HDC@LPC – Designation Testimony for July 19, 2016

 

Item 1

Empire State Dairy Company, 2840 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn

LP – 2575

IMG_2570

IMG_2558

The Empire State Dairy Company building is an unusually ornamented industrial building whose equal is not found anywhere. According to experts, these murals are the largest, extant majolica tile panels created by the American Encaustic Tiling Company. The murals, now over a century old, depict a bucolic Alpine scene in which a woman leads a cow and a calf to water; on the other, a man leads a bull to water. The people proudly display their animals within a sun-drenched, lush landscape of water, meadows, pines and mountains, harkening to the agrarian beginnings of the dairy industry.  It is likely that the architect Otto Strack was paying homage to his country of birth, Germany, and that the rare Secessionist application employed here was inspired by Strack’s studies in Vienna.

The first building constructed as a part of this complex dates to 1907, and was designed jointly by Otto Strack and Theobald Engelhardt. Mr. Engelhardt was a prolific Brooklyn architect of German-born parents, whose architectural legacy is inextricably intertwined with the former German communities and brewing industries in Brooklyn. How Strack wound up on this commission is a mystery, as he was a prominent brewery architect in far-away Milwaukee. It is quite possible that the common link of the brewery industry made these two German architects cross paths and eventually led them to build together this once in Brooklyn. Overall, this building is a rare example of architectural style and artistic aesthetic, and emblematic of the burgeoning industry in East New York in the early twentieth century.

Moving forward, it is absolutely paramount that LPC move to calendar more significant buildings in East New York. This old neighborhood will soon fall victim to a pioneering paradigm, and if its heritage is not protected, there will be nothing left in the wake of rezoning. These especially include links to the neighborhood’s long-time civic presence in the forms of the East New York Magistrates Court and the 75th Police Precinct. Interestingly, both of these buildings have counterparts by the same architects in Sunset Park, though both buildings in Sunset Park are individual landmarks and those in East New York remain unprotected. To continue to ignore the set in East New York would communicate quite clearly that this community deserves less than another in Brooklyn.  Further candidates that anchor the neighborhood include the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church and the Vienna flats building at 2883 Atlantic Avenue. As revived, landmarked neighborhoods in Brooklyn testify: historic building stock is vital to the enrichment, pride and prosperity of a community, especially when that community is being built from the ground up.

 

Items 2-6

Since the summer of 2012, exactly four years ago, HDC has been both monitoring the East Midtown Rezoning initiative and actively advocating for protection of its finest buildings, those that best exemplify the area’s history and stages of development. The Commissioners may be aware that in January 2013, HDC submitted RFEs for 33 properties in the rezoning area. In the spring of that same year, the LPC submitted its own list as part of the Environmental Impact Statement for the rezoning. That list, coincidentally, also included 33 buildings. Some of the LPC’s 33 buildings overlapped with HDC’s 33 buildings, so when combined, they represent a group of 45 landmark-worthy buildings. In May of this year, the LPC put 12 of these on its calendar. While we were thrilled to see some move toward a more certain future, we remain concerned for those that have been left out. We have distributed copies of RFEs for those neglected buildings so that the Commissioners may consider them. Even more coincidentally, there are 33 of them!

Within the categories laid out by the LPC: “pre-Grand Central Terminal”, “Terminal City”, and “post-Grand Central Terminal”, only one building that was calendared was constructed after 1929, and that one building dates to 1977, leaving a nearly 50-year gap in the story of East Midtown. Even though a group of magnificent mid-century office buildings – one of the neighborhood’s hallmark building types – was included in the LPC’s (and HDC’s) list, none of them are moving forward in this round of considerations for landmark status. These many overlooked gems include the Former Girl Scouts of America Headquarters at 830 Third Avenue, the Union Carbide Corporation Headquarters at 270 Park Avenue and the Universal Pictures Building at 445 Park Avenue – all important works of Modern architecture by sophisticated architects for a new wave of corporate clients in post-World War II New York.

The 12 items placed on the LPC calendar represent just the tip of the iceberg in terms of meritorious architecture in East Midtown, but we are pleased to testify today in favor of the swift designation of the first five of these.

 

Item 2

PERSHING SQUARE BUILDING, 125 Park Avenue, Manhattan

LP – 2556

Pershing Square building corner

With its foundations laid in 1914, two years before the enactment of the 1916 Zoning Resolution, the Pershing Square Building was an anomaly for new buildings at the time of its completion nine years later, in 1923. As The New York Times reported one year before it opened, the Pershing Square building “will be unique among recent New York office structures, being designed without setbacks…” By 1923, office buildings in New York City were forced into a system of skyscraper design employing setbacks for increased height. At 24 stories, the Pershing Square Building was the last tall building in the city to be completed in the form of a pre-World War I office building. As such, in 1923 it stood as a reminder of a previous era, and today it exhibits a maturity beyond its years.

Named for the adjacent Pershing Square, which itself was named for World War I hero General John J. Pershing, the building’s top 21 floors were devoted to office space, while its lower floors were host to a number of commercial tenants. A monumental bank space occupied the second and third floors, whose 29-foot ceiling height is exhibited on the exterior by large arched window openings. Its granite base is punctuated by storefronts for the shops on the ground floor. The basement level contained a large restaurant, as well as an entrance to Grand Central Terminal, located across the street.

The Italian Renaissance style building has a “palazzo” U-shaped layout with a deep light court beginning at the eighth floor. The arched windows and tiled hipped roofs at the top stories resemble an Italian villa. Its façades are graced with polychrome terra cotta and multi-colored and textured brick, the use of which was novel at the time of construction for decorative purposes. Longtime visitors to Midtown might remember what the building looked like before its façade restoration 20 years ago, and the sense of surprise when colors and tones emerged from what had been a flat brown façade for decades.

