May 15, 2012

DESIGNATION TESTIMONY

Item 1
LP – 2087
BOROUGH OF QUEENS
BRINCKERHOFF CEMETERY, 60-65 182nd Street

The LPC does not just designate sites for what they are, but sees landmarks for what they could be.  Just as a building can be restored to its former glory, so too could the Brinckerhoff Cemetery, the last link this area of Queens has to its colonial-era past.

While LPC material states that “it is not known whether the site still contains human remains”, there is no reason to think that it does not.  There are no mentions of removals in family histories or articles on the cemetery and no official records of disinterment have been produced.  The complete decomposition of over six dozen bodies is unlikely.  Archaeologists and cemetery experts whom HDC has consulted have agreed that bones and teeth would remain as would casket hardware, jewelry, shoe buckles, buttons or other objects buried with their owners.  Similarly, there is no reason to assume the stones themselves are gone.  Again, there is no documentation or even mention of their removal, and neighbors clearly remember stones until about thirty years ago when then owner reportedly told them he buried the markers to preserve them (not an uncommon practice in the 1980s).

This would not be the first time a cemetery with little or no visible physical reminders was designated a landmark:

- The New York Marble Cemetery, incorporated in 1831 and landmarked in 1969, has no individual headstones, but rather plaques along the walls listing early 19th century vault owners (many of whom are buried elsewhere) and their vault numbers, but not the individual names of those interred.  Located behind a gate and down an alley, it is open typically only once a month.

- 18th-century African Burial Ground is a prominent piece of the African Burial Ground and The Commons Historic District despite the fact that no historic features remained on the surface.

- At the time of its designation, the Richard Cornell Graveyard, another colonial era family plot in Queens, had no standing stones, but they were found in a later excavation.

- A similar family burial ground of the era, the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Woodside has only 15 gravestones, re-erected in 1936 at one end of the property.  Its 1990 designation report notes that “the recent discovery of well-preserved fragments of a gravestone by a volunteer laying out an herb garden near the center of the lot suggest that the grounds have the potential to yield additional historic resources.”

HDC urges the Commission to designate the Brinckerhoff Cemetery.  It is not an empty lot.  The remains of Queens’ first European settlers are there.   Their gravestones are there.  History is there.

Item 2
LP – 2518
BOROUGH OF MANHATTAN
BOWERY BANK OF NEW YORK BUILDING, 124-126 Bowery

It is fitting—and perhaps it was daunting—that architects trained in the McKim, Mead & White firm should be commissioned to design a neighboring building to the landmark McKim, Mead & White-designed Bowery Savings Bank. York & Sawyer’s 1900 design is so close in material, ornament, and refinement, that their Bowery Bank is often mistaken as part of or an addition to the Bowery Savings Bank.

Constructed on a corner occupied since the early nineteenth century by the National Butchers & Drovers’ Bank, the Bowery Bank, founded in the mid nineteenth century at Bowery and Canal, was part of a banking district capitalizing on the booming commercial life of the Bowery throughout the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century. It represents a surprising investment in high-style architecture at a time when the Bowery was already considered well into its era of decline; and when the elevated train still rumbled by, obstructing the view of the façade from the street.

Much of the Bowery Bank’s exterior is now obscured by large awnings; the ornate interior was stripped and subdivided; and some of the most innovative features, such as the vault that could be policed from the street by means of a window on the Grand Street sidewalk, are no longer evident or functional. Nonetheless, this work of institutional Beaux-Arts classicism should be designated as a New York City Landmark, for not only its architectural merits, but also for its contribution to the diverse architectural and cultural heritage of the Bowery.

Few historic buildings in New York can claim to remain as-built, but there are examples, city-wide, of deserving Landmarks designated despite alteration. The context of a Landmark should also be considered. The Bowery, New York’s most architecturally diverse streetscape, is home a number of Landmark-worthy buildings, including one of the most interesting yet fast-disappearing catalogues of Federal and early Greek Revival rowhouses; and an array of well-preserved, late-nineteenth century lofts and lodging houses reflective of the Bowery’s long and remarkable history, most of which remain undesignated and even uncalendared.

In closing, HDC thanks the Landmarks Preservation Commission for its attention to the Bowery Bank. While it is important—and welcome—for LPC to recognize and protect the most obvious landmarks (in this case high-style institutional architecture), we urge you to consider the significance and rarity of architecture reflecting the rich history of industry and the working-class that is fast disappearing from the Bowery. Throughout New York, and on the Bowery in particular, architectural, social and cultural history cannot be told through the monuments alone.

Item 3
LP – 2520
BOROUGH OF THE BRONX
FIREHOUSE, ENGINE COMPANY 83, HOOK & LADDER 29, 618 East 138th Street

Item 4
LP – 2521
BOROUGH OF THE BRONX
FIREHOUSE, ENGINE COMPANY 41, 330 East 150th Street

Item 5
LP – 2522
BOROUGH OF QUEENS
FIREHOUSE, ENGINE COMPANY 305, HOOK & LADDER COMPANY 151, 111-02 – 111-04 Queens Boulevard

The Historic Districts Council is the advocate for New York City’s designated historic districts, landmarks and buildings meriting preservation.

