HDC Testimony for LPC Hearing on June 6, 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

202 Guernsey Street – Greenpoint Historic District


An Italianate style rowhouse built c. 1865. Application is to replace windows.

On a house of this size that comes so close to the street, any change in materials will be obvious. Thus, HDC would like to see the windows and brick molds of this historic rowhouse returned to their original wooden material instead of aluminum.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications

Item 3

115 Atlantic Avenue – Brooklyn Heights Historic District


An altered commercial building with Gothic Revival style details. Application is to reconstruct the rear façade, which was removed without Landmarks Preservation Commission permits, construct a rear yard addition and rooftop bulkhead, and excavate the rear yard.

HDC does not support this application. The proposed bulkhead’s stucco cladding is obtrusive and inappropriate for the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, especially considering its visbility from State Street. Our committee would like to see the design of the bulkhead changed to reflect a more utilitarian approach. We suggest cladding it in copper or zinc or a similar material that would be less noticable than stucco. Additionally, the corbelled cornice at the rear is a fine architectural detail and we would like to see it repaired and restored.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications

Item 4

20 Willow Street – Brooklyn Heights Historic District


A Greek Revival style rowhouse built in 1846. Application is to construct rooftop additions.

HDC does not support this application. The proposed rooftop addition disrupts the roofline too much and compromises the building’s relationship to the rest of the row by removing its roof scale. Pitched roofs are a distinctive feature of Greek Revival style houses, a feature that has been retained on the roofs of 20 Willow Street’s neighboring houses. We look forward to seeing a revised application that better addresses the historic architectural style of this beautiful rowhouse.

LPC determination: No action

Item 5

191 Baltic Street – Cobble Hill Historic District


A rowhouse built c. 1841. Application is to legalize the reconstruction of a portion of the rear façade without Landmarks Preservation Commission permit(s).

HDC finds this application to be very inappropriate and asks that it be denied. The proposed addition has no hierarchy of fenestration and is not in keeping with the pattern of punched window openings that are typically found on rowhouses historically. The stucco on the rear of the top floor is inappropriate for a rowhouse from 1841 and everything about the worksmanship done is completely unacceptable.

Furthermore, the changes to this building that were approved by at staff level should have never been approved at all.  Our committee doesn’t understand how LPC staff approved something that was so architecturally inconsistent with the fabric of the neighborhood; it’s one thing to approve a second-floor addition, it’s another entirely to permit a second-floor addition where its architecural components make no attempt to engage with its neighbors. Given the extraordinary value in real estate that comes from having a building in this district, to not restore it properly and just reap all the profits without doing the work is exploitive. The applicants should not be rewarded for this sub-par work.

LPC determination: Approved 

Item 6

490 LaGuardia Place – South Village Historic District


An Italianate style tenement building with commercial ground floor, designed by James L. Miller and built in 1870. Application is to establish a Master Plan governing the future installation of painted wall signs.

The applicant’s presentation is a wonderful potrait of how this building has improved over time, even before designation. Unfortunately, our committee believes the proposed Master Plan for signage would be taking a step back. The alignment of the proposed signage section as it relates to the overall plan of the building is aesthetically confusing. The sign zone would be better placed to correlate with the second-floor window openings and fall within a square shape ending at the existing through-wall air conditioning unit rather than this awkward horizontal band. Because of this building’s strong vertical proportions, rather than having a long horizontal sign, any advertising painted in a narrower and taller zone would work better with fensetration rhythm more of this handsome building.

LPC determination: Denied

Item 10

21 East 73rd Street – Upper East Side Historic District


A neo-Grec style rowhouse designed by J.W. Marshall, built in 1871 and altered in 1903 and 1906 with modifications to the first two floors. Application is to reconstruct the façade and alter the areaway.

HDC does not support this application. If approved, many architectural details on floors three through five will be lost. This stripping of historic details is not appropriate and not forgivable. Furthermore, while some historic elements are being taken away, new features that are completely out of context with the building’s style are being added. The cornice above the fourth floor, for instance, is totally new and shows no historic precedent. Unless there is historic documentation to justify all these changes, which we have not been presented with, they are not appropriate and should not be approved. Additionally, our committee objects to the addition of the gates across the entrance steps at the areaway. We look forward to seeing a revised application.

LPC determination: No action

Item 11

85 Bradhurst Avenue – Jackie Robinson (Colonial Park) Play Center – Individual and Interior Landmark



An Art Moderne style pool complex designed by architects Aymar Embury II and Henry Ahrens, landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke, and built in 1935-37. Application is to install fencing, lighting, paving, and alter the entrances.

HDC is pleased that the Parks Department is proposing improvements and restorations to this picturesque park which is sorely in need of more care. Our principal concern with this proposal comes in its treatment of the significant architectural brick piers and the historic iron fencing, both elements which are called out in the 2007 designation report.