Edward York and Philip Sawyer both trained in the Beaux-Arts style and worked in the office of McKim, Mead & White before establishing their firm in 1898, which was best known for its bank and hospital buildings. The Pershing Square Building is a magnificent example of what they did best – spectacular bank spaces integrated into larger office buildings. Another of their commissions was the Bowery Savings Bank, constructed immediately to the east of the Pershing Square Building around the same time in the Romanesque style. Thus the two were designed to complement one another and they do so marvelously.

 

Item 3

GRAYBAR BUILDING, 420 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan

LP – 2554

Graybar-web

Named for one of the original tenants, the Graybar electricity and electrical appliances company, the Graybar Building is a striking Art Deco office building designed by Sloan and Robertson and completed in 1927.  Ornament is primarily restricted to the monumental bas-reliefs of the base thanks to developer John R. Todd’s preference for spending money on only the parts of the building that might impress potential tenants.

When it was constructed, the 30-story building was said to be the largest office structure in the world.  The New York Times compared the workforce of 12,000 that inhabited the building to a “small city.”  Although Graybar left in 1982 when the corporate headquarters were relocated to St. Louis, the name has held on. The building remains a fixture in the East Midtown neighborhood.

 

Item 4

SHELTON HOTEL, 525 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan

LP – 2557

525 Lexington entry

The Shelton was one of the most heralded buildings of the 1920s and is the first great monument to New York City’s 1916 zoning code. Critic George S. Chappell exulted architect Arthur Loomis Harmon’s “romantic and thrilling achievement”; it was such a striking presence on the New York skyline that it inspired a series of masterful paintings by artist Georgia O’Keeffe. The building was commissioned by James T. Lee, a prominent New York builder, also responsible for such luxury apartment buildings as 740 Park Avenue and 998 Fifth Avenue.

In 1916, New York had passed America’s first zoning law, mandating setbacks on skyscrapers in order to ensure that light and air would reach the street. Harmon’s design for the Shelton was one of the first to prove that a building of great expressive strength could be designed within the zoning rules, with the required setbacks and tower occupying only twenty-five percent of the lot area. From a limestone base with double-height arcade, richly ornamented with carved detail, the building soars upward with a series of beautifully integrated masses with no cornices to block the continuous vertical thrust. From Lexington Avenue, the building appears as a rectangular block, but the structure is actually U-shaped in plan, with a light court at the rear, facing east. The brick of the upper stories is rendered like a textile with some bricks pulled out to create texture. The emphatic verticality lends a certain Gothic character to the building, but the use of materials and details harks back to Byzantine and Italian Romanesque forms, reflecting the architect’s intentions “to take from any source whatever was required, treating it in a free and easy classical way, the hope being that the details and masses shall both suggest, if possible their own time rather than that of their prototypes.”(This quote was taken from an article Chappell wrote for The New Republic in 1924 entitled “The Shelton”.)

The Shelton was planned as a “club hotel”; i.e., a residential hotel for men, with such club features as a swimming pool, Turkish bath, billiard room, bowling alley, and, on the setbacks, rooftop gardens. Male athletes carved above the column capitals at the entrance symbolize its original function. The residential men’s hotel was not a success, however, so the hotel became a more traditional residential and transient facility soon after its completion. The design, however, was deemed a great success. It was widely admired by architectural critics and received gold medals from the American Institute of Architects and the Architectural League of New York. Although the interior was gutted in 1977, the exterior was restored for its conversion into the Halloran House Hotel.

 

Item 5

BEVERLY HOTEL (NOW THE BENJAMIN HOTEL), 120 East 50th Street, Manhattan

LP – 2555

125 east 50th top

Planned as an apartment hotel for both transient and long-term guests, the thirty-story Beverly was designed in the eclectic pseudo-Renaissance manner favored by Emery Roth, whom the authors of New York 1930 describe as “the unquestioned master of the luxury residential skyscraper.” Built in 1926-27, the hotel is dramatically massed, with a fourteen-story base topped by a series of dramatic setbacks, reminiscent of an Italian hill town, culminating in a three-story octagonal tower. The massing included many setbacks that were designed as roof gardens, accessible through French doors. A writer for the Real Estate Record and Builders Guide placed the hotel within its original context, stating:

“The Beverly is in keeping with the high class character of its neighbors and it will be notable for the latest design in modern architecture from the zoning viewpoint. The adoption of roof gardens at the setbacks while not a novelty for apartment houses has seldom been used where the multi-family house becomes a hotel. The height will make it one of the conspicuous skyscrapers in Mid-Manhattan.”

More than just interesting for its building envelope, the fashionable Beverly Hotel was touted in a mid-1930s subway advertisement as “New York’s Smartest” place featuring “Music, Special Facilities for Private Parties” with “Luncheons from 75 cents, Dinners from $1, Cocktails from 30 cents, also A La Carte French Cuisine.” all available in the Duplex  Cocktail Lounge. Not to plan projects in other people’s buildings, but that would be one restoration which, prima facie, the Historic Districts Council could heartily endorse.

 

Item 6

HOTEL LEXINGTON, 511 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan

LP – 2559

509 lex-web

Schultze & Weaver, a firm that specialized in skyscraper hotels, not only designed the Lexington, but also the Waldorf-Astoria, the Sherry-Netherland and the Pierre in New York, and the famous Biltmore Hotels in Los Angeles and Coral Gables, Florida, and the Breakers in Palm Beach. For the Lexington, the architects designed a massive structure with vertical window bays that accentuate the building’s height and draw the eye up through a series of setbacks to the pyramidal tower and crowning lantern. T-Square, the architecture critic of The New Yorker, found this dramatically massed hotel to be a “romantic addition” to the Lexington Avenue skyline. The Lexington Avenue entrance to the hotel is through a beautifully-carved, limestone arch in a Romanesque-inspired style. The original exterior arch is now inside glass doors, but retains its classically-garbed figures representing various professions. The restaurants at the Lexington were among the first to experiment with the European notion of replacing tips with a ten percent service charge added to all bills, an idea that never took hold in the United States. The Lexington opened on October 15, 1929, only fourteen days before the stock market crashed. Unfortunately, this hotel, which was planned to cater to middle-class tourists, soon failed and in 1932 was in the hands of a receiver. Fortunately, through a series of ownership changes, the hotel has continued in operation.

