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!
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.
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.
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.
Chelsea Landmark Nightmares:
404 West 20th Street & 334 West 20th Street (Chelsea Historic District)
Public Hearing: April 19 / August 2
Existing & Proposed Rear
Ford Foundation, 320 East 43rd Street (Individual & Interior Landmark)
Public Hearing: April 19
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
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
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.