February 21, 2018
Hon. Meenakshi Srinivasan, Chair
NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission
The Municipal Building, One Centre Street
New York, NY 10007
Dear Commissioner Srinivasan,
The Historic Districts Council noted the recent news of the demolition of the former Union Carbide Building at 270 Park Avenue with great alarm. The building was designed by Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie de Blois of Skidmore Owings and Merrill and is recognized as a very significant example of mid-century corporate Modernism as practiced by the masters of the form. It is especially remarkable as an acknowledged work by a female architect in the male-dominated field of architectural design. This is one of the buildings which defined New York City as the capital of the 20th Century, strongly situated in the corridors of post-war power. Justin Davidson, architecture critic of New York Magazine, called the building “one of the peaks of modernist architecture” and architectural critic Paul Goldberger referred to it as a “deserving 1960’s landmark….Deserving on architectural grounds, but also for the fact that its primary designer was a woman who never got adequate credit at SOM.”
HDC first suggested this building be considered for landmark status in 2013 and in the official response to our request, then-Director of Research Mary Beth Betts mentioned the building “may merit designation and will be further considered in the context of the criteria for designation contained in the Landmarks Law and the Commission’s overall priorities for the city”. In response to a later enquiry including this building, Director of Special Projects and Strategic Planning Lisa Kersavage wrote on August 30, 2016 that the agency’s determination remains “unchanged”.
The time to weigh in on this building is now. The Historic Districts Council acknowledges that Mayor de Blasio is, at least, vocally in favor of the demolition of this building and that JP Morgan Chase is a major economic player in New York City. We understand that the proposed replacement building on this site is planned to house 15,000 employees, as opposed to the 3,000 people who currently use the existing building. We know that the Landmarks Preservation Commission must hew to the greater municipal vision of this area and that vision is to construct large office towers. These are, however, planning goals and driven by the planning agency.
As you are well aware, the Landmarks Preservation Commission is an independent agency which must follow its own legal mandate. The Historic Districts Council does not desire conflict between city agencies but we feel strongly that the integrity of the Landmarks Law requires a thoughtful, public assessment of the significance of this building with the potential goal of preserving it under the auspices of the Law. The Landmarks Law is the only preservation policing authority which the Landmarks Preservation Commission currently possesses. It is time to invoke that authority to analyze this specific building which has been previously identified as being worthy of consideration. Any action less, no matter how politically desirable, would be an abrogation of the LPC’s responsibility.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.