 

HDC@LPC – Testimony for LPC Hearing on July 19, 2016

HDC regularly reviews every public proposal affecting Individual Landmarks and buildings within Historic Districts in New York City, and when needed, we comment on them. Our testimony for the latest items to be presented at the Landmarks Preservation Commission is below.

 

Item 1

121 Congress Street – Cobble Hill Historic District, Brooklyn

Certificate of Appropriateness, Docket # 182470

An Italianate style rowhouse built in 1850 – 1855. Application is to alter the façade, replace windows and install ironwork.

Project architect: Urban Matrix Architecture and Planning, PC

HDC finds that while the proposed façade alterations certainly bring the building in the right direction, it would be more appropriate if the details matched those of the building’s immediate neighbors and the building’s own history. It does not appear as though this building were originally clad in brownstone, but rather brick, like its neighbors, so why not clean up and duplicate the brick? HDC applauds the proposed stoop, railings and windows, but would prefer a wood cornice to the proposed fiberglass.

LPC Determination: Approved with modifications

121 Congress-a

121 Congress-c

 

Item 5

90 Hudson Street – TriBeCa West Historic District, Manhattan

Certificate of Appropriateness, Docket # 183578

A Romanesque Revival style warehouse building built in 1881-82. Application is to install a platform and barrier-free access ramp.

Project architect: SWEngineering Co., PLLC

Given this building’s past as a warehouse, it is likely that a platform existed at some point, so our committee asks that the design for a new platform and ramp be informed by the historic conditions at this site. This information would instruct both the design and function of the new platform, which at this point looks somewhat clunky and out of place. We also wonder whether it is necessary to have the ramp running the entire length of the Hudson Street façade, obstructing the masonry piers.

LPC Determination: Approved with modifications

90 Hudson Street

 

Item 6

35 West 10th Street – Greenwich Village Historic District, Manhattan

Certificate of Appropriateness, Docket # 184437

A building originally built in 1831-32, and altered in the late-19th century. Application is to construct rooftop and rear yard additions and excavate the rear yard.

Project architect: Lee H. Skolnick Architecture and Design Partnership

It seems that nearly every month there is an application to all but destroy a Federal rowhouse in Manhattan. These buildings are rare and treasured examples of early dwellings that should be respected, not mutilated. HDC finds the proposed rooftop and rear yard additions to be rude gestures on a very elegant house on a very elegant street. The introduction of cantilevers and sloped glazing is a huge intervention that is in stark contrast to the sensitive alterations that have already been undertaken in the rear. We ask the Commission to reject this aggressive approach.

LPC Determination: Approved

Since this building’s rear façade had already been redesigned, the Commission felt that the damage had already been done and approved this glass façade. The LPC staff assured the Commissioners that none of the material in the rear is historic, and they were persuaded by the nearby presence of a Paul Rudolph-designed house, which, some believed, made this design referential, rather than alien in its context. Three Commissioners opposed the project, though, citing discomfort with removing the very top floor of the rear, and thus, removing all recognition of this house’s previous configuration. But alas, they didn’t manage to persuade the rest of the Commissioners and the project was approved without any modifications.

35 West 10th-exist and prop

35 West 10th-exist and prop-2

 

Item 8

246 West 11th Street – Greenwich Village Historic District, Manhattan

Certificate of Appropriateness, Docket # 184960

A Greek Revival style rowhouse built in 1842.  Application is to a remove a studio window dormer, construct rooftop and rear yard additions, excavate the cellar, and alter the areaway and front façade.

Project architect: INC Architecture & Design, PLLC

While the changes to the areaway and rear seem to be acceptable, and the front façade restoration is commendable, HDC finds that the preservation of some of this house’s subsequent layers of history would improve the project greatly. Studio window dormers are a characteristic feature of the Greenwich Village Historic District. Why not incorporate the dormer into the new design for the roof, rather than destroy it? This seems like a missed opportunity and an unnecessary loss. Similarly, our committee felt that the circa late-19th century ironwork on the basement windows on the front façade, while not original, is a significant part of the building’s history and could easily be retained.

LPC Determination: Approved with modifications

Luckily, the Commission agreed with HDC in its opposition to the removal of the circa 1930 studio skylight and circa late 19th century ironwork on the basement level. They recommended that the studio skylight be retained and that alterations to the front façade be restudied to keep layers of history that are evidenced on the building, including the ironwork. The skylight was a particularly contentious issue. They asserted that the skylights are remnants from a significant era in Greenwich Village’s history and that this one could easily be incorporated into their plans for the roof. The applicant asserted that this particular studio skylight isn’t a very good or intact one, but the Commissioners countered that its asymmetry is part of its charm and its configuration should be retained even if the materials need to be replaced in kind. The rest of the application, which included restoration of the front facade, was approved.

246 West 11th Street-a

246 West 11th Street-d

246 West 11th Street-c

 

Item 9

83 Horatio Street – Greenwich Village Historic District, Manhattan

Certificate of Appropriateness, Docket # 178133

A Greek Revival style house built in 1852-53. Application is to demolish an existing addition, construct rooftop and rear yard additions, perform excavation, and replace the cornice.

Project architect: Union Street Studio, LLC

Although surrounded by larger buildings, the proposed treatment of this survivor is in no way justified. The replacement of the cornice is unnecessary, the rooftop addition overwhelms the building’s scale and the rear yard addition does not adhere to any commonly accepted practices, including the retention of the existing top floor. The Landmarks Commission was created for situations just like this; to protect our historic architecture from rapacious and inappropriate development. There are better ways to enlarge townhouses.

