HDC@LPC – Testimony for LPC Hearing on July 18, 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.

RESEARCH DEPARTMENT PUBLIC HEARING

Item 1

476 Fifth Avenue – aka 460-476 Fifth Ave. 1 West 40th St., 11 West 40th St., 2 West 42nd St. – New York Public Library (Stephen A. Schwarzman Building) Interiors, Main Reading Room and Catalog Room (now Rose Main Reading Room and Bill Blass Public Catalog Room)

ITEM PROPOSED FOR DESIGNATION, Docket # LP-2592

Proposal to designate the Main Reading Room, now known as the Rose Main Reading Room, and the Catalog Room, now known as the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room, on the third floor of the Beaux-Arts Individual Landmark New York Public Library (Stephen A. Schwarzman Building), designed by Carrere & Hastings and opened in 1911.

When people enter the Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library Main Branch, either as students, tourists, architecture lovers, or academics, they are immediately transported back in time to the original Gilded Age. The gaze is inexorably drawn upward and laterally, and both first-timers and daily scholars are awed by the glorious space. The Rose Main Reading Room is truly the most accessible form of high style Beaux-Arts interior that many of us will ever have the privilege of visiting and using. As a uniquely inspiring place that sought to raise the fortunes of the people of the city since 1911 through accessible world-class resources, it is a wonder that the majestic interior of the Reading Room has not yet been declared a protected interior landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and by the city to which the library has given so much. Therefore the Historic Districts Council is very excited today to testify in support of the designation of the magnificent Rose Main Reading Room.

Measuring 78 feet by 297 feet – approximately the size of a football field – and 52 feet in height, the Reading Room is one of the most breathtaking of the grand interior spaces in the Main Branch. It undoubtedly is the culmination of the dramatic ceremonial route from the entrance steps. Although it has seen several renovations, including the major 1998 restoration by Lewis Davis, the most recent renovation resulted in additionally thorough repairs and renovations of the plaster ceiling and mural. It began in May of 2014 when a rosette fell 50 feet to the floor and shattered, raising concerns that the beautifully ornate ceiling was not as secure as had been previously believed. The extensive repairs and renovations, completed in October of 2016, have brought back to life what the AIA Guide to NYC calls “the apogee of Beaux Arts for New York.” Highlights of the Rose Main Reading Room include: the desk of engaged, fluted Doric columns and doorways with arched pediments housing the mechanical lifts for the books; the painted, molded plaster ceiling with its decorative relief framed panels depicting a veritable cornucopia of classical motifs moldings;  Yohannes Aynalem’s modern versions of James Wall Fine’s paintings of a glorious sky of clouds; two long rows of chandeliers with bulb rosettes; the Room’s monumental casement windows and nine arched bays; and precious furnishings designed by Carrère and Hastings.

In addition the HDC commends the Commission and staff for calendaring the Reading Room, and especially would like to commend Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan for stating that “this would be an opportune moment to consider landmarking these iconic spaces,” especially since “they have been meticulously restored.” This is indeed the most opportune moment to landmark the Reading Room, when it has been returned closest to its pristine state, with the ceiling mural restored and comprehensive systems upgrades to lighting and technology.  

Very few interior landmarks are as lucky to remain in such original conditions over the course of decades, and to be lovingly restored to an impeccable state. Not only was the Reading Room’s ornate ceiling restored, with all its 900 plaster rosettes secured, and new LED lighting installed on the eighteen refurbished, ornate, tiered, brass chandeliers, but in addition renowned muralists EverGreene Architectural Arts recreated a James Wall Finn mural in the Bill Plass Public Catalog Room. This is another incredibly splendid room which the Commission should also consider landmarking.

In fact, the HDC strongly believes that several other interiors within the Main Branch should be landmarked, similarly because they exude a level of craftsmanship and opulence that will probably never be replicated again at such an expert level. Along with the Committee to Save NYPL, the HDC believes that other spaces worthy of designation include the South-North Gallery, the DeWitt Wallace Periodicals Room, the Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall, the 42nd Street Staircases, the Edna B. Salomon Room, the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art & Architecture Room, and the Celeste Bartos Forum. We believe that the Commission will agree that the whole interior of the magnificent Main Branch library should at one point in the near future be protected, and we salute State Senators Brad Hoylmann and Liz Kreuger for their support for preservation. We must all ensure that the magnificent interiors of Carrère and Hastings’ masterful creation are there to enrich the lives of future generations, just as it has inspired all who stand in awe for more than one hundred years. Hopefully this is just the start of the Commission’s realization that the whole interior should be protected. Nonetheless the HDC is thrilled to be testifying in support of the designation of the Rose Main Reading Room as an interior landmark, and we hope to continue working with the Commission in the future to safeguard the remaining spaces. 