HDC supports the landmarking of these three firehouses.  They stand as handsome reminders of the city’s investment in the wellbeing of its residents.  In particular, Forest Hill’s Engine Company 305, with its distinctive, almost ecclesiastical appearance is wonderfully suited for the notable architecture of the neighborhood that it protects.  Like historic schools and libraries, firehouses continue to be centers of neighborhood character and life, and their preservation serves us all well.

CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS TESTIMONY

Item 15
CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS
BOROUGH OF MANHATTAN
130491- Block 179, lot 51,52-
15 Leonard Street aka 11-13 Leonard Street – TriBeCa West Historic District
An early 20th century commercial style industrial workshop designed by Charles Goldman and built in 1924. Application is to demolish the existing building and to construct a new building.

HDC finds both the size and design of the proposed new construction to be out of keeping with the historic district in general and this block of Leonard Street in particular.

Like much of historic TriBeCa, the neighboring buildings are very formal in their coherent fenestration.  From their bases to the top of the building, the floors stack in a pattern acknowledging one another.  These are handsome, straightforward buildings which can be easily recognized as belonging in TriBeca.  In an unfortunate contrast, the offset panels of the busy fenestration proposed feel too jumbled.  The horizontal divisions of the base with the vertical channel glass of the upper floors further emphasizes the disjointed appearance.

The number of garages at the base are inappropriate for a building of this size in this historic district, not to mention that they would contribute little to the streetscape.  To claim that early-20th century garages are not important to the district’s character and then replace them with a building whose base  is primarily composed of garage doors makes little sense.  The large glass and metal awnings at every bay also bear no resemblance to anything else on the block and seem unnecessary.

As the commissioners often comment, the penthouse of a new building should be designed as part of a new building and not resemble a rooftop addition (in this case it would be one that is too large and too visible.)  The penthouse’s horizontal detailing, like that at the base, leaves little way for it to relate with the verticality of the rest of the building.

Finally, HDC objects to the proposed height.  As others will testify in greater detail, it is taller than the 2009 approved building and considerably taller than other recent LPC approvals for new buildings in the district.

Item 9
CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS
BOROUGH OF MANHATTAN
128517- Block 1410, lot 53-
1067-1071 Lexington Avenue – St. Jean Baptiste, Individual Landmark
An Italian renaissance style church, designed by Nicholas Sirracino and built in 1910. Application is to replace limestone columns at the bell tower.

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.

St. Jean Baptiste’s architectural and cultural importance is evident in its early designation as an individual landmark in 1969.  But one doesn’t need a designation report to know that this monumental church like no other building in the city.  Constructed in 1910 for a French Canadian congregation, its architect Nicholas Sirracino, who studied in Naples, brought a piece of Renaissance Italy to the Upper East Side.

The distinctive twin bell towers are no place for Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete  The towers continue to be “impressive features at the skyline” as the designation report called them.  Whether during the day or when illuminated at night, they call attention to themselves, and rightly so.  GFRC presents serious durability questions.  Only in use since the 1980’s, there is no track record of its longevity.  How will it weather in a few decades, even a century, compared to other materials on the towers?  The limestone here on St. Jean Baptiste has lasted for over a century, as the material has all over New York City.  Without material samples available for review, we also question the ability of GFRC to match the detail of cut stone.

The use of an inferior thin shelled material appears to be driven by the ultimate shape of the reinforcement of the interior steel column.   This seems an inversion of priorities.  Surely the engineering and support of the columns should serve the final architectural goal, not vice versa. This individual landmark deserves better.   HDC suggests that instead new stainless steel ones be installed with limestone.  With shoring and the support of the remaining columns, each one could be removed and replaced in sequence.  The reinforcement proposed would leave steel subject to corrosion in place within the columns, while localized replacement with corrosion resistant steel would not.

If the use of limestone is deemed impossible, surely another, more sympathetic material could be found.  The desire to substitute another material for limestone is not new. To save weight and cost, many early 20th -century buildings have limestone detailing to the sill of the third floor and slip coated terra cotta above that level. Good quality slip coated terra cotta on stainless steel armatures and anchors would also weather well.  In 2010, the Commission approved a plan to replace marble in the mosaic roof of the dome of St. Bartholomew’s with terra cotta.  Similar creativity to find a material that will match the appearance of the original while being more durable should be used if replacement is necessary.

HDC would also like to remind the Commission that St. Jean Baptiste sold air rights in the 1990s allowing for the construction of the 31- story  Siena apartment building on East 76th Street and Third Avenue where the church’s convent once stood.  Under the terms of the 74-79, the proceeds of that sale were put in a preservation endowment to maintain the landmark in perpetuity.  The materials used to replace the columns of the bell towers of this individual landmark should meet the high standards required by that permit. To do otherwise would be a retroactive negation of the original proposal’s preservation purpose.

Item 13
CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS
BOROUGH OF MANHATTAN
126363- Block 145, lot 18-
105-107 Reade Street – TriBeCa South Historic District
An Italianate style store and loft building constructed in 1860-61. Application is to construct a rooftop addition, alter the rear elevation.

While we have no issues with the alterations on the rear elevation, HDC finds the proposed rooftop too aggressive for these 1860’s landmark.  The addition’s size – full width, two- and three-stories tall – is far too much for the five-story store and loft building.  The asymmetrical design recalls none of the order of the handsome building below.  HDC asks that this proposal be restudied to create something that is more sympathetic to its surroundings.

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