HDC@LPC: 2016 Year in Review

HDC’s Public Review Committee is the only group that reviews every single Certificate of Appropriateness application submitted to the LPC

This is a tremendous task, but keeps HDC on the pulse of all of New York’s historic districts. Our volunteer committee and professional staff examine each proposal with scrutiny, and create intelligent testimony that is read to the Commission at every public hearing.

The following properties were some of the biggest projects we reviewed this past year, and HDC was at the forefront of shaping their outcomes.

Below are just a few of the many press outlets that quoted HDC’s testimony at Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) hearings in 2016!

 


Hotel Belleclaire, 250 West 77th Street (Individual Landmark)
Public Hearing: February 16
Hotel Belleclaire is an Individual NYC Landmark, designated for its outstanding Art Nouveau/Secessionist style designed by architect Emory Roth, which was one of his early commissions, being completed in 1903. Over the decades, the once ornate limestone ground floor vanished, virtually eliminating the building’s presence on the street. Without the continuation of the architecture of the building to the ground, Hotel Belleclaire’s beauty would go unnoticed unless one had the eye to look up.
In February, the LPC approved an application to restore the ground floor back to its original appearance, based on historic photographs. While some slight adjustments have been made to accommodate ADA requirements, this project is an outstanding example of how compromises can be made to accomplish a historic appearance that is also functional in the modern day.
Existing
Historic

Proposed


Tin Building (South Street Seaport Historic District)

Public Hearing: March 22

The Howard Hughes Corporation and SHoP Architects received approval from the LPC to reconstruct the Tin Building, which was ravaged by a fire in 1995. HDC endorsed the project, finding the plans to be sensitive overall, and is glad to see the building return to its proper glory in the South Street Seaport. We did, however, question the applicant’s strategy of presenting a segmented plan for a much larger scheme in the Seaport and urged the Commission to look ahead and consider the broader goals of the project and their impact on the historic district, where large-scale development is likely being pursued.

Existing

Proposed


839 St. Marks Avenue (Crown Heights North Historic District)

Public Hearing: March 22 

This rare freestanding mansion in Crown Heights North, originally belonging to Dean Sage, is located on St. Marks Avenue, which was once host to many grand residences. The building now houses the Institute for Community Living, a residence for the mentally disabled. The organization filed plans for a major expansion of the house, irreversibly changing the character of the building and its context to an institutional one.

While HDC is sensitive to the needs of the organization, we testified that more effort should be made to respect the mansion, especially on the St. Mark’s Avenue side, where more bulk should be sacrificed and setback to give the mansion some breathing space. The Commission agreed that the massing was problematic, and asked them to restudy the bulk, as well as the location of the entrance. The revised application, approved in April, moved some of the bulk from the more prominent façade on St. Marks Avenue to the Brooklyn Avenue façade, but in the end, HDC, along with members of the Crown Heights North community, was disappointed that the mansion will lose its freestanding character.

First Proposal

Second Proposal (Approved)


11-15 East 75th Street (Upper East Side Historic District)

Public Hearing: April 5

These properties are the future pied-a-terre of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who proposed to combine these three townhouses into one giant residence. While HDC remarked at the inherent egregious consumption, our main issue was the proposed destruction of a 1920s neo-Federal façade, which the applicant wished to convert and rebuild in all new materials to reflect a Queen Anne appearance.

Our Committee felt that preserving a historic alteration was important, and Commissioner Devonshire felt the same, as he commented how New York was losing a historic facade for a “bogus” one. With an allied front of preservation organizations and expert colleagues, the LPC mandated the neo-Federal façade to remain. Apparently, Mr. Abramovich’s neighbors in London do not favor him, and HDC’s testimony of opposition to this project was reported in several media outlets overseas, including the Daily Mail and the Telegraph.

Existing

Proposed


Dime Savings Bank, 9 Dekalb Avenue (Individual & Interior Landmark)
Public Hearing: April 19
This past April, the team of SHoP and Higgins-Quasebarth secured approval for a 1,066 foot tall tower in rapidly-changing downtown Brooklyn. As a part of this application, the Individual and Interior Landmarked Dime Savings Bank will serve as an entrance to the new skyscraper, and the project proposed to remove the teller counters, which are considered a protected feature within the interior.
HDC protested the tellers’ removal, and balked at the developer’s lament that these structures were costing them square footage, as we argued that there would be plenty of square footage in the new tower. At the public hearing, Commissioners raised HDC’s issue, and it was brought to light that the developer did not yet have a tenant for what will be retail space inside the former bank. As a result, LPC deemed it unnecessary to remove landmarked features, especially when how the space will be used by a prospective tenant is hypothetical.
Regarding the new tower, HDC and other groups were under the impression that the tower was not before the public for review, so we did not remark on it in testimony. At the hearing, though, Commissioner Michael Goldblum speculated that the tower was before the LPC’s review because of its relationship with the landmark. While everyone missed out on providing feedback to the LPC about what will become Brooklyn’s tallest skyscraper, the HDC Legal Committee penned  a letter opining our lost opportunity to comment, and cited several examples of partial landmark sites where the public’s voices were accounted for.
Existing
Proposed