LPC Determination: No Action

 

83 Horatio - existing rear

83 Horatio-rear

 

Item 10

30 Grove Street – Greenwich Village Historic District, Manhattan

Certificate of Appropriateness, Docket # 178333

A vernacular Greek Revival style townhouse with early Italianate style and transitional features built in 1851-52. Application is to replace entry stairs and areaway fence, and to alter the areaway.

Project architect: Brian E. Boyle, AIA

HDC’s Public Review Committee had a hard time understanding why the decorative ironwork on this stoop has to be completely redecorated instead of restored. Why not keep what’s there, which is described in the designation report as “a graceful curved staircase with attractive cast iron detail”?

LPC Determination: Approved with modifications

30 Grove Street-existing

30 Grove Street-existing and proposed

 

Item 13

740 Broadway – NoHo Historic District, Manhattan

Certificate of Appropriateness, Docket # 185730

A Beaux-Arts style loft building designed by Francis H. Kimball and built in 1910-12. Application is to replace entrance infill.

Project architect: 590BC Architecture & Design

The proposed design gives the entrance an even more contemporary and incongruous feel, with its lack of symmetry and stainless steel material palette. While the existing entrance is far from exceptional, the proposed changes both miss an opportunity to replace the infill with something more appropriate and, HDC would argue, only make it worse.

LPC Determination: Approved

740 Broadway

 

Item 15

1112 Park Avenue – Park Avenue Historic District, Manhattan

Certificate of Appropriateness, Docket # 184050

A Colonial Revival style apartment building designed by Emery Roth and built in 1926-1927. Application is to install chimney flues.

Project architect: Barry Rice Architects

The Park Avenue skyline is dotted with decorative water tower enclosures that were integrated into the designs of the thoroughfare’s grand apartment buildings. They are a defining and celebrated feature of the district. In this application, chimney flues are needed for the newly constructed 1110 Park Avenue, but, unfortunately, 1112 Park Avenue’s charming water tower enclosure is being asked to pay the price, with the installation of what looks like ten stainless steel soldiers crowding its rim. Our committee felt that a preferable solution would be to create a boxed enclosure along the side of 1110’s roof that houses the necessary flues. The result would be akin to a square column rising up the side of the top of the building. If the Commission deems the applicant’s solution to be approvable, we would suggest that at the very least, the flues could be galvanized and painted to better blend in with their surroundings.

LPC Determination: Approved

1112 Park Avenue-mock

1112 Park Avenue-elev

 

Item 16

169 East 71st Street – Upper East Side Historic District, Manhattan

Certificate of Appropriateness, Docket # 178626

An Italianate style rowhouse designed by John Sexton and built in 1866. Application is to construct rear yard and rooftop additions.

Project architect: not listed

Typically for rear yard addition applications, the Commission requires that the top floor of the historic rear elevation be maintained to keep a record of the original footprint of the building. This very old house should not be an exception. While our committee did not find the projection to be too offensive, the proposed height of the addition overwhelms the house. Further, the addition creates an awkward condition where it meets the curve of the neighboring house’s cornice line. This could be avoided if the applicant were to preserve its own cornice, a feature that should not be so unnecessarily destroyed. Finally, we urge the Commission to carefully consider the proportions of the window openings on the rear addition. Their diminutive size makes the rear of the building look like a tenement on the Lower East Side, not a rowhouse on the Upper East Side.

LPC Determination: Approved with modifications

169 East 71st Street

169 East 71st Street-cornice

 

Item 17

252 West 76th Street – West End-Collegiate Extension Historic District, Manhattan

Certificate of Appropriateness, Docket # 182601

A Beaux-Arts style apartment building, designed by Ralph S. Townsend and built in 1902-03. Application is to install a barrier-free access lift and entrance marquee.

HDC wishes to commend the applicant on this very careful and respectful proposal that goes a long way toward restoring the building’s graceful details, while also serving as a model for other projects addressing accessibility.

LPC Determination: Approved

 

 

Item 18

466-468 Columbus Avenue – Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District, Manhattan

Certificate of Appropriateness, Docket # 184172

A commercial building built in 1894, altered by William and Donald Freed in 1961, and altered and enlarged pursuant to Certificate of Appropriateness 06-7569 by Gruzen Samton LLP. Application is to demolish the existing building and construct a new building.

Project architect: BKSK Architects

While HDC’s Public Review Committee could accept a new building on this site, the height of the proposed replacement gave us pause. First and foremost, the new building should be informed by the heights of the neighboring structures, and could achieve a deeper respect for the street wall by at least setting back the top portion of the building. This theme continues with our suggestion to rethink the very large, seemingly floating cornice, which creates even more height above its neighbors. Instead, the new building could investigate a termination that takes cues from the existing strong cornice lines of adjacent buildings. Concerning the design: there are many architectural influences at play here, and our committee was concerned that these resulted in an excess of ideas and a loss of urbanism. However, the texture and quality of the materials leads us to believe that some tweaks could result in a contextual new building.

LPC Determination: No Action

The Commission pretty much agreed with HDC about the issues of height and what was considered to be a conflict of design ideas. They asked the applicant to bring down the height to reference the datum line of the neighboring buildings’ cornices and asked them to re-work the base. The proposal called for a dark painted metal storefront, while the rest of the building would be faced in glass and a system of terra-cotta baguettes. So, they asked them to bring more of the masonry down to the street level to integrate the base better.

466-468 Columbus Avenue

466-468 Columbus Avenue-cornice line

 

Don’t Let Art Deco Check Out of the Waldorf Astoria!

Sign our petition to preserve some of New York City’s most opulent and sumptuous public interiors spaces.

Please Don't Disturb the Art Deco

The unthinkable has arrived: some of New York’s most opulent and sumptuous publicly-accessible interior spaces may soon vanish in the dust of renovation.

While the exterior is protected as an Individual Landmark, the Waldorf Astoria’s fantastic interior hallways, lobby and ballrooms remain unprotected. The new owner of the storied skyscraper,  Anbang Insurance Group, plans to close the Waldorf Astoria for three years and spend more than $1 billion gut-renovating the entire building for a condominium conversion, which will radically transform the famed hotel’s interior.

