HDC@LPC – Designation and Permit Testimony for Hearing on December 6, 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
LP – 2585
1047 Amsterdam Avenue – Cathedral St. John the Divine and the Cathedral Close
Despite three hearings in 1966, one in 1979, and one in 2002, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine nor its Close has ever been designated an official landmark site. HDC has long supported the Morningside Heights community and its decades-long wishes to designate the cathedral and its close. The close is such an integral part of this ecclesiastical complex that the community did not want the cathedral designated without the inclusion of the close, and for good reason. As HDC testified in 2002,
“There may be room in the cathedral close for additional structures, but those structures must be designed and sited so that they do not compromise the Cathedral itself.  These decisions, we feel, are best made by the Commission, after adequate public review.  Without designation of the entire site, and with designation of the Cathedral alone, we are troubled by the possibility of the designated landmark being hemmed in to the extent that its preservation is in name only.”
It is unfortunate that the condominium developments within the close have been completed far ahead of the cathedral’s own repairs and completion.  These two high-rise condominiums now occupy the close, which are out of scale, clash in materials, and have troubling proximity to the old cathedral.

It remains the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and its sheer mass, made of solid stone, is a nod to the cathedrals of the Old World. Just like its European predecessors, which often took hundreds of years to build, this cathedral has entered its third century unfinished. It is comforting knowing that future work to this monument and its campus will benefit from the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s oversight, and be spared of any more aesthetic erosion.

Item 2
LP – 2584
The Historic Districts Council enthusiastically endorses the designation of the Morningside Heights Historic District. Local residents and preservationists have been advocating for a district for over 20 years. HDC named the neighborhood one of its Six to Celebrate in 2012, and is proud to have worked closely with the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee to strategize for its successful designation.
While the neighborhood may be best known for its world famous institutions of higher learning, none of which are included within the district boundaries before you today, this is only one part of its fascinating story and architectural character. Its eastern and western borders consist of two designated scenic landmarks, the Olmsted-designed Morningside and Riverside parks, while all around is a fine mix of early 20th century residential architecture, from single-family rowhouses to Beaux-Arts style apartment buildings. With the exception of two churches, this district focuses entirely on the neighborhood’s residential story, but that story is well worth telling. Even before zoning laws were introduced to regulate land use, developers in Morningside Heights constructed rowhouses and modest apartment buildings on the side streets and grand apartment houses on the avenues, with particularly monumental examples on Riverside Drive, Claremont Avenue and Cathedral Parkway, and mixed-use commercial buildings along Broadway, giving the neighborhood a heterogeneous yet cohesive character. Its sense of place is derived from the confluence of this residential developmental trend paired with that of the development of its institutions, just steps away from one another.

In addition to steering clear of the neighborhood’s large institutions, it is regrettable that the proposed district also cuts out quite a number of buildings included in proposals by locals and elected officials, including sections of the neighborhood stretching up to its northern boundary at 125th Street. In particular, HDC finds the omission of Morningside Drive, the neighborhood’s eastern boundary and with which it shares its name (both were named after the park), to be a questionable decision. The less opulent apartment houses on Morningside Drive, constructed for a middle class clientele due to relative distance from the subway, play a role in telling the story of the neighborhood and deserve to be protected. Additionally, the promenade on Morningside Drive features observation platforms, imposing stone steps and a statue of social reformer Carl Schurz, all with a view down to the park below. As one of the neighborhood’s most picturesque places, HDC urges the Commission to include it in another phase at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Item 1

404 Grand Avenue – Clinton Hill Historic District


An Italianate style rowhouse built in the 19th Century. Application is to construct a rear yard addition and install rooftop mechanical equipment.

This project proposes to align with its neighbor, no. 406. To accomplish this, the work would entail a four-story demolition of its rear facade, sparing only the primary facade as original historic fabric. The drawings demonstrate that this demolition on the upper two floors would only gain mere feet. What’s more, in terms of appropriateness, this building should remain in plane with the row it is actually a part of, not its neighbor which belongs to a different rowhouse group. Aligning with its own row would allow for the retention of the upper two floors, which should be preserved.

LPC determination: Approved

Item 3

30 Middagh Street – Brooklyn Heights Historic District


A frame house built in 1824. Application is to alter the roof and replace windows.

The 1920s roof alteration does not lay the groundwork for a full on flattening of a Federal roof, because this alteration still preserved a pitch, which is one of the most character-defining features of this early building typology.  The proposed ceiling heights in the top floor are a generous 9’6″ which could be reduced to produce a ceiling height that is livable but also provides a slope which nods to the building’s condition as a Federal rowhouse. In terms of the rear design, this house retains original openings, most significantly the squashed top story windows. HDC asks that some rationalization of this facade be proposed, other than inserting a disproportionate Juliet balcony in the center of historic openings.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications

Item 4

150 Bergen Street – Boerum Hill Historic District


A Greek Revival style rowhouse, constructed c. 1849-50. Application is to construct rooftop and rear yard additions and replace windows.