Proposed


Chelsea Landmark Nightmares:

404 West 20th Street & 334 West 20th Street (Chelsea Historic District)

Public Hearing: April 19 / August 2

If there was an award for the biggest affront to historic preservation, 404 West 20th Street would have won in 2016. Recognized for being the oldest house in Chelsea, this project virtually transformed what was a completely intact, 1829 Federal style house (with some Greek Revival updates) into a facadist mega-mansion. The applicant’s desire to bring mass to the rear façade, rooftop, and an excavation rendered the house’s rare alley into a non-compliant side yard under zoning. This feature was substantially significant because it hinted that the house was much earlier and built individually, as opposed to the younger houses in the row. The wall, made of clapboard, also revealed to the passerby clues about the house’s age.
Despite neighborhood outcry, which was echoed by elected officials, the ultimate approval of this house was not sensitive. LPC Commissioners asked the applicant to allow the Federal envelope to persist, but in the end, the roof remained marred, the back is completely bumped out (obscuring any semblance of a Federal scale) and the side alley will be filled in to be flush with the flats building next door.
Down the street, at no. 334, a similar project was proposed for a completely intact Greek Revival rowhouse. Using the same expansion formula as no. 404, the applicant proposed to greatly expand the rear and add bulk to the roof, leaving little of the original building’s envelope. After not securing approval at the LPC Public Hearing, this applicant returned to LPC having removed all of the rooftop bulk and reducing the rear, which was ultimately approved. Arguably, the reduction of bulk at no. 334 is what should have been reduced at no. 404, as the latter is the only one of its kind and a rare architectural relic. HDC continues to work with neighbors on what appears to be an assault on old Chelsea.
404 West 20th Street:
Existing
Proposed
Proposed
Proposed
334 West 20th Street:
Historic
Existing & Proposed Front

Existing & Proposed Rear


Ford Foundation, 320 East 43rd Street (Individual & Interior Landmark)

Public Hearing: April 19

Arguably New York’s most verdant Interior Landmark, HDC had pause about the elimination of greenery inside the 42nd Street façade for a paved path. This deliberate design feature placed plantings against a glass curtain wall to capture interest inward toward this indoor garden. Among other features to be removed were brass doors and raised planters in the lobby, attributed  to be problematic for ADA requirements, despite the applicant’s admission that the proposal went beyond the requirements for accessibility. Some LPC Commissioners heeded HDC’s concerns about the loss of greenery, and offered a compromise: allow a jog of plantings to remain the glass and install a pathway behind it. The other features, however, will be lost.

21 West 17th Street & 16 West 18th Street (Ladies’ Mile Historic District)

Public Hearing: June 21

HDC found the proposed new construction by architect Morris Adjmi to be appealing and of quality materials, but was troubled by the demolition of not one, but two low-scale buildings in the Ladies’ Mile Historic District. While the buildings may not represent the highest and best examples of architecture in the district, their scale is represented by just 16 other buildings in the district. In fact, in 2005, a proposal to demolish 16 West 18th Street was denied due to the building’s contributing character.

HDC noted that in general, there has been an increasing, predatory trend in historic districts citywide to identify low-scale buildings and reinterpret their significance, which is not good preservation practice. Therefore, HDC did not support the application. The Commissioners deliberated on the issue, and in the end, the majority was convinced that the buildings were not essential to the district, and voted to approve their demolition.

21 West 17th Street, Existing

16 West 18th Street, Existing

Proposed


11-19 Jane Street & 85-89 Jane Street (Greenwich Village Historic District)

Public Hearings: June 21 / July 12

These two proposals, originally heard just weeks apart, threatened to dispose of Jane Street’s characteristic variety of scales and roof heights, preying on low-scale buildings in the historic district, yet again.

The proposal for 11-19 Jane Street was to demolish a garage and replace it with a large, modern structure. The Commissioners were divided on whether it would be appropriate to demolish the garage, but some suggested that setting back an addition on top would be preferable to demolition. The applicants, Developer Edward Minskoff and architect David Chipperfield, came back on July 26 with a proposal that had barely changed from the original. Commissioners were leaning toward allowing a new building on the site, just not this one. They especially wanted to see the height brought down. The project has not yet come back for another hearing.

