downtownexpress.com
Volume 20 Issue 4 | june 15 - 21, 2007

Downtown Express photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio 

Only part of the umbrella remained on the Citigroup building’s façade this week, above. The façade and plaza umbrella are expected to be removed within the next two months. In August 2004, Citigroup employees going to work lined up near the umbrella after the Dept. of Homeland Security warned of a threat to the firm.

Tribeca umbrellas will fold for good

By Jennifer Milne

Under an ominous gray sky Tuesday, the final, rightmost piece of the iconic red umbrella clung to the side of the Citigroup building at 388 Greenwich St. in Tribeca. Nobody was on the street cheering for the umbrella’s demise, like so many had 10 years ago. Instead, the icon was being dismantled slowly, bit by bit, fading away silently.

Workers began removing the 50-foot by 50-foot façade umbrella, which was sold back to Travelers Companies in February, at the beginning of June. Community groups, like the Tribeca Community Association and Community Boards 1 and 2, had opposed the logo’s illumination from its inception in May 1997, saying the neon red light was an eyesore for the neighborhood.

West Village resident Michael Mooney gathered 600 signatures on a petition.

“I love Times Square, but I don’t think all of Manhattan should be turned into Times Square,” Mooney wrote in an email. “The umbrella has been turned off since 9/11, but now we can breathe easier knowing that it will never be turned on again. And since there are now laws to prevent a recurrence, the beautiful Lower Manhattan skyline can never again be spoiled by such lack of taste.”

In order to prevent a lawsuit, Travelers Group agreed in 1998 to turn off the logo’s light for four hours each night, and to dim it until sunrise. The logo had not been illuminated since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Citigroup employees eating lunch in the plaza had mixed opinions about the ongoing removal Tuesday.

“The missing umbrella will definitely leave a void,” said Ken Duong, who works for Citigroup’s information technology division. “Every time I see a red umbrella, I think of Citigroup. My honest opinion is that they should’ve kept it.”

Daniel Noonan, a spokesperson for Citigroup, said both the umbrella on the façade of the building and the large umbrella sculpture in the plaza will be removed.

Downtown Express photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio 

Only part of the umbrella remained on the Citigroup building’s façade this week, above. The façade and plaza umbrella are expected to be removed within the next two months. In August 2004, Citigroup employees going to work lined up near the umbrella after the Dept. of Homeland Security warned of a threat to the firm.

According to Noonan, the remainder of the umbrella will be gone from the façade by the end of the month and paperwork has been filed with the city to remove the plaza sculpture, which should be gone in four to six weeks. He said Travelers will take possession of the plaza umbrella.

Citigroup chairperson and C.E.O. Charles Prince said in a prepared statement in February that the sale of the umbrella would be good for the new, unified “Citi” company. Citigroup was formed in 1998 by a merger of the Citicorp and Travelers Insurance Group companies.

“Our research continued to show that the trademark red umbrella was more connected with insurance, specifically St. Paul Travelers,” Prince said. “We are pleased to have entered into this agreement.”
Ivan Toro, another Citigroup employee, agrees with his boss.

“I think it’s good that they’re taking it down,” Toro said. &ldquoThe red umbrella has always been linked more to Travelers than Citibank. I like the [Citi logo red] arc better.”

The façade umbrella received approval from the Department of Buildings under then-Deputy Buildings Commissioner George Sakona’s 1991 interpretation of city policy. Sakona wrote, “…where a symbol on a building owned and occupied by a corporation is considered to be an integral part of […] the building, such symbol […] may be deemed not to be a sign and shall not be subject to the sign regulation of the zoning resolution.”

Two weeks after the decision to allow the umbrella logo on Nov. 25, 1996, the Department changed its policy to include a “more stringent review” of any future logos.

The Tribeca Community Association fought the umbrella permit at the city Board of Standards and Appeals and before the agency ruled, Travelers settled the case. The Buildings Dept., immediately after the settlement, rescinded the Sakona policy entirely.

Marlene Ibsen, a spokesperson for Travelers Companies, which is headquartered in St. Paul, Minn., said Travelers is exploring options for the plaza umbrella, but has not made any plans yet.





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