March 27, 2012

ITEMS TO BE HEARD FOR DESIGNATION:
Item 1
LP – 2510
BOROUGH OF MANHATTAN
YORKVILLE BANK BUILDING, 1511 Third Avenue

HDC is happy to support the designation of the Yorkville Bank Building as an individual landmark.  The elegant Italian Renaissance Revival-style building is not only a handsome addition to Third Avenue’s streetscape, it is also a reminder of the once largely German and Eastern European neighborhood it served and is named for.  Much of the building’s details has withstood the test of time, and the former bank has proven amenable to adaptive reuse.

Just as the opening of the Second and Third Avenue elevated railroads brought initial urbanization to Yorkville, work on the Second Avenue subway has brought new construction to the area, and development pressure will only increase with the line’s eventual opening.  We thank the Commission for hearing this building in this at-risk, highly meritorious neighborhood and hope to see others, such as the Art Deco Doelger Building at East 84th Street and Third Avenue, in the near future.

Item 2
LP – 2517
BOROUGH OF MANHATTAN
HOTEL MANSFIELD, 12 West 44th Street

On this distinctive block filled with landmarked Clubs and Hotels of the early 20th century/turn of the 20th century, it is surprising that the Hotel Mansfield is not designated already.  HDC is happy to see this issue rectified and support the designation of this Beaux-Arts beauty.  Together, the elegant buildings on West 44th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues form a handsome, if not official, small historic district, that definitely projects a sense of place.

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS APPLICATIONS:
Item 7
CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS
BOROUGH OF MANHATTAN
124278- Block 1120, lot 38-
12 West 68th Street – Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District
A Queen Anne style designed by Edwin C. Georgi and built in 1925. Application is to demolish a 1-story rooftop addition constructed without LPC permits, and alter the façade and construct a new rooftop addition.

The Commission has been through a number of Public Hearings and Meetings regarding the illegal rooftop addition at 12 West 68th going back a couple of years now.   It is important though to separate that illegal work from the present project and weigh the appropriateness of the proposed new rooftop addition on its own merit.

HDC finds the proposed to be too visible over the front elevation.  The new staircase could be repositioned allowing the addition to be moved further back.  Pulling the structure in slightly at the sides could also help reduce the visibility.

Item 2
CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS
BOROUGH OF MANHATTAN
127119- Block 823, lot 10-
45-51 West 21st Street – Ladies’ Mile Historic District
A Beaux-Arts style store and loft building designed by William Ormiston Tait and built in 1902. Application is to install signage.

The Historic Districts Council is the advocate for New York City’s designated historic districts and neighborhoods meriting preservation. Its Public Review Committee monitors proposed changes within historic districts and changes to individual landmarks and has reviewed the application now before the Commission.

While HDC is not opposed to the horizontal signage in this proposal, it should be restricted to a certain width and location, for example, just over the entrance.  Signage that spanned all the way across the storefront, which is nearly the entire length of 45-51 West 21st Street, would be too much.

PROPOSED RULES AMENDMENTS:
Item 1

As a city-wide advocacy organization that reviews every proposal for a Certificate of Appropriateness and attends every public hearing and meeting, HDC understands the need for staff level rules – both for the commission and applicants in the expanding number of historic districts.  We feel strongly, though, that rules need to be as tight and as clear as possible to ensure the right thing is being done.

First off, what buildings would these rules regulate?  At the March 16th presentation, LPC Counsel stated that the rules applied to historic districts and not individual landmarks.  There does not seem to be any indication of this in the existing or proposed rules.  Chapter 2 under which these rules fall is entitled “Alteration of Landmark and Historic District Buildings.”   Does this not include Individual Landmarks?  Other sections on alterations, such as 2-19 “Proposed Construction of Rooftop Additions”, state different rules for individual landmarks and buildings within an historic district.  Section 2-17 “restoration of a building and building façade features” which this proposal would amend, does not presently include any language ruling out individual landmarks, nor do the amendments.  If the intent is to limit this to historic districts, it must be clearly stated.

We are concerned for how the significance of historic fabric is decided.  Earlier designation reports are not as thorough as later ones, and our ideas of what is historic or important evolve as the years go by.  Something now valuable may have been played down or not mentioned in a seemingly otherwise detailed report.  Public Hearings at least give the chance for other information and knowledge to be presented.

The materials, colors and finishes of new infill and all restorations are of major concern.  These important elements are not mentioned at all in paragraphs 1 and 2, only “design”.  Paragraph 3 i-H states “If original or historic piers have been removed, the design must include the reintroduction of piers that recall the location, size, dimensions and details of such piers.”  There is a need to ensure proper materials, finishes and colors especially since this would not fall under any “infill” provisions (framing should also be considered).  Materials (but not colors or finishes) are only mentioned in paragraph 3 i – F which states “If the building was constructed prior to the 20th Century, the material of the new infill must match the historic infill.”

This leads to the question:  What is the special significance of the year 1900?  Why do buildings built after that point not merit the same level of preservation of buildings constructed prior to that year?  The post-1900 groups includes many buildings now nearing their centennials (if not older) and as the years pass that list will only get longer.  With preservation as a long-term goal, something that will continue long after our time here, these storefronts certainly merit the same level of quality and attention as slightly older ones.

HDC is opposed to allowing exterior security gates at staff level.  They are a regrettable intrusion to any neighborhood, particularly an historic district.  Even if the housing is on the interior and the tracks are recessed, the gate itself is down about half the time, greatly changing the streetscape.  Commissioners on March 20th denied the legalization of an exterior roll-down gate.  If such a thing cannot always be approved as a Certificate of Appropriateness, it should not be approved for a staff-level permit.  Instead, requests should be taken on a case-by-case basis that explores alternatives.

The proposed rules make reference to an Appendix A which lists resources for historic drawings, photos and documents.  HDC would like to make sure that it includes the very useful, easily accessible online databases of the New York Public Library, Museum of the City of New York, Brooklyn Historical Society and Brooklyn Public Library.

A Storefront Manual along the lines the excellent Rowhouse Manual with images of successful storefronts and illustrations of different eras, types and styles would also be a worthwhile tool for applicants.

Finally, while discussing this matter, it seems like a good time to reiterate, as we did last year in testifying on staff-level rules changes, the need for posting staff-level permits online as is done with Certificates of Appropriateness.  It is important for neighbors and others to know what has been approved so that they can either be comfortable in the fact that the work going on is legal or be able to report to the LPC any violations which might occur.   In this way, the public can still play an important role in the preservation of our city’s landmarks.

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