B.F. Goodrich Decision Seen As Politics, Not Preservation

As regular readers may be aware, on November 10th, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to designate the B.F. Goodrich building at 1780 Broadway as an individual New York City landmark but reject the adjacent property, also a B.F. Goodrich Building, at 225 West 57th Street. HDC is greatly disturbed by this decision, as we feel that both properties, which were designed by the same architect at the same time and formerly connected by a car elevator, merit designation based on their historic and architectural significance. Unfortunately, four members of the City Council did not feel the same way and expressed their beliefs in a letter that effectively ended the LPC’s deliberations on the buildings’ merits.

 Earlier this week, The New York Times reported on this decision and got some interesting responses from Landmarks Commissioners. Christopher Moore, a longtime LPC commissioner who voted to reject the designation of 225 West 57th Street said “We’re not going to do this because the City Council has already notified us they’re going to veto it.’ We let the world know. The friction between the commission and its role and the City Council and its role needs to be exposed. My request is we don’t do this again.” Roberta Brandes Gratz, a commissioner who voted against the motion to reject the building, said “Intimidation by the City Council should not have an impact on our votes”.

 It has always been accepted wisdom that without the support of the local council member, successful landmark designation was highly improbable. This was most recently evidenced four years ago when, at the urging of Councilmember David Yassky, the City Council overturned the designation of the Austin, Nichols & Co. warehouse in Williamsburg. Even in that case, however, the integrity of the landmarks designation was upheld – the LPC designated the building and the City Council rejected it.

 The City Council will have the opportunity to weigh in on the designation of 1780 Broadway when the building comes before them in the next few months – they officially have 120 days after LPC action to review, affirm, deny or modify landmarks designations. However, since the chair of the Landmarks Subcommittee, the chair of the Land Use Committee and the Speaker of the City Council have already stated their support for its designation, these future  public hearings already have a certain air of predestination. What we don’t know will happen is whether this scenario will set the pattern for future designations. There are many sites in New York which are worthy of preservation but could also be regarded as obstructions to remunerative redevelopment, especially considering “these troubled economic times”. Austin Nichols was one, B.F. Goodrich was another. These bad decisions cannot be allowed to set a precedent for future actions, and HDC is working diligently to ensure that the integrity of the Landmarks Law is maintained against all threats and undue influences.

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