HDC@LPC – Testimony for Hearing on October 31, 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

51 MacDougal Street – Charlton-King-Vandam Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #19-12359

A Greek Revival style rowhouse built in 1846-47 and later modified. Application is to construct rooftop and rear yard additions, create new window openings, and apply a brick veneer to the side elevation.

HDC can support the proposed addition in the rear, including the new storefront on the Houston Street façade. We do not, however, support the proposal for the rooftop, which would add an enormous amount of bulk designed in an incongruous style unbefitting of this mid-19th century Greek Revival style building. Perhaps the applicant could investigate the addition of a simple stair bulkhead to gain access to the roof. Concerning the storefront redesign for the front façade, HDC wishes to point out that in the district’s designation report, the MacDougal Street storefront is specifically called out. At the time, its original storefront was intact and described as “a rare survival in the city.” It is unclear what happened to this historic material between 1966 and today, but HDC urges the Commission to request that a restoration or replication of this original storefont be carried out based on historic documentation.

LPC determination: Approved

Item 3

71 Fifth Avenue – Ladies’ Mile Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #19-17136

An early 20th century commercial style store and loft building designed by Charles Vilz and built in 1906-1907. Application is to alter the ground floor and install entrance infill, and construct a rooftop bulkhead.

As the applicants have presented in their application, there is clear historic documentation detailing 71 Fifth Avenue’s original ground floor configuration. The original door surround featured an elegant pedimented design, a classical element that fit in effortlessly among the Beaux-Arts buildings of Fifth Avenue. An opportunity exists here to return this historic feature, which was specifically referenced in the district’s designation report, and we would be remiss at not advocating for a restoration instead of another questionable redesign. Additionally, our committee finds the proposed rooftop bulkhead to be far too visible. We ask that the applicants investigate strategies to bring the height down and reduce its visibility on this highly trafficked stretch of Fifth Avenue.

LPC determination: NO ACTION

Item 6

133-137 East 73rd Street – Upper East Side Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #19-13323

A neo-Georgian style residence designed by William H. Birkmire and built in 1899-1900 and a neo-Italian Renaissance style building designed by Charles Stegmayer and built in 1898-1899. Application is to construct a rooftop addition, alter the rear façade, and alter the stoop.

While HDC is happy to see these buildings brought back to life and supports the proposed alterations to the stoop, we do not support the rooftop addition, which, in addition to being very visible from many angles, mistakenly attempts to unify these two buildings. HDC asks that more respect be shown for these structures as being distinct from one another, rather than plopping a very large and incongruous addition on top that would detract from the present reading of these buildings as separate.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications

Item 7

292-314 Kent Avenue – Havemeyers & Elder Filter, Pan & Finishing House – Individual Landmark

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #19-17545

Three American round-arch style industrial buildings designed by Theodore A. Havemeyer and others and built in 1881-1884. Application is to construct a addition and modify masonry openings.

HDC strongly opposes this proposed scheme for an important individual landmark on the Williamsburg waterfront, an area sorely lacking in historic resources and besieged by dense development. We urge the Commission to exercise caution so that it may thrive in its next chapter, but also continue to evoke its industrial past.

The applicant’s strategy is to insert a new building within the old, asserting that it is nothing but “a donut awaiting filling.” This approach completely disrespects the structure’s inherent muscularity and monumentality, the latter a word used to describe the complex in the designation report. The ideological problem here is that the proposal is simply not adaptive reuse of an existing building. Rather, it would discard a wholly intact structure and rarefy it into essentially a ruin. The applicants look to DUMBO’s St. Ann’s Warehouse for inspiration, but this is not comparing apples to apples, as St. Ann’s Warehouse was, in fact, a ruin before it was adaptively reused. The Refinery today is not a ruin, but a factory complex with floors, joists, beams and structural elements. If this project were in a similar state to that of the Smallpox Hospital on Roosevelt Island, the proposed intervention may be appropriate and necessary. However, to strip the building down to a shell would represent a significant removal of historic fabric and would destroy the 19th century industrial construction methods still exhibited inside – and both are important reasons for the complex’s designation in the first place. Considering that this very heavy-handed proposal is not reversible, its strategy veers dramatically from standards of good or even basic preservation practice.