LPC action: Motion to close public hearing


PRESERVATION DEPARTMENT PUBLIC HEARING

Item 1

233 Arleigh Road – Douglaston Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #19-10530

A Ranch house built in 1961. Application is to demolish the building and construct a new building.

Adhering to the parameters of the Douglaston Historic District designation report, this application is troubling on many levels. To begin, it is an unfortunate loss that the 600-year old Great White Oak which is listed as a significant site feature and photographed for the report was destroyed and removed, possibly for construction which has yet to be approved by the LPC.

Equally disturbing is that a Style building is being proposed to be demolished. Mid-century Ranch-style buildings are found throughout the historic district and were included in the report with full descriptions, devoid of language such as “no style” or “non-contributing.”  While the LPC has a history of permitting ranch houses in the Douglaston Historic District to be demolished and replaced, they remain “style” buildings and this  proposal inherently changes the style. If this is approved, how will this house still be considered a “style” building? HDC cautions that permitted work like this could undermine the landmark site in the future. This is a matter of great concern as the Commission begins to institutionalize its behavior and stance on “non-contributing” buildings.  Our committee was further puzzled why someone would choose to purchase a home in an historic district and then propose to completely destroy the house. With very few designated historic districts in Queens, there is an ample supply of houses and perhaps lots in non-landmarked areas where the applicant could have chosen to build whatever he/she pleases without the review process of the LPC.

​Regarding the design itself, it is unacceptable for an historic district. This house has all of the red flags of the “McMansion,” such as the massive lot coverage of this building compared to the existing houses in the district; it is stylistically inconsistent from one elevation to the other;  ​it has multiple rooflines; a strangely placed ocular window on the front facade; multiple styles of balusters which are out of proportion; a single column supporting a copper eave and a two-story chimneyed outdoor porch. Compared with larger houses in the district, this one is extremely ostentatious despite not being as grand. HDC believes the Ranch house can be added to sympathetically and that this new construction should not be permitted on a landmarked lot, especially in this iteration.

LPC determination: No action


Item 2

60-83 68th Avenue – Central Ridgewood Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #19-09157

A Renaissance Revival style house built in 1909. Application is to legalize reconstructing the front stoop without Landmarks Preservation Commission permit(s).

HDC objects to the illegal alterations made to this stoop. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Ridgewood historic districts is the consistency of materials and architectural design. Unfortunately, this proposal does not rise to that standard. This presentation includes no historic photos, but we know that at the time of designation, 60-83 68th Avenue had its original stoop. It is unfortunate then that it has been removed and given an inadequate replacement. As it currently stands, it interrupts the rhythm of the block. Other stoops on the block have been altered, but their massing remains the same, creating a consistent rhythm that has now been lost. Additionally, the railings are inappropriate and our committee would like to see the pipe railings returned. Perhaps the applicant can work with staff on this, as well as on finding better materials for the stoop, such as pre-cast concrete. 

LPC determination: No action


Item 4

27 Monroe Place – Brooklyn Heights Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #19-11443

A Greek Revival style rowhouse built in 1844. Application is to alter the areaway.

HDC commends the applicant on a sensible proposal that reestablishes the street line and rhythm. We also appreciate the paving materials. We only ask that the applicant work with staff to better match the neighboring ironwork.

LPC determination: No action


Item 7

50 Hudson Street – TriBeCa West Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #19-10665

An early 20th century Commercial style factory building designed by William F. Hemstreet and built in 1925. Application is to construct rooftop additions, enlarge window openings, and install a garage door and curb cut.

HDC finds the proposed application to be completely inappropriate. This building had a very considered proportion. The proposed addition almost doubles the height of the building. The applicant has argued that the building as it currently stands is “out of scale with the taller buildings” nearby and that “the added height would help it fit in with its neighbors.” Our committee finds this justification confusing. According to this thinking, Grand Central Terminal is extremely out of place between the Chrysler Building, the Met Life Building, and the new One Vanderbilt. Should we then revisit the idea to build a 50-story office tower over so the added height helps it fit in with its neighbors? The applicant quotes the Tribeca West Historic District Designation Report as saying that Duane Park’s “spatial quality is further enhanced by the uniform street walls of the warehouse and store and loft built-ins surrounding it.” The architect of this project says that raising this building two or three stories will “complete the park.” Our committee wonders if Washington Square Park is also in need of “completion.” Perhaps the problem of differing building heights can be addressed by adding 50 foot tall rooftop additions to every house on The Row.