The 1931 masterpiece was designed and maintained to operate as the world’s premier hotel. While specific plans for the renovation have not been circulated, we are unfortunately certain that, without protection and appropriate oversight, any interior renovations to these grand spaces will certainly lead to diminution of design excellence and the destruction of original finishings that can never be replaced.

Please scroll down to view some photos of the lavish rooms, which HDC was able to access with ease, in order to share some of this treasure with you! We encourage you to make a visit, too. These exquisite spaces are all open to the public.

Don’t count on someone else to act – we need your help!

Please click here to send Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan a letter urging the Landmarks Preservation Commission to act swiftly and Calendar the Waldorf Astoria. What’s here today may be gone tomorrow. HDC thanks our colleagues at the Art Deco Society of NY and the Landmarks Conservancy, who are also calling the world to action.

A copy of our letter (please click here to send yours):

I urge the Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the interiors of the Waldorf Astoria at 301 Park Avenue, Manhattan. These interiors were designed to be the utmost in hotel opulence and survive remarkably intact. A major restoration was undertaken in 1983. The rooms that need protection include the Park Avenue lobby, which includes the “Wheel of Life” mosaic tile artwork by the 1925 Paris Exposition showcase artist Louis Rigal, and is composed of 148,000 marble tiles from seven different countries; the Lexington Avenue Lobby and Peacock Alley, which features a clock from the Columbian Exposition of 1893; the Grand Ballroom, Astor and Jade ballrooms, all of which retain their original finishings; the Basildon Room with finishings imported from an 18th century country house in Berkshire, England; the Silver room, which is covered with mirrors, inspired by Versaille’s Galerie des Glaces, include Edward Simmons murals of the months and seasons, originally installed in the Astor Gallery in the original 1897 Waldorf on 5th Avenue; and the Starlight Roof, whose original remaining features are largely intact, including the Art Deco grille work ceiling, which originally retracted, allowing guests to dine and drink beneath the stars above Park Avenue before being permanently closed in 1950 to accommodate HVAC.  Original features abound throughout all of the major, publicly accessible rooms and corridors in this magnificent building, including Art Deco moldings, ceiling medallions, elaborate carved woodwork, marble pilasters, murals, grille work, railings, light fixtures, banisters, counter tops, door enframements and plaster work.

Don’t let the Waldorf Astoria be destroyed on your administration’s watch. The Waldorf’s interiors are irreplaceable artworks which add to the glory of New York City and should be preserved for future generations of New Yorkers.

Category: Alert, Featured, LPC · Tags:

HDC@LPC – Testimony for LPC Hearing on July 12, 2016

Posted by on Monday, July 11, 2016 · Leave a Comment 

HDC regularly reviews every public proposal affecting Individual Landmarks and buildings within Historic Districts in New York City, and when needed, we comment on them. Our testimony for the latest items to be presented at the Landmarks Preservation Commission is below.

 

Item 6
CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS
BOROUGH OF BROOKLYN
180372 – Block 1959, lot 50-
394-396 Vanderbilt Avenue – Fort Greene Historic District
A pair of transitional Italianate/neo-Grec style rowhouses designed by Thomas B. Jackson. Application is to construct a rear-yard addition and install a barrier-free access ramp at the areaway.

HDC finds the areaway and ramp to be acceptable changes. While the proposed rear yard addition is made of contextual materials in a sensitive bay rhythm, its bulk is concerning considering the modest size of these two rowhouses. The addition should not overwhelm the scale and character of the buildings and the block. Though not part of the application, HDC objects to the visibility of the rooftop bulkhead and railing, both of which would not be necessary if a roof scuttle – typically found on rowhouses of this age and type – were employed instead.

LPC Determination: Approved

394-396 Vanderbilt Avenue-bulkhead

394-396 Vanderbilt Avenue-rear

 

Item 10
CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS
BOROUGH OF Brooklyn
184427 – Block 1678, lot 76-
317 Decatur Street – Bedford Stuyvesant/Expanded Stuyvesant Heights Historic District
A Romanesque/ Renaissance Revival style rowhouse designed by G.H. Madigan and built in 1892. Application is to construct a rooftop addition.

The proposed corten steel bulkhead is far too visible, sticking out like a sore thumb above this row. Providing roof access should not come at the expense of the greater enjoyment and historic integrity of the streetscape in this – and all – historic districts. Marring this very visible rooftop with a tall bulkhead would be an unfortunate gesture.

LPC Determination: Approved with modifications

317 Decatur Street-front

317 Decatur Street-mockup

 

Item 12
CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS
BOROUGH OF Manhattan
182440 – Block 530, lot 17-
34 East 62nd Street – Upper East Side Historic District
A vacant lot. Application is to construct a new building.

HDC finds that while the proposed design is not offensive and would be constructed of appropriate materials, it raises the question of whether it is appropriate to construct faux historic houses in historic districts. Introducing a design that is of our time or replicating the house that originally stood here would be acceptable strategies, but this house, while thoughtfully picking up details found in the neighborhood, does neither. The house might look like it has always been here, but we are not sure that would be an honest approach.

LPC Determination: Approved with modifications

The Commission had a philosophical debate about the use of Classical-inspired design for new construction in historic districts, but ultimately decided that it is an acceptable approach. They did, however, ask them to refine the details to make sure the building is as handsome as intended.

34 East 62nd Street-original and prev approved side by side

34 East 62nd Street-proposed

 

Item 15
CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS
BOROUGH OF Manhattan
180974 – Block 1518, lot 69-
1111 Park Avenue – Park Avenue Historic District
A Colonial Revival style apartment building designed by Schwartz & Gross and built in 1924-25. Application is to establish a master plan governing the future installation of windows.

Since the applicant plans to put in good quality, durable windows and restore the six-over-six configuration on the lower floors, HDC wishes to make a plea for the same configuration throughout the building, even if the upper floors were accomplished through the use of synthetic divided lights. Over time, such an effort would go far toward restoring this glorious original detail.