Concerning the applicant’s assertion that daylight studies corroborate their concept for inserting a glass building within the existing shell, HDC would like to point out that it is not necessary for a curtain wall to replace original brick openings to provide adequate light. A terrific example of an industrial-turned-office space is the monumental Terminal Warehouse Company Central Stores building in the West Chelsea Historic District. This building has significantly less, and much smaller, punched openings than the Domino Sugar Refinery and currently very successfully serves as the Uber Corporation’s headquarters in New York City. The redevelopment of this property did not require curtain wall construction or demolition of 19th century fabric. In creating terraces between the curtain wall and the outer shell, the applicant claims that they seek to “let the brick breathe,” but our committee found no specifications in the drawings that outlined how they planned to protect the interior brick that would now be exposed to the elements – a distressing omission. Also distressing is the work proposed for the smokestack. If approved, the applicants will punch a hole in the base of the iconic smokestack to create an entrance. This might seem like a romantic concept, but it would only make the smokestack appear cartoonish; what was once the towering center of a powerful industrial operation would now be simply an odd relic standing on a hollow base.

If the applicant truly seeks to honor this property’s history and long-time contribution to the Brooklyn waterfront, we would suggest an approach that embraces, rather than overwhelms what is there, and enhances, rather than negates the value of this magnificent complex. It is grand on its own merits. A sensitive restoration would be a far more powerful and sustainable approach.

LPC determination: NO ACTION

Item 8

82 John Street – DUMBO Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #178049

A garage building (82 John Street) with an unknown construction date and an American Round Arch factory building (18 Bridge Street) designed by Edward N. Stone and constructed 1902. Application is to demolish the garage and construct a new building and excavate; and install a canopy at 18 Bridge Street.

While HDC does not object to the demolition of this small garage, we do not approve of the proposed design for its replacement. This is a neighborhood of strong, industrial buildings whose materials are appropriately solid. While the applicant did not provide a wall section in the application materials, the use of steel panels and stucco gives the building a lightweight, flimsy appearance that is not appropriate for the district. At 18 Bridge Street, the awning should follow the arched shape of the opening, rather than cutting a straight line across the top of the entrance that would obscure this detail.

LPC determination: NO ACTION

Item 9

24-02 19th Street – Astoria Park Pool and Play Center – Individual Landmark

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #19-17533

An Art Moderne style pool complex designed by John Matthews Hatton, Aymar Embury II, landscape architects Gilmore D. Clarke and Allyn R. Jennings, and civil engineers W. Earle Andrews and William H. Latham built in 1934-36. Application is to modify the wading pool, playground, and comfort station and install stairs and pathways, fencing and site furnishings.

The Astoria Park Pool – the city’s largest public pool – was one of 11 WPA-funded outdoor swimming facilities in New York City that opened in the summer of 1936. As outlined in the complex’s designation report, the design of these 11 facilities was informed by a list of shared guidelines, including the provision that each was to have separate swimming, diving and wading pools.

In recent years, it appears that the wading pool at Astoria Park has been reduced to a space with a few sprinklers forming puddles on the concrete – a sort of sparse water playground, rather than a pool. The proposal before the Commission today seems to take this idea one step further by reducing the water feature to a very small semi-circle within the broader enclosure and cluttering up the rest of the space with play equipment and sun shades. As also outlined in the designation report, the pools are surrounded by wide decks and sun bathing areas. Why make them even wider? And why sacrifice open space where small children could be enjoying the shallow water, a wonderful amenity as much today as when it was originally designed?

HDC finds this to be a missed opportunity to restore the wading pool to its original use – wading – and further finds that turning it into a playground would mar the symmetry of the ensemble, which consists of two semi-circular pools flanking the main rectangular pool. If more play equipment is needed, perhaps the nearby playground could be expanded. Institutionalizing the presence of so much bare hardscape would be a shame in a place designed for aquatic recreation.

LPC determination: Approved

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