Extremely stretched justifications aside, the owner is seeking to remove historic masonry and replace two windows with a big garage, of which there is no precedent nearby. Taking two openings which are a part of a composition of openings, part of a considered façade, and replacing it with something that doesn’t exist in the district is not acceptable. There is a certain point when a new addition overwhelms the historic building, and this proposal has reached it. A more appropriate solution would involve reducing this addition by one story and setting it back so that it is not as blatantly visible.  

LPC determination: No action


Item 8

109-111 East 15th Street – Individual Landmark 

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #19-13478

A neo-Grec style clubhouse designed by Gambrill & Richardson and built in 1896. Application is to alter the façade and replace entrance infill.

Item 9

109-111 East 15th Street – Individual Landmark 

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #19-11169

A neo-Grec style clubhouse designed by Gambrill & Richardson and built in 1896. Application is to request that the Landmarks Preservation Commission issue a favorable report to the City Planning Commission relating to an application for a special permit for bulk waivers pursuant to Section 74-711 of the Zoning Resolution.

The modest facade restoration of this individual landmark is not an equal trade-off for the bulk that is being sought, which would allow the as-of-right zoning to increase from a maximum height of 120 feet to a total of 283, more than doubling the allowable envelope. This is not a fair exchange for a modification of bulk, as the facade is not in that bad of shape to begin with.  Thus, this enormous bulk tips the scale in favor the developer, with minimal trade-off for the landmark. 

The landmark building’s facade has some minimal maintenance issues, such as painted stone which has damage consistent with a building of its age. The other major issue with the facade is its unsympathetic infill, which is exclusively a cosmetic problem. Routine maintenance and beautification do not equate to a first-class restoration.

One unsolved problem with the building’s facade is the proportions of the entry as a result of modifications and ultimate removal of the entry stoop, which skewed the proportions of the large transom window above the door. While the applicant chose to place a non-divided transom light in this area for historical purposes, this appearance only worked visually when the size of the light was smaller because it was compacted because of the stoop. When the stairway was reduced, as evidenced in the 1938 photo, the transom had divided lights to break up the massing of the expanse of glass. Today, with no stoop whatsoever, the area above the door is an awkward space, with a large piece of glass that is floating and not quite fitting in to the facade. 

Even if the transom problem was solved, HDC objects to the reward of the bulk. In the end, this proposal is weighed heavily in favor of the development, not the landmark.

LPC determination: No action


Item 10

162 Fifth Avenue – Ladies’ Mile Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #19-13131

A Beaux-Arts style store and loft building designed by Buchman & Fox and built in 1903. Application is to construct a rooftop addition.

Our committee applauds the applicant on this modest proposal. The owners have found a sensible way of getting the space they want without offending the public view and we appreciate their effort. We find this to be a reasonable extension of the existing material, and an excellent example of how a historic building can add a reasonable rooftop addition that effortlessly camouflages with the existing building.

LPC determination: Approved 


Item 11

51 West 52nd Street – Individual Landmark 

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #19-13263

An office tower designed by Eero Saarinen & Associates, completed by Kevin Roche & John Dinkeloo, and built in 1961-64. Application is to install a barrier-free access ramp.

While HDC appreciates the applicant’s plan to provide a barrier-free access ramp to the historic Black Rock Building, our committee cannot approve what amounts to a non-minimally detailed ramp for an extremely minimally designed building. The obtrusiveness of the details is particularly striking. A more sensitive approach would take its cues from the existing ramp. Instead, what is proposed here is clumsy and heavy-handed, with too much metal and too many intrusions. The very clunky, bronze finish aluminum railing is not a true bronze railing.  This elegantly modern minimalist landmark deserves a lighter touch. 

LPC determination: Approved


Item 12

169 West 85th Street – Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #196659

A Romanesque Revival style rowhouse designed by John G. Prague and built in 1889-90. Application is to construct a rear yard addition, excavate the rear yard, and alter the façade.

Despite the commercial use of this building, the proposed rear yard addition is still a very large incursion into a pristine block. Building out the entire rear yard is a departure from all other rowhouses on the block. We encourage the applicant to work with staff on a more modest proposal that does not take up 3/4 of the lot. 

LPC determination: Approved with modifications

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