While not listed in the docket, the doors proposed are inappropriate, especially the hardware which is modern and out of character with the facade. There are many original doors in Boerum Hill and the examples provided of other replacement doors in the district are unsatisfactory as a basis of comparison. The elevator mass is extremely visible, which is not surprising because it is an over scaled feature for a modestly sized 3-story building. There is not rooftop present anywhere else within this entire block, which is pristine. Regarding the rear yard addition, it is of a scale that is unprecedented in the block, and the upper two stories should be preserved. Collectively, these features as proposed are alien to the block, and the proportions take advantage of the house for an egregious outcome.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications

Item 2

135 Plymouth Street – DUMBO Historic District


A factory complex built from 1879 to c. 1900, consisting of an Altered Vernacular style factory building, designed by J. Irving Howard, built in 1879, and expanded in 1886, and in 1904; a Romanesque Revival style factory building designed by William B. Tubby and built in 1891; and a Romanesque Revival style drafting room, and office building, designed by Rudolphe L. Daus and built in1900-1904. Application is to replace windows.

In exchange for these aluminum windows, HDC asks that the wooden brick molds in the areas of the special windows be repaired, maintained, or restored.

LPC determination: Approved

Item 5

201 MacDonough Street – Stuyvesant Heights Historic District


An Italianate style rowhouse built in 1872-73. Application is to legalize the installation of windows without LPC permit(s).

HDC is unclear how the owner was unaware that this building was landmarked. It’s particularly vexing that there is a lack of awareness of historic district status, given the early date of designation and the wide-spread and well-reported community interest in landmarking. Regardless, historic districts are attractive for a reason: enforcement. Ultimately this aesthetic beauty convinced this owner that buying this property was a good investment. Now, there are aluminum windows which failed at fitting the actual shape of the windows, at first with ignoring the arch tops and then again by ignoring the parlor floor and rigging a transom to force them to fit. This illegal work should not be permitted. HDC would also like to bring to the lpcs attention that many original details have disappeared from this house since its designation in the 1970s when compared with the 1980 tax photo, including the stoop railings and newel posts and the door. Allowing the windows to go will further degrade this property.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications

Item 8

615 Eastern Parkway – Crown Heights North II Historic District


A Chateauesque style rowhouse built c. 1899 by Frederick L. Hine. Application is to construct an addition, modify the entrance and install a canopy.

While overall a handsome solution to adding a new building to an old one, there are some design decisions which should be modified to become more appropriate. The new addition tries to take a design approach which defaults to the old, such as its simplification of details and its toned-done composition, which is an appropriate gesture to the existing, older and much larger building. However, the connector piece which is partially recessed should set back entirely, including its large spandrels which occupy the same plane as the historic building. Similarly, this design element is repeated at the entrance of the historic building, applying the new design onto the old. This should be eliminated, and instead, the historic porch should be considered as a solution as it was attractive and fits this house and the adjoining opulent houses on the block. Instead of attempting to unify these structures, this composition would be more successful if they were disparate from one another, with the connector serving as a reveal and transition between the historic and the contemporary.

LPC determination: No Action

Item 7

118 Rutland Road – Prospect-Lefferts Gardens Historic District


A neo-Renaissance style townhouse designed by Benjamin Driesler and built in 1911. Application is to construct a bay window, rear yard addition and mechanical equipment.

HDC supports this project. It is rare that there is an application which proposes to beautify a rear facade in an historically appropriate manner. The proposed design of the rear porch seems equal to the quality of details and craftsmanship of the early 20th century. This alteration doesn’t simply respect the house, it elevates it.

LPC determination: Approved

Item 9

55 Gansevoort Street – Gansevoort Market Historic District


A store and loft building designed by Joseph M. Dunn and built in 1887. Application is to remove the fire escape, replace the canopy, raise the roof, construct a rooftop addition, and install wind screens and mechanical equipment.

There are programmatic issues which make this proposal difficult to not be a glaring distraction along the streetscape. The desire to have two pools atop this irregular roof plan is driving the 7′ tall wind screens along the perimeter, which is not set back. The flatiron nature of this corner makes the appearance of the many angles of the coalescence of this screen even more noticeable, as if the cornice has suddenly sprouted glass. HDC suggests setting back the screens, and therefore the pools, to rectify this problem. The hot tub feature could also be constructed on a platform further back on the roof, instead of wedged into a triangle at the edge of the building.

HDC understands that the former owner illegally removed the vault lights from this property, which were supposed to be retained, and now they are history. We prefer that this feature be reincorporated. With all of the work proposed for the property, most of which focuses on selling itself, a feature like vault lights could be a positive move for business and attracting people to the building. Finally, we are curious to hear commissioner comments on the proposed milk glass globe light fixtures proposed at the canopy. While attractive, we would like to see either a precedent in the district or an explanation of why this design was chosen, other rather than  a showcasing of company wares.

LPC determination: No Action

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