LPC Determination: Approved with modifications

1111 Park Avenue-construction photo

1111 Park Avenue

 

Item 18
CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS
BOROUGH OF Manhattan
186969 – Block 530, lot 17-
363 Lafayette Street – NoHo Historic District
A vacant lot. Application is to construct a new building.

HDC is concerned about the proposed design for 363 Lafayette Street, a quirky corner lot that calls out for a highly finessed design, and we feel that this proposal has not hit the mark just yet. The buildings typically found in NoHo are finely detailed, and do not contain setbacks or irregular massing. In order to relate to the district, which this building seems to be attempting to do, it should at the very least rise straight up, much like the new building rising across the street at 11 Great Jones Street (also designed by this architect), which goes further toward presenting a modern and contextual insertion. The irregular massing and strategy of setbacks are awkward in this context, especially for this heavily trafficked corner.

There are some nice gestures in the details of 363, including the use of terra cotta and shaped mullions. However, the very large single pane windows, as well as the general quantity of glass and the overall bulk of the building, work against those details, rendering them difficult to notice. The design seems to take cues more from the new building rising to the east. If approved, those walking through this intersection might lose all sense of being in a historic district at all.

LPC Determination: No Action

A few residents of the adjacent 20 Bond Street spoke in favor of the building, mostly because they were pleased that it would only rise to one story where it directly abuts 20 Bond. The Commission generally liked it, as well, but asked the architect to come back after refining certain aspects of it. Some Commissioners were concerned about the massing and setbacks, especially at the corner, and others expressed a desire for more masonry and a re-thinking of the double-height blocks.

363 Lafayette Street-a

363 Lafayette Street-b

363 Lafayette Street-c

 

Item 19
CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS
BOROUGH OF Manhattan
181551- Block 642, lot 70-
85-89 Jane Street – Greenwich Village Historic District
A stable and carriage house built c. 1885, now a garage and factory building; and a garage building built in 1919. Application is to alter the facades and construct rooftop additions.

HDC found the screen to overwhelm the scale of the block, and suggests setting it back so that it appears less like an addition and allows the historic building to read through. We found the tower innappropriate and alien to the block and the district, and unnecessary to have so many stories for what will be a library. This square footage should be spread out elsewhere, eliminating the need for a tower.

LPC Determination: No Action

This proposal sought to redesign two buildings, a former stable and a former carriage house, transforming them into a single-family house. To add insult to injury, the applicant also wanted to add two enormously tall towers on the roof. HDC, along with many concerned residents, the local Assemblymember, GVSHP and other preservation advocates, spoke against it. Luckily, the Commission agreed that it was not a reasonable approach, and took issue with both the redesign and the insertion of the alien towers on the roof.

85-89 Jane Street-exist and prop

85-89 Jane Street-rendering

 

Category: HDC@LPC · Tags: , , , , ,

Mayor Bill de Blasio Signs City Council Bill Intro. 775-A Into Law

Posted by on Tuesday, July 5, 2016 · Leave a Comment 

City Hall

Mayor Bill de Blasio has signed the City Council bill Intro. 775-A. Despite a unified front on the part of preservation groups and community advocates who called on the Mayor to veto the bill, it was signed into law on Tuesday, June 28, at City Hall. The law will impose timelines on the process for designating properties; something that has not been a part of the Landmarks Law in its 50-year history.

This is the most sweeping change to the Landmarks Law since the 1973 amendments that permitted the designation of interior and scenic landmarks, and allowed the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to act at its own discretion and set its own schedule. 43 years later, the Mayor has approved a City Council action to remove that discretion and place firm deadlines on the agency’s ability to protect historic buildings. This law effectively makes the designation powers of the LPC much more limited, while providing the agency with no additional resources to perform its complex work.

The City Council voted in favor of the bill 38-10 on June 7, 2016.

HDC wishes to thank the preservation community for its vigilance in opposing this legislation, and for reaching out to your City Council representatives. It is important to remember that it is only through the efforts of the hundreds of individuals and organizations who raised their voices that the worst part of this bill, the 5-year moratorium on designation (included in the original Intro. 775 bill in 2015), was removed when this bill resurfaced.

 

For more information about Intro 775-A and HDC’s involvement click here 

Category: Landmarks Preservation Commission, Legal · Tags: ,

Secret Lives Tour- Grace Church

Posted by on Thursday, June 30, 2016 · Leave a Comment 

Join the Historic Districts Council for a special Secret Lives Tour or Grace Church- Wed, June 29, 2016

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

11:00 am

Grace Church interior

Join the Historic Districts Council for a special Secret Lives tour of Grace Church, led by The Reverend J. Donald Waring, Rector. One of the most famous and recognizable religious structures in the city, Grace Church has commanded views from both sides of Broadway’s distinctive bend at 10th Street since 1846. Designed by James Renwick, Jr., the church, together with Richard Upjohn’s design for the new Trinity Church in the same year, heralded the arrival of the Gothic Revival style in New York City. In fact, upon its completion, the church, with its pointed arches, magnificent rose window, and elegant spire, became one of the finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the country. The structure and its adjacent Rectory were designated as Individual Landmarks in 1966, one year after the Landmarks Law was enacted. The church is also a National Historic Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The tour will include highlights of the church’s magnificent sanctuary, as well as a peek inside the Honor Room and the Chantry.

