Newly LPC-Designated Loew’s Threatened by City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez
The Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the Loew’s 175th Street Theater in upper Manhattan as an individual NYC landmark on December 13, 2016. The Thomas Lamb-designed theater was completed in 1930 and was originally heard by LPC for landmark designation in 1970. 46 years later, the public again spoke in favor of this truly amazing Wonder Theater. This morning, the theater was heard at the NYC City Planning Commission and shortly it will be brought to the NYC City Council for a vote.
The issue? The local councilmember, Ydanis Rodriguez, does not support landmarking. This is crucial because the City Council defers to the local councilmember when voting on landmark approvals.
Councilmember Rodriguez initially supported designation and since has rescinded this support. He initially cited the reason for his decision was that there were other buildings in the neighborhood that should be protected as well, perhaps even before the Loew’s.
This reasoning is troubling from a number of perspectives. To begin with, a landmark designation should be based, for the most part, on merit. When the LPC undertakes a designation, it is weighing numerous factors in its deliberations but paramount among them is architectural, cultural and historical significance. The exercise of the agency’s recent backlog95 initiative revealed some buildings whose significance had been diminished by alterations to the extent that they were no longer meritorious of landmark designation. The Loew’s 175 Street Theater was not one of them.
Furthermore, using the Loew’s building as a political bargaining chip in order to protect other buildings in this community district is not a good strategy. A separate campaign directing advocacy efforts towards preserving those sites he wishes to be protected should be launched and HDC would be happy to work with his office on such a campaign. However, the Loew’s should not be sacrificed in an attempt to influence the Landmarks Commission. All that would definitely accomplish would be one less landmark in Washington Heights; and a waste of precious city resources.
Finally, defying public support for this building when the community wants its protection is antithetical to the role of a local councilmember. In late January, Manhattan Community Board 12 passed a resolution reiterating its support of landmark designation of the theater due to its architectural and cultural significance. This is truly a landmark of the community and one which is known throughout the city as a place to visit and see, in no small part due to the stewardship of its owners.
HDC understands that CM Rodriguez is sympathetic to the owner of the theater, which is a religious institution, and its operator which is a not-for-profit. Both oppose landmark designation for fear of additional costs and landmark designation interfering with the profitable functioning of the building. To address these reasonable concerns, it’s important to note that the landmark designation only affects the exterior of the building (which is unfortunate as the interior is truly remarkable). Maintaining a landmark exterior is not inherently more costly than maintaining any building exterior. Nor does landmark designation increase business costs or stand in the way of religious observances, public performances or any interior uses. While the Landmarks Commission only oversees 3.5% of New York City’s buildings, that portfolio includes many prominent buildings that are successfully used for a variety of purposes; from transit hubs to theaters to churches, and the agency has a long history of working with the stewards of landmark buildings to ensure that their properties remain economically successful.
Last year, responding to massive community concern, CM Rodriguez listened to his constituents and opposed a controversial MIH-rezoning in his district. While this action was widely lauded by community activists, it will unfortunately not save that specific historic building or even the scale of the area. In this instance, a proposed city action will preserve the community’s scale and protect a specific building, and a spectacular one at that. Please send Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez a message today to stand with his community and support landmarking the Loew’s.