The problem is not as simple as a reduction in height, though that is part of it.  It is also about marrying a stylistically inappropriate iron fence design, ornamental, with a 1930’s brick pier.  This would be like replacing Moderne windows with Victorian windows in an Art Deco building.  From a visual perspective, truncating the columns is also clumsy design. If a lower height is desired, then the circumference of the piers would also need to be reduced, otherwise they look squat and ridiculous – there would be no plausible structural reason to create a wide pier at that low height. However, once the piers were reduced to an appropriate scale for their immediate context, they would no longer relate to the majestic scale of the pilasters and other architectural features of the pool.  The tall rounded walls of the pool and the round fence piers are directly related, in scale and mass.  These Robert Moses-era structures were designed by master architects, and details are integral to their success.  The 1930’s pool buildings are modern, have little or no ornament, and their design impact depends on scale and massing.

This fence proposal destroys those two qualities; scale and massing.  It takes an existing, original design detail with integrity, that relates to the overall architectonic treatment, and trivializes it. This is really no different than a building campus, like Rockefeller Center.  Imagine if Rockefeller Center arbitrarily decided to lower all the walls and planters, but to use the same type of stone.  It would trivialize and ruin the heroic scale and impact of the place. If one takes details that were intentionally designed by good architects, like windows and doors and columns, and start stretching them, shrinking them, the integrity of the design is ruined.

Finally, the destruction of original historic fabric should not be taken lightly. The piers that exist now are made from materials which would be difficult to duplicate and were constructed with a craftsmanship which is increasingly rare.

LPC determination: Approved in part/No action

Item 12

415 Broadway – TriBeCa East Historic District


A Moderne style bank building designed by Walker & Gillette and built in 1927. Application is to legalize removal of entry ironwork without Landmarks Preservation Commission permit(s).

HDC does not support this application. The current owner’s removal of historic ironwork, done without the permission of the LPC, is unacceptable and should not be ignored. The applicant should be required to find the original ironwork and recreate it. Anything less sets a dangerous precedent for other historic properties. We ask the Commission to take a firm stand in support of its own regulations requiring property owners in historic districts to seek approval of the LPC prior to working on their building, and to deny this application.

LPC determination: Denied

Item 13

312-322 Canal Street – TriBeCa East Historic District


Five buildings originally constructed in 1825-26, and altered in 1851, 1892, and 1962-65. Application is to demolish the buildings and construct a new building.

HDC finds this application completely inappropriate and urges the Commission to reject it outright. The five former Federal dwellings the applicant seeks to demolish are integral parts of the commercial character of the TriBeCa East Historic District. In the 1992 designation report, they are noted for their history and existing historic fabric. Even if their demolition was permitted, the new building being proposed to replace them has no relation to the historic district. The building, a full two stories taller than any adjacent building, is completely out of context with the rest of the block and with TriBeCa’s loft-building style. Its 97-foot height changes the look and feel of Canal Street and disrupts the street’s low-rise scale, a survivor of pre-Civil War New York. Even the detailing on the new building is inappropriate, as the building’s window operation and configuration has no relationship to those of its neighbors.

Apart from being architecturally inappropriate, the process by which the owner arrived at the building’s current configuration is deeply problematic and speaks volumes about their complete lack of respect for their buildings and the historic district. In 2010, the current owners performed substantial illegal work on the facades, which resulted in two LPC violations and several DOB violations. The applicants subsequently  rebuilt the facades of 312-322 Canal Street without LPC permits. In doing so, they destroyed original historic fabric including the façade of Flemish-bond brickwork (noted in the designation report) with original window openings, original window lintels and sills on all windows; the seams in the brick delineating the different buildings; and historic cast iron columns at the storefront openings. The owner tore all of these historic details out and built a façade of running bond brick with smaller window openings, no header or sills, and no divisions between the historic building lots. They also removed or are not disclosing the presence of the historic cast iron that had to be there to serve as structural support. In 2011, the architects presenting today appeared before the LPC seeking retroactive legalization of their illegal work. The Commission denied the application and requested the owners revise it and return to present again. The owners and architects never returned and the LPC violations remain open to this day. Now, 6 years later, the owners and architect are back seeking to demolish the buildings. They committed enormous violations and now want to be rewarded with a new building. Rewarding the applicant’s criminality with permission to build a brand-new building is wholly unacceptable and would set a dangerous precedent for buildings in all historic districts. A building owner who has routinely violated the rulings of the Landmarks Preservation Commission should be fined, not given lucrative opportunities to capitalize on their prime location in a historic district. HDC urges the Landmarks Commission to entirely reject this inappropriate proposal and command the owners to restore their buildings properly.

LPC determination: No action

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