 

$50 Friends/Seniors

$75 General Admission

Category: Program & Events, Secret Lives Tour · Tags:

Update on Friends Seminary School Lawsuit and Fraudulent Letters Investigation

Posted by on Wednesday, June 29, 2016 · 1 Comment 

Friends Seminary School Lawsuit

and Fraudulent Letters Investigation

Last year, the Friends Seminary School applied to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to make significant changes to their historic East 16th Street campus in the Stuyvesant Square Historic District. The application called for a series of large additions on top of both its 19th century townhouses and the 1963-65 Hunter Hall, as well as additions to and a complete gutting of and modernization of the townhouses’ rear façades by Kliment Halsband Architects. HDC gave testimony at the Public Hearing on April 21, 2015, objecting to the visibility of the easternmost rooftop addition, a large mass clad in grey zinc, from Stuyvesant Square, and the destruction of so much historic material in the rear, among other concerns. The Commission took no action at the hearing, asking the applicants to come back with a revised proposal. The commissioners’ comments were that the overall bulk was too visible, and that the applicant should investigate below grade options if possible. They further requested that the stair bulkhead be removed from the roof; that less historic fabric be eliminated from the townhouses; and that the applicants restudy the interior layouts to reduce the bulk of the rear additions; and to further develop areaways at the townhouses.

Photo rendering showing the existing campus  (top) and the proposed expansion (bottom)

Friends School

On a May 19, 2015, Public Meeting (during which the Commission does not take public testimony), the Commission approved a revised proposal of the scheme, stating that the changes sufficiently reflected the commissioners’ requests. The resolution outlining the approval included 19 findings.

Soon after, residents living in the Stuyvesant Square community filed an Article 78 lawsuit against the LPC. A court hearing took place on June 15, 2016, at the end of which Justice Lucy Billings scheduled a trial to determine whether there had been any deliberations by the LPC about the revised proposal and the formulation of the final resolution’s findings before the May 19 Public Meeting. Essentially, Justice Billings questioned how the LPC arrives at its findings; and asked, specifically, if there had been any discussions conducted behind closed doors, which might constitute a violation of the Open Meetings Law.

Rendering showing the existing rear of the campus (top) and the proposed (bottom)

HDC, which reviews every application for a Certificate of Appropriateness permit to the LPC, has long been concerned with how the LPC responds to public testimony and how the agency makes decisions, especially about controversial items like this one. In the lawsuit, the community is questioning whether the applicant addressed the community’s and the Commission’s concerns adequately, asking what the standard is for calling for another Public Hearing (during which public testimony would be heard) for revised proposals. During the June 15th court proceedings, LPC counsel stated that the LPC staff wrote up the findings, which the Commission reviewed and adopted on May 19. However, it appears that Justice Billings is seeking to confirm that no other deliberations took place among the commissioners themselves, with whom the powers of the agency ultimately rest.

HDC hopes that the ultimate outcome of the Article 78 trial about the LPC process will bring more transparency to the LPC’s decision-making process. We will notify you of the trial date and encourage attendance from the public.

Meanwhile, in addition to the civil action, the New York City Department of Investigations (DOI) has confirmed allegations that a Friends School parent coordinated false testimony to the LPC in support of its expansion plans, according to DNAInfo. The DNAInfo article discusses allegations that a real estate developer and producer asked people to write letters to the LPC falsely claiming to be residents of the Stuyvesant Square community. Whether the letters impacted the LPC decision is unknown at this time.

Addressing the investigation, HDC wrote a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio on April 14, 2016, stating that “HDC expresses its strong support for [the DOI’s] vigilant investigation and hopes that their research might deter others from attempting similar false identifications. HDC feels that the veracity of official claims made during the public hearing process must be properly vetted and strictly enforced in order to avoid undue influence and to promote a clear and accountable public decision-making process.” It is unclear what the repercussions will be, if any, based on the DOI’s investigation of these allegations. HDC will keep you posted.

 

Category: Historic District, Landmarks Preservation Commission, Legal · Tags:

Veto Intro 775-A

Posted by on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 · Leave a Comment 

Update: The timeline bill Intro 775a was signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday, June 28

Update:

Mayor de Blasio singed Intro 775-A into law on Tuesday, June 28, 2016.


Intro 775-A was passed by City Council on June 8, 2016.

We have one more chance to end this if we can get Mayor de Blasio to veto the law. Write to Mayor de Blasio and ask that he veto Intro 775a.

 


Why HDC and countless others are staunchly against this bill:

The bill requires that the Landmarks Preservation Commission must make decisions on potential historic districts within two (2) years or they will be automatically withdrawn from consideration. Rather than speed up the LPC’s process, this would probably discourage the consideration of large, complicated or controversial districts.

 

Moreover, the bill does not include protection for properties under consideration nor has Council committed to expand the staff or funding of the Commission.  Intro 775 presents an unfunded mandate which would lead to the automatic denial of protection for historic properties. By not providing the agency with any additional means to safeguard properties under consideration, Intro. 775 creates new hurdles to protection.

 

At its only public hearing last September, over 100 community groups, individuals and elected officials opposed the proposal, expressing strong concerns that the bill would stifle community-driven preservation activity throughout the city and hamper rather than help agency decision-making. The only supporters of the bill represented business and real estate interests, and mostly spoke about the lack of transparency in the designation process.

 

The Historic Districts Council has analyzed the Landmarks Commission’s designation activities since 1965 and found that 40 out of 138 historic districts and extensions (approximately 30%) were considered by the Landmarks Preservation Commission for longer than 2 years before being designated. Here’s the full list of designated historic districts, both large and small, which would have been automatically disqualified under the new proposed guidelines:

Bronx: Fieldston • Morris Avenue • Mott Haven • Riverdale

Brooklyn: Bedford •  Bedford-Stuyvesant/Expanded Stuyvesant Heights •  Boerum Hill •  Carroll Gardens •  Clinton Hill •  Cobble Hill •  Cobble Hill Extension •  Crown Heights North Phase III •  Park Slope •  Park Slope Extension 2 •  Stuyvesant Heights

Manhattan: Carnegie Hill •  Central Park West – 76th Street •  Chelsea •  Expanded Carnegie Hill •  Gramercy Park Extension •  Greenwich Village •  Hamilton Heights •  Henderson Place •  Ladies’ Mile •  Mount Morris Park •  Riverside Drive-West 105th Street •  Riverside Drive-West End •  Riverside- West End Extension II •  SoHo-Cast Iron •  St. Mark’s •  Tribeca East •  Tribeca North •  Tribeca South •  Tribeca South Extension •  Tudor City •  Upper West Side/Central Park West •  West 71st Street •  West End – Collegiate Extension

Queens: Central Ridgewood • Jackson Heights

 

In many instances these designations required time for the Landmarks Commission to reach out to the widest possible community and perform the in-depth research necessary to properly regulate the area. In other cases, external schedules such as municipal elections and changes in city administration affected the agency’s ability to expeditiously consider designations. Landmark designation is a permanent change in legal status and there are many examples where allowing the agency extra time to complete its process (if necessary) makes sense in helping to ensure equitable and transparent decision-making.

