Public spaces built by the Kaufman organization are known for their quirky objects and splashes of color. Completed in 1972, this plaza and arcade have for many years left open a window on the pop art and psychedelic color sensibilities of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The purchase of the building by a new owner and its conversion from office to residential dormitory use for a university has recently eliminated some of those elements, but many still remain.
Reminiscent of the large, wall-mounted chessboard at another Kaufman public space, at 767 Third Avenue, what is apparently an oversized digital clock on the wall near the corner of Water and John Streets takes time to understand. It is sufficiently complicated that a New York Times caption to a photograph of it once described it as a calendar. Nearby are yellow, blue, and red fixed metal chairs, and a phone booth sculpted in the form of a human being with facial profile and hand holding a coin.
Art has been well-represented here. Homage to Lewis Carroll (1971), by Mary Lomprey, featured life-size, chess-like plastic pieces with faces on them painted yellow, blue, and orange. Although the scrap-metal motorcycle sculpture and the neon and corrugated steel entry tube near John and Waters Streets have been removed, the plaza and arcade space adjacent to Fulton Street to the northeast maintains the 1970s whimsy. A giant fishing lure hangs above a pool of water, its cascading hooks ready to ensnare the next victim. Entitled Very Large Fish Lure, the sculpture is credited to the Rebel Fishing Lure Co., with concept design by Rudolph de Harak, a Kaufman favorite used at other buildings. A nearby impression on the arcade wall, entitled Merman’s Mermaid (1971), by Forrest Wilson, continues the water-based theme. The rectangular water pool has six jets, viewed from above on the adult jungle gym and its multiple levels of seating. On-grade fixed chairs are plentiful in the remainder of the plaza space.
The Kaufman organization has always had an ambitious, personalized aesthetic for its spaces. None of the amenities was required, and the developer could just as easily have provided an empty, concrete surface and received the same amount of bonus floor area. Instead, it conceived and implemented a vision and installed a plaque to credit those who helped make it a reality. The Kaufman approach to public spaces can be further explored, downtown at 77 Water Street, and midtown at 747 Third Avenue and 767 Third Avenue.
At a recent site visit, the plaza triangle at the intersection of John and Pearl Streets was occupied by an open air café and café tables and chairs. No record of City approval for this use has been found.