HDC@LPC Testimony for LPC Hearing on November 15, 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 – DESIGNATION TESTIMONY

LP – 2137

BOROUGH OF QUEENS

143-11 (143-19) ROOSEVELT AVENUE-AKA 38-01 BOWNE STREET – PROTESTANT REFORMED DUTCH CHURCH OF FLUSHING (BOWNE STREET COMMUNITY CHURCH)

Thank you for hearing public testimony today. HDC wishes to reiterate its support for the designation of the former Bowne Street Community Church, both expressed during the Backlog95 proceedings and in 2003, when the building was first calendared. At that time, HDC was concerned about rapid development in this section of Queens, and stated in a letter to then Chair Robert Tierney dated July 17, 2003, that “In addition to its deep connection to the area’s religious history, the [Bowne Street Community Church] itself is a visible remembrance of a historic Flushing that is becoming increasingly difficult to find.” Also at that time, robust discussions took place concerning the parking lot on the eastern side of the church and its potential as a development site. The Commission has encountered the issue of deleterious effects of giant developments looming over or attached to Individual Landmarks many times in the past, including Park Avenue Christian Church, the Dime Savings Bank, the Long Island Coignet Stone Company Building and the Long Island City Clock Tower.

HDC asks the Commission to consider its role in regulating this structure in the years ahead, and thus, to take the time now to carefully draw boundaries that respect this building. HDC does not wish to restrict the church’s ability to expand or allow for construction next door, but the construction of a tower right up against the building would obscure this beautiful façade and its magnificent Tiffany windows, and would surely be a permanent change. Providing for a sufficient buffer – a matter of several feet even – on the building’s eastern edge would go a long way toward ensuring that the agency can do its best to protect the building and allow it to be read as a freestanding, suburban church as intended, in perpetuity.

(Photo by Dan Rubin)

 

Item 2

237-02 Hollywood Avenue – Douglaston Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #185159

A Mediterranean Revival style house built in 1927. Application is to replace windows.

HDC asks that any change to the window configuration be based on historic precedent and documentation for this house.

Architect: John Stacom Architectural Design P.C.

LPC Determination: Approved with modifications

 

 

Item 5

67 Hanson Place – Brooklyn Academy of Music Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #192972

An apartment house designed by W.T. McCarthy and Murray Klein and built in 1929. Application is to replace windows and install through-window AC units.

HDC applauds the applicant for proposing a building-wide replacement of this structure’s non-historic windows, but wishes to make a plea for thermally broken rolled steel windows, rather than aluminum. In the end, the proposal is a big improvement, but would be even better if executed in the original material.

Architect: Heritage Architecture

LPC Determination: Approved

 

Item 6

36 Schermerhorn Street – Brooklyn Heights Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #178134

A house built in 1852 and altered prior to 1940. Application is to construct a rear yard addition and alter the front and rear façades.

While our committee laments the fact that this 1940 alteration will be wiped away completely, given its rather intentional and thoughtful details, we also appreciate the desire to return the house to a style that might be considered more in keeping with the 19th century character that prevails in Brooklyn Heights, and for which the neighborhood is principally known. However, HDC is concerned that this proposal does not go far enough in restoring the house to its 1852 appearance, and cautions against erasing the historic alteration without doing some homework first. If the Commission determines a historic reconstruction to be appropriate, we ask that it be undertaken carefully, following historic precedents for this house and this district. It appears that certain details need to be further refined, especially the ironwork at the stoop, which looks too simple. Concerning the rear, we would ask that more effort be made to retain at least some historic fabric, as it appears as though the entire rear façade and roof are being unnecessarily demolished.

Architect: Ensemble Architecture, DPC

LPC Determination: Approved with modifications, in part

 

Item 10

576 Vanderbilt Avenue – Prospect Heights Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #183163

A Romanesque Revival/Renaissance Revival style store and flats building designed by Timothy Remsen and built c. 1891. Application is to construct a rooftop addition and install mechanical equipment, enclosures, and a railing at the roof.

This very prominent corner structure has a beautiful roofline and a gracefully curving corner bay. Its location, unfortunately, would make any addition on the roof extremely visible, so HDC opposes this proposal for not only a large addition, but one whose modern, glassy style would be particularly out of place and extremely deleterious in this historic context.

Architect: OPerA Studio Architecture

LPC Determination: No Action.

 

Item 12

1901 Emmons Avenue – Individual Landmark

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #183812

A Spanish Colonial Revival style restaurant building designed by Bloch & Hesse and built in 1934. Application is to legalize façade, roof and site work performed without Landmarks Preservation Commission permit(s) and install a marquee.

The Historic Districts Council does not support this application to legalize these violations on their merits because this tenant has a dedicated habit of ignoring the Landmarks Law. In 2009, this applicant conducted illegal work which the Sheepshead Bay/Plumb Beach Civic association described as a “desecration of [the] landmark.” At that time, the applicant stated that they were unaware of the building’s landmark status.

In 2011, HDC testified against another legalization application to the LPC for installing mechanicals and altering the sidewalk, which the LPC ultimately approved. In 2015, this property was before the City Planning Commission and City Council for operating in violation of the Sheepshead Bay Special District, and yet again, this owner was given a pass in breaking the law, and the City yielded to one tenant as opposed to upholding its own vision of the district. HDC testified against the text amendment in both instances.

