HDC@LPC – Testimony for Hearing on February 7, 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
610 East 169th Street – Individual Landmark
BINDING REPORT, Docket #196462
A Classical Revival style library building designed by Babb, Cook & Willard and built in 1907-08. Application is to install a sound attenuation screen at the roof.
For the significant cost associated with the construction of these screens, HDC wonders if it would be cost-effective to purchase new HVAC equipment, which would be smaller and quieter, and therefore eliminate the need for these enormous screens. While this is a utilitarian need, these screens are quite large and detracting from this building.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications


Item 2
Rufus King Park – Individual Landmark
CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #195388
A park, site of the Rufus King Mansion and estate, a Colonial style residence built in 1730-55, with an addition built in 1806. Application is to construct entrances and pathways.
HDC understands that the genesis for the several new, paved paths is that these trails already exist as “desire paths.” To minimize the impact of so much paving in this quadrant of the park, we recommend that Parks consider a more permeable, green material such as grasscrete, which could mitigate the extensive paving. HDC understands that manor house experienced some cracking due to vibrations the previous time paving was installed. We ask that monitors be placed in the house to ensure no further damage is done, regardless of what work is approved today.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications


Item 4

311 Vanderbilt Avenue – Clinton Hill Historic District
CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #196243
An empty lot located behind 312 Clinton Avenue, a Northern Renaissance Revival style rowhouse designed by S. F. Evelette and built in 1885. Application is to construct a new building.
HDC does not find the proposed building to be an appropriate addition to the Vanderbilt Avenue streetscape or the Clinton Hill Historic District. The committee was not convinced of the design evolution based on existing context, either. The contextual borrowed element which is driving the design is a single, massive concave arch which dominates the façade. While this curve is found along the street, it is employed on the other facades in tripartite divisions which are symmetrical. The proposed design is a grand gesture imposed on a monolithic, asymmetric façade which results in an interruption of the scale of the block. Nowhere in this historic district is there a precedent of double-height glazing floating above a garage door. The material of simulated Travertine evokes a Modernist sentiment which appears as more alien than as a contextual statement.
The applicant pointed to 208 Vanderbilt Avenue, a new building designed by Adjaye and Hotson, as a precedent. This building is not included in the historic district, but for argument’s sake, this building is more successful for several reasons which the proposed design should take cues from. For one, it is of a smaller scale with no visible rooftop addition, thus defaulting to its historic neighbor. Its non-traditional material choice is broken up into panels on the façade, eradicating an appearance of a monolith. Its window openings, while not symmetrical, also play to a tripartite configuration.
HDC looks forward to seeing a revised proposal at a future public meeting.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications


Item 8
860 St. John’s Place – Crown Heights North II Historic District
CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #191978
A Romanesque Revival/Renaissance Revival style rowhouse designed by Frederick L. Hine and built in 1898-99. Application is to legalize façade and areaway alterations without Landmarks Preservation Commission permit(s).
One of the great advantages of owning property in a designated Historic District is being able to call on the experienced staff of the LPC. In this case, some unfortunate alterations were made that could have been prevented, but it is not too late to benefit from the staff’s guidance to rectify those issues. HDC would particularly recommend that the applicant work with the staff to find a more suitable door for this charming house, such as the example provided at 856 St. John’s Place. Additionally, HDC recommends a closer inspection of the windows at the parlor floor and the stucco over the band of brick spandrel below the parlor floor. Proposed alterations to these elements appear to be contextually inappropriate and should be modified before approval. HDC also recommends returning the ironwork to its original height.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications


Item 11
11 Commerce Street – Greenwich Village Historic District
CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #193341
A late Federal/Greek Revival style rowhouse built in 1826. Application is to construct a rooftop addition and railing and modify the rear façade.
HDC found the proposed copper material harmonious with the masonry building, as long as it is as invisible as it is proposed in the drawing set. Because this is a row of nearly 200-year old houses, we ask the Commission to preserve the top story of the building, essentially omitting the new glass openings at this level.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications


Item 12

145 Perry Street – Greenwich Village Historic District
CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #187634
A two-story garage. Application is to demolish the existing building and to construct two new buildings.
HDC approached this application conceding that the existing garage building has little chance of survival. We lament losing historic fabric; after the passage of 50 years, we feel this building adds an attractive patina and layer of history to the district as opposed to how it was viewed when it was only a 20-year-old building at the time of designation. The LPC should keep this in mind when assigning labels to buildings in future historic districts, as the throw-aways of today often become the charm of tomorrow.
Regarding the proposed new building, HDC finds its materials refined and its overall concept original. The issue here is scale and proportion. While this design choice has decidedly retreated from resembling the typical rowhouse style or scale found in this district, this building still appears to be quite large for a house, with its granite water table nearly human height. Conversely, if this conception is taking cues from larger-scaled warehouse buildings in its vicinity, it still fails in its proportions, as the double-height fenestration is an exaggeration of scale.  Both the larger industrial buildings and smaller residential buildings in the area achieve harmony in their respective scales because of proportionate window openings, massing, and other features. Simply put, the architectural elements proposed for this building are too big for the cube that they occupy.
HDC requests that these details be refined and we look forward to seeing the next iteration at a future public meeting.
LPC determination: Approved

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