 

HDC feels strongly that any bill to revise the Landmarks Law must serve to strengthen it. This current proposal must be amended at the very least to allow the LPC to publicly vote for an extension period for additional consideration for individual landmarks and historic districts and to protect the public interest, this extension provision must not be subject to owner consent. Additionally, City Council should commit to drafting legislation to help protect those properties which are currently calendared and under consideration and pledge to ensure that the agency has enough resources to practically fulfill this new mandate. Anything less must be viewed for what it will be; a new roadblock to the efforts of communities trying to save their neighborhoods.


Read HDC’s joint letter with Greenwich Village Society for Historic PreservationLandmark West!Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, Municipal Art Society, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy

 

Read the letter from the Professional Archaeologists of New York City, Inc.


We depend on your support to protect New York. Can you donate today?

Category: Landmarks Preservation Commission, Legal, Special Blog · Tags:

Fort Independence Park Nominated for State and National Register District

Posted by on Monday, June 27, 2016 · Leave a Comment 

Fort Independence Historic District June 27 PR

Category: Six to Celebrate · Tags: ,

City Council Moving Forward to Hamper Landmark Designation

Posted by on Thursday, June 23, 2016 · Leave a Comment 

Write to your council member today and ask them to amend the Landmarks timeline bill, Intro 775.

for Intro 775- 6.2.2016-3

Update: City Council passed the Intro. 775a on June 8, 2016

 We have one more chance to end this if we can get Mayor de Blasio to veto the law. Write to Mayor de Blasio and ask that he

veto Intro 775a.

Write to Mayor de Blasio today

Intro 775, the Landmarks Timeline Bill, is coming to a vote at City Council as early as Tuesday, June 7th!

The bill, sponsored by Council members David Greenfield and Peter Koo, will impose deadlines on the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s ability to protect historic buildings. Although the proposed moratorium on designation has been removed, the proposal still contains provisions that would make existing problems with the landmark designation process worse.

How would Intro. 775 make the landmark designation process worse?

The bill requires that the Landmarks Preservation Commission must make decisions on potential historic districts within two (2) years or they will be automatically withdrawn from consideration. Rather than speed up the LPC’s process, this would probably discourage the consideration of large, complicated or controversial districts.

Moreover, the bill does not include protection for properties under consideration nor has Council committed to expand the staff or funding of the Commission.  Intro 775 presents an unfunded mandate which would lead to the automatic denial of protection for historic properties. By not providing the agency with any additional means to safeguard properties under consideration, Intro. 775 creates new hurdles to protection.

At its only public hearing last September, over 100 community groups, individuals and elected officials opposed the proposal, expressing strong concerns that the bill would stifle community-driven preservation activity throughout the city and hamper rather than help agency decision-making. The only supporters of the bill represented business and real estate interests, and mostly spoke about the lack of transparency in the designation process.

The Historic Districts Council has analyzed the Landmarks Commission’s designation activities since 1965 and found that 40 out of 138 historic districts and extensions (approximately 30%) were considered by the Landmarks Preservation Commission for longer than 2 years before being designated. Here’s the full list of designated historic districts, both large and small, which would have been automatically disqualified under the new proposed guidelines:

Bronx: Fieldston • Morris Avenue • Mott Haven • Riverdale

Brooklyn: Bedford •  Bedford-Stuyvesant/Expanded Stuyvesant Heights •  Boerum Hill •  Carroll Gardens •  Clinton Hill •  Cobble Hill •  Cobble Hill Extension •  Crown Heights North Phase III •  Park Slope •  Park Slope Extension 2 •  Stuyvesant Heights

Manhattan: Carnegie Hill •  Central Park West – 76th Street •  Chelsea •  Expanded Carnegie Hill •  Gramercy Park Extension •  Greenwich Village •  Hamilton Heights •  Henderson Place •  Ladies’ Mile •  Mount Morris Park •  Riverside Drive-West 105th Street •  Riverside Drive-West End •  Riverside- West End Extension II •  SoHo-Cast Iron •  St. Mark’s •  Tribeca East •  Tribeca North •  Tribeca South •  Tribeca South Extension •  Tudor City •  Upper West Side/Central Park West •  West 71st Street •  West End – Collegiate Extension

Queens: Central Ridgewood • Jackson Heights

In many instances these designations required time for the Landmarks Commission to reach out to the widest possible community and perform the in-depth research necessary to properly regulate the area. In other cases, external schedules such as municipal elections and changes in city administration affected the agency’s ability to expeditiously consider designations. Landmark designation is a permanent change in legal status and there are many examples where allowing the agency extra time to complete its process (if necessary) makes sense in helping to ensure equitable and transparent decision-making.

HDC feels strongly that any bill to revise the Landmarks Law must serve to strengthen it. This current proposal must be amended at the very least to allow the LPC to publicly vote for an extension period for additional consideration for individual landmarks and historic districts and to protect the public interest, this extension provision must not be subject to owner consent. Additionally, City Council should commit to drafting legislation to help protect those properties which are currently calendared and under consideration and pledge to ensure that the agency has enough resources to practically fulfill this new mandate. Anything less must be viewed for what it will be; a new roadblock to the efforts of communities trying to save their neighborhoods.

We depend on your support to protect New York. Can you donate today?

Category: Landmarks Preservation Commission, Legal · Tags:

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