The tenant has consistently displayed illegal action and poor stewardship of the individual landmark, Special District, and the law. We urge the LPC to approach this application with this background information in mind, and to also be aware that this is Sheepshead Bay’s only designated landmark, and the surrounding southern Brooklyn vicinity has very few landmarks and no historic districts. If this one landmark cannot be properly regulated, then what is the point of having it designated? Additionally, the effects of this proposal would project a very skewed idea of what a landmark is and should be in an area with so few examples. The reason this applicant continuously flouts the law is because there has been, up until this point, no consequences for defacing this building. Cumulatively, all of these alterations are making their mark, and we are confident that there will be more.

Architect: NSC Architecture, PC

LPC Determination: No Action

 

Item 19

537 Broadway – SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #184148

A store building designed by Charles Mettnam and built in 1868-69. Application is to enlarge a rooftop bulkhead.

HDC asks that the applicant work with LPC staff to find a way to avoid this very large and visible encumbrance on the roof, perhaps investigating other solutions, like a hydraulic elevator, to bring down the height of the bulkhead.

Architect: Stone Engineering, P.C.

LPC Determination: Approved

 

Item 22

558 Broadway – SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #193525

A store building built in 1860 and altered in 1920. Application is to construct an addition at the streetwalls with additional setbacks and bulkheads, alter the facades, replace windows, install storefront infill and signage, and remove a fire escape.

Rather than analyzing the intricacies of the proposed design, HDC wishes to make a plea for the denial of this application in favor of retaining the low-rise, historic character of both 558 Broadway and 94-96 Crosby Street. Both this section of Broadway and Crosby Street are defined by their mix of heights, creating interesting urban tableaux that would be unfortunately marred by filling in the air space above this building’s two facades. The loss of so many small-scale buildings in historic districts is an unfortunate trend that diminishes the dynamism of our historic streetscapes and dilutes the pedestrian experience that is so often touted as one of the great benefits of historic district designation. The addition of, perhaps, two floors on the Crosby Street side would have some precedent and allow the building’s massing to still read as low-rise, but four additional stories would be especially deleterious to Crosby Street.

Architect: BKSK Architects

LPC Determination: Approved

 

Item 24

212 Fifth Avenue – Madison Square North Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #194000

A neo-Medieval style office building, designed by Schwartz and Gross, and built in 1912-13. Application is to install a painted wall sign at a secondary façade.

While on first glance it might seem acceptable to replace the existing painted sign with a new one, our committee ultimately felt that a sign in this location is quite awkward to begin with, and should, perhaps, be allowed to fade away if not removed completely. The sign is not mentioned as a significant feature of the south façade in the designation report. Further, most painted wall signs are found on secondary, undeveloped facades, but this façade is not only very prominent, but its window pattern is intentionally designed. In fact, this building came before the Commission back in April of this year for a Certificate of Appropriateness to, in part, redesign the south façade’s fenestration, and HDC testified to advocate for the refinement of some of those changes due to the importance of the façade. At that time, the applicant argued that the south façade is secondary, but the Commissioners unanimously disagreed, requiring that the façade’s intentionally symmetrical fenestration be retained, with some referring to that façade as “formal”. In renderings for that April proposal, the applicant removed the painted sign, which seems like the most appropriate choice for a façade that the Commission undertook considerable effort to respect. HDC asks for the same level of scrutiny today.

Architect: Helpern Architects

LPC Determination: Approved

 

Item 26

44 West 95th Street – Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #191642

A Renaissance Revival style rowhouse designed by James S. Post and built in 1886-87. Application is to construct rooftop and rear addtions.

As always with applications for rear yard additions, HDC asks that the height be brought down in order to retain a record of the rear façade’s original plane and fenestration. This would also necessitate setting back the rooftop addition in order to reduce its impact from the rear. Our committee was unsure of the visibility of the proposed rooftop addition from the front due to the limited amount of visibility studies included in the packet, so asks the Commission to be vigilant in this regard.

Architect: Eric Safyan Architect, PC

LPC Determination: Approved with modifications

 

Item 28

5243 Sycamore Avenue – Riverdale Historic District

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS, Docket #192977

A neo-Colonial style residence designed by Roland A. Gallimore and built in 1937-38. Application is to install a pool and fencing.

HDC questions the removal of the mature tree immediately adjacent to the proposed patio and swimming pool. Landscaping is not only mentioned in the designation report for Riverdale as a significant and character-defining feature, but Riverdale is also protected by the Riverdale Special Nature Area District. The LPC rules indicate that the Commission has the authority to “regulate any modification to the landscape of the Riverdale Historic District which involves the installation of any permanent fixture or the construction of any structure or paved area or which would cause the demolition of, or have an impact on, any significant landscape improvement,” which includes “any change which affects or impacts upon a hedge or Mature Tree.” The Zoning Resolution also includes language related to regulation of natural features, including mature trees, so we ask that the Commission both consider its own power to regulate such changes and to notify the City Planning Commission, if necessary.

Architect: Building Studio Architects

LPC Determination: Approved

 

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