeff Zalaznick to replace it  Four Seasons’ owners Niccolini and Alex von Bidder said they plan to re-open at SL Green Realty and Vornado Realty Trust’s 280 Park Avenue.

At a 2009 New York Observer party in the Grill Room for some of real estate’s elite, guests included Stephen Ross, Marc Holliday, Bill Rudin, William Zeckendorf, Pam Liebman, Daun Paris, Howard Lorber, Donald Trump and TRD publisher Amir Korangy. “Everybody’s here, so you can’t do better,” Trump said.

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