HDC Testimony for LPC Hearing on July 11, 2017

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

122 West 73rd Street – Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #181970

A neo-Grec style rowhouse designed by Thom & Wilson, and built in 1881-82. Application is to construct rooftop and rear yard additions.

HDC finds the proposed rooftop addition to be an inappropriate extension of this historic rowhouse. At 19 feet in height from the roof termination to the top of the bulkhead, this addition is far too tall and consequently, very visible from Columbus Avenue. On a distinctive Upper West Side two-bay house such as this, there is no feasible way to add a rooftop addition that is not visible. Perhaps this is a challenge that simply should not be met. Additionally, the proposed rear yard addition, with its full-width and full-height dimensions, is completely incongruous with the other rear yard additions on this block. There is no precedent for an addition of this nature, and it is a departure in both scale and materials from its neighboring rowhouses.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications


Item 2

1 Bond Street – Individual Landmark Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #194834

A French Second Empire style commercial building designed by Stephen Decatur Hatch and built in 1879-80. Application is to replace mechanical equipment installed without Landmarks Preservation Commission Permits.

Despite the numerous TV shows and movies that set their New York scenes in dark, narrow, steam-filled alleys, alleys in New York City are rare. The few that remain a part of our city’s current grid system often contain centuries of history. Jones Alley is no exception. The alley derives its name from New York City’s first comptroller, prominent lawyer Samuel Jones, who was known in the late 1700s as the “Father of the New York Bar.” Popular legend holds that the term “jonesing” originated from the many drug addicts who frequented this alley in the 1960s. For these reasons we would like to see this alley preserved to its historic state, perhaps not littered with heroin needles, but at least not cluttered with bulky mechanical equipment. We hope the applicant will work with staff to find a more appropriate location for this equipment.

LPC determination: Approved 


Item 3

60 Norfolk Street – Individual Landmark

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #19-13310

A modified Gothic Revival style synagogue built in 1850 and altered in 1885. Application is to demolish the building.

The Historic Districts Council is gravely concerned about the fate of 60 Norfolk Street. 60 Norfolk Street has witnessed an extraordinary amount of history since its construction as the Norfolk Street Baptist Church in 1860. With the arrival of Rabbi Jacob Joseph, the first and only Chief Rabbi of New York City, in 1888, the building became a key element in Joseph’s mission to unite the orthodox Ashkenazi community under a single rabbinic leadership. After being threatened with demolition in the 1960s, the building was designated an individual landmark in 1967, alleviating many concerns about losing this important piece of New York City history. It’s important to note that the site was designated for its history as much as its architecture. This is a site of history and faith and it was protected for this resonance as much as its towers.

In 2012, the owner, who remains the owner, sought permission to demolish Beth Hamedrash Hagadol so that condominiums could be built in its place. The LPC rejected this ill-considered plan and the owner has let this beautiful building decay even further. We understand that the commission has been in discussions with the owner about restorative plans for development on the site. Instead, felonious tragedy ensued and now we have this proposal to once again demolish this important and rare landmark.

HDC strenously objects to this propsal for a number of reasons, not the least of which is procedural. Propsing to demolish an individual landmark is completely unacceptable. If the building is truly unsalvagable, then the owner must prove it and apply for a hardship, based on the well known parameters of the hardship procedure.

Structural engineers from Zimmerman Architects have determined that parts of this historic structure can be saved. Both the south tower and the east rear wall are in relatively stable condition and can be saved. Portions of the south wall are also in decent shape and are not beyond repair. Structures that have been similarly ravaged by fire, such as the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava on West 26th Street, have been saved and will be restored. Central Synagogue was brought back from a cataclysmic fire.

History has shown this owner to be a poor steward of this landmark building. We strongly request that the Commission not reward the owner’s years of negligence by giving them permission to profit off of this tragic act of destruction.

LPC determination: Approved in part


Item 4

127 Willoughby Avenue – Clinton Hill Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #19-08969

An Italianate style rowhouse built c. 1868. Application is to construct a rooftop bulkhead, raise a chimney, and install mechanical equipment and railings.

HDC finds the proposed bulkhead to be highly visible, inappropriately large, and unnecessarily close to the front of the building. The applicants could make this bulkhead virtually invisible if they simply followed the line of the stairs and made the bulkhead steeper. Additionally, the pale gray fiber cement the applicant has chosen to use for this bulkhead is completely inappropriate for this pristine block of Willoughby Avenue.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications


Item 6

872 St. John’s Place – Crown Heights North II Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #19-11833

A Romanesque Revival style rowhouse designed by Frederick L. Hine and built c. 1897. Application is to construct rooftop and rear additions, and excavate the rear yard.

Because of bureaucratic error, work began on the rear of 872 St. John’s Place without LPC permits and only ceased because of the Crown Heights North Association, who swiftly brought this to the attention of the LPC. It is unclear how this happened, as the applicant successfully secured a CNE for interior work in December 2016. Existing photographs of the site reveal that the shell of the historic “el” still exists and we strongly urge the LPC to review this proposal within the parameters that Commissioners typically approve rear yard extensions to single family rowhouses on pristine blocks. This typically means not approving full width, 3-story height rear yard additions in combination with excavation and a rooftop addition. This 30-foot deep extension is unprecedented on the block and in the historic district. While 2-story rear yard extensions can and have worked well in rowhouse districts, three is too much, especially in consideration of the other bulk the applicant is asking for.

The programmatic needs of the project are overwhelming for this house. Is it better that the proposed bulk and program will serve many units as opposed to a single family? Possibly. However, whether for a single family or multiple, the bulk remains inappropriate for a rowhouse and this building’s use, as the Commission well knows, is irrelevant in examining appropriateness. We cannot reiterate this strongly enough – if the Landmarks Commission begins to include increasing housing density into the metrics of appropriateness, decades of decisions will be thrown into shadow. How many times have we stood here and argued against the merging of two or more buildings into a single-occupant dwelling, complete with rear and roof additions, only to see this permitted? If there is no inherent injunction against the lessening of residential density, there can be no inherent bias towards its increase. With that in mind, we ask that the addition be reduced to preserve the scale of the block. With speculation preying on neighborhoods like Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant, the approved version of how big speculators can build out a rowhouse will without doubt set the template for future development in these intact, 19th century neighborhoods.

LPC determination: No action


Item 7

1901 Emmons Avenue – Individual Landmark

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #19-12240

A Spanish Colonial Revival style restaurant building designed by Bloch & Hesse and built in 1934. Application is to install awnings, light fixtures, and signage.

With all of the illegal work done to this building, some of which you will see during the public meeting section of the hearing, HDC urges the Commission to accept a minimalist design approach to this application, which is Sheepshead Bay’s only designated landmark. For nearly a decade, this building has accumulated so much clutter because of doing work without LPC permits.

To begin, the existing light fixtures that are on every single pier, like all previous modifications to this building, were installed without permits. Now the applicant is asking for a different type of light and HDC finds this amount of lights excessive and asks for the lighting to be reduced and concentrated near the entry ways of the building. Historic photographs reveal that there was never a precedent or existence of lighting to this degree. Emmons Avenue is a well-lit, pedestrian-oriented thoroughfare facing the water and there is not a need for this amount of illumination. Further, the uplighting proposed for the upper floors of the building should be examined by commissioners.

The cumulative effects of this proposal and the subsequent public meeting item will project the idea of what a designated landmark is and should be in an area with so few examples. To this end, HDC believes that the key here is less is more.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications

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