The proposal for 85-89 Jane Street sought to redesign two buildings, a former stable and a former carriage house, transforming them into a huge 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, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and other preservation advocates, spoke against it. Luckily, the Commission agreed that it was not a reasonable approach. Steven Harris Architects came back in October with a revised design that eliminated the tower and set back some of the bulk from the street, and the proposal was approved with the provision that they tweak the cornice design.

11-19 Jane Street, Existing

11-19 Jane Street, Proposed

85-89 Jane Street, Existing

85-89 Jane Street, Proposed 1 and Proposed 2 (Approved)


363 Lafayette Street (NoHo Historic District)

Public Hearing: July 12 

A new 10-story office building by architect Morris Adjmi will soon be rising on a quirky corner lot in NoHo. HDC testified that the first iteration of the design did not hit the mark since it differed so much from NoHo’s characteristic style of finely detailed buildings that do not contain setbacks or irregular massing. In order to relate to the district, HDC felt that it should rise straight up, much like the new building rising across the street at 11 Great Jones Street (designed by the same architect), which goes further toward presenting a modern and contextual insertion. The Commission generally liked the design, but asked the architect to come back after refining certain aspects, including the massing, setbacks and double-height sections, especially at the corner. The architect came back on August 2, having eliminated the double-height sections and diminished the setbacks, and it was approved.


Hopper-Gibbons House, 339 West 29th Street (LaMartine Place Historic District)

Public Hearing: September 20

The Hopper-Gibbons House in the Lamartine Place Historic District is an Underground Railroad stop in Chelsea, Manhattan. The house and the row was designated as an historic district for cultural reasons — the family of no. 339 was violently attacked in the 1863 Draft Riots for harboring runaway slaves. The abolitionists escaped via the rooftop, hopping house to house until ultimately making a safe exit through a neighboring home. This house and row has remained essentially intact until its current owner illegally constructed a 5th story addition after LPC designation. This 5th floor destroys the building’s significance, as it eliminates the escape path for which this row was supposed to be protected. On Sept. 20, 2016 the owner applied to the LPC for forgiveness for this, in attemp to legalize this addition.
Although no action was officially taken on the proposal at the public hearing, LPC’s discussion explored how the Commission might regulate historic districts like LaMartine Place, which implies not relying solely on aesthetics, but rather cultural appropriateness. To advocates’ delight, the Chair explained that in regulating this cultural landmark, the physicality of its additions cannot be divorced from its cultural significance, and the addition on the abolitionists’ escape path was therefore inappropriate.  Commissioner Goldblum added, “If the cultural manifestation is in the [roof] element, we have a responsibility to protect it.” It was further clarified by LPC Counsel Mark Silberman that it was in Commissioners’ power to demand that the entire 5th floor be taken down. Toward the end of the discussion, all Commissioners reached a consensus that the illegal addition should be removed.
Prior to September’s LPC hearing, advocates won in court, most recently at the NY State Supreme Court Appellate Division which ruled that this rooftop is illegal. The DOB subsequently issued an order to correct to remove this 5th floor and return it to its original 4 stories, yet it still stands. HDC and Friends of Hopper-Gibbons/LaMartine Place Historic District continue to vigilantly monitor this precious building.
Historic
Existing
Proposed

American Museum of Natural History, 200 Central Park West (Individual Landmark)

Public Hearing: October 11 

The proposed expansion of the American Museum of Natural History was a controversial project within the Upper West Side community. HDC neither opposed the demolition of three buildings to accommodate the expansion, nor the concept of an expansion itself, but did offer some suggestions to help the new building fit in better in its context.

We testified in favor of the Columbus Avenue façade’s massing, scale and contemporary approach, but felt that the exterior made too much of a literal gesture about what is found on the interior. The idea of the exterior expressing the interior is a concept introduced during the Modern movement. The problem with its application here is that the historic museum stands as a fortress, not giving anything away about what is going on inside. In this way, the introduction of such a literal gesture seemed incongruous.

The Commissioners loved nearly every aspect of the project and approved it with no modifications. In addition to HDC’s comments, other preservation advocates had some interesting suggestions, as well, but the Commissioners barely referenced any of them in their comments.

Proposed Columbus Avenue facade

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Comments

One Response to “HDC@LPC: 2016 Year in Review”
  1. Ellen Devens says:

    As a 3rd generation Native New Yorker, i continue to be saddened by the disregard of our historic buildings, structures and neighborhoods in favor of individual / self palatial interests. I am grateful for HDC’s diligence, vigilance and steadfastness to maintain our magnificent city and neighborhoods be they residential or commercial. The escape path on the roof of the Hooper-Gibbons house was a victory but saddened by the assumed insignificance of low-rise buildings as in the 21 w 17th and 18th. Demolition of those two buildings was excessive. There must be a way to substantiate the social and environmental importance / significance of low-rise buildings. And how much more could be done to Jane Street??

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