Certificate of Appropriateness Testimony

HDC@LPC – December 20, 2011


Item 1
LP – 2202
New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company Building,
360 Third Avenue Avenue, Tax Map Bock 987, Lot 7

HDC is opposed to the significant decrease proposed for the landmarked site of the New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company Building.  A five-foot “buffer zone” seems to be a bare minimum for an individual landmark that deserves more.

The New York and Long Island Stone Company Coignet Building was constructed as a show case for what the manufacturer’s product could do, create a strong, elegant, detailed building at a cost less than real stone.  It is easy to forget that this is the earliest known concrete building in New York City, and one of the earliest in the country, due to the fact it has been primarily covered over with faux brick.  Areas of the west and south façades though are uncovered and the building’s reason for being, concrete, is visible.  While these two walls are certainly secondary to the main façades on Third Avenue and Third Street, they are not plain and instead some of the same detailing including arched windows, quoins and stringcourse are carried over.  The west façade also includes a bay identical in design to the bays on the primary façades.

It is troublesome that after years of planning by Whole Foods, the company is only now dealing with the fact that it owns a designated site and is asking the landmark to bear the brunt of the project.   As shown in renderings, plans and elevations presented to the Brooklyn Community Board 6 Land Use Committee in August, the Coignet Building would be engulfed by new structures, while the other half of the block would be a parking lot.  Obviously there are other arrangements on this block that would be more appropriate for the landmark.  Although buildings were once unfortunately built up against the Coignet Building, probably in the mid-20th century, as their ghosts on the side walls show, they were shorter.  Other factory buildings on the block were described by Brooklyn Daily Eagle in June 1872 as 32 feet tall – about 20 feet shorter than the planned Whole Foods buildings.   The Coignet Building was always allowed to retain its prominence on the block.  HDC urges you to keep the boundaries as they are so that any alterations to the sight are overseen by LPC and sensitively help preserve one of the few landmarks in Gowanus.


Item 6
126463- Block 209, lot 28-
261 Canal Street aka 21-23 Howard Street – SoHo-Cast Iron Extension Historic District
An Italianate style store and loft building built c. 1853-57. Application is to install storefront infill and modify the loading platform.

HDC finds that this proposal will do much to bring this 1850s Italianate style store and loft building closer to its historic appearance.  We encourage the applicant to do a little more though, and replace and restore all of the capitals on both façades as well as create a stronger store cornice on the Howard Street side.  We understand that the fire escape may be an issue, but anything that can be done to work around it would be welcomed.  With all of the other fine work, the missing pieces will be more noticeable.  The historic photos included in the presentation as well as existing historic fabric can serve as good guides for this restorative work.

LPC determination:  no action



Item 9
122485- Block 644, lot 43-
22 Little West 12th Street – Gansevoort Market Historic District
A neo-Georgian stable building designed by John M. Baker, and built in 1908-09. Application is to establish a master plan governing the installation of painted wall signs.

Master plans were created to help bring large buildings closer to their original, cohesive appearance and typically deal with windows, air conditioning installation, and groups of storefronts and their accompanying signage.  Using a master plan for a painted wall sign is an unusual proposal, and one that deserves careful consideration especially considering that, unlike Certificates of Appropriateness, master plans typically do not have expiration dates.  In March of this year, a master plan governing the future installation of painted wall signs was approved for 155 Wooster Street after much debate and with some hesitation on the part of commissioners present.  It was agreed that the permit should be limited to three years as a test case. At the end of the proscribed time, an assessment of the impact of multiple coats of paint could be made.  HDC would also like to add that the types of signage installed over those years should also be reviewed to see if it is truly what the commissioners had in mind.  This Certificate of Appropriateness is set to expires in March 2014.

For something as permanent as a Master Plan for work that will be performed over and over without Commissioner’s input and oversight, the plan should be more conservative than what is typically approved by the commission.  For the convenience of a Master Plan, some design freedom can certainly be sacrificed.  HDC feels that too many colors would be allowed in this proposal.  As it stands now, up to six colors as well as accents and highlights in more colors would be allowed, a diversity that exceeds traditional  painted wall signs.  This wide window of colors and combinations could easily lend itself to more photo realistic advertising.  In fact, some of the images in the proposal, particularly those of the alcohol bottles, look very photo realistic, rather than painterly, and would be inappropriate for any wall sign in an historic district, whether there was a master plan or not.

Seeing as only nine months has passed since 155 Wooster Street’s limited test approval, it seems too early to create another master plan.  If one is to be approved, we ask that the colors be more limited and that it also expire in March 2014 so that the two plans can be reviewed together.

LPC determination:  no action



Item 10
124309- Block 644, lot 43-
22 Little West 12th Street – Gansevoort Market Historic District
A neo-Georgian style stables building designed by John M. Baker and built in 1908-09. Application is to construct a rooftop addition, modify the rear façade, install new storefront, a canopy, and a painted wall sign.

While we are happy to hear that some restorative work is being planned, HDC finds that a number of elements in this proposal are inappropriate for 22 Little West 12th Street, and we asked that it be restudied.

Starting at the base, the large, blank glass storefronts are uninspired, the type of thing that could be found in any mall.  The tax photo shows the Texaco Ideal Auto storefront from which more interesting elements can be drawn such as a tripartite division of bays, transoms, bulkheads and paneled doors with inset windows.

The canopy is inconsistent with the past history of the building.  22 Little West 12th Street was a stable and garage, not a market building.  Unless there is photographic or physical proof that a canopy was once here, one should not be added now.  Additionally, HDC is perplexed by the acrylic fins proposed.  This material and design have no precedents in the historic district.  The Commission does not like acrylic signage on landmarked buildings, and an element made of the material stretching across the façade should be a non-starter.

Finally at the top, HDC finds the proposed rooftop addition to be overdesigned, too large, and too visible to be found appropriate.  Particularly troubling is the way it changes views of the building.  The addition would obliterate the interesting angles of the building from Gansevoort, and from Little West 12th Street the tower feature would be lost.  HDC asks that something smaller and more broken up along the lines of typical rooftop accretions be designed instead.

LPC determination:  no action



Item 14
126398- Block 863, lot 60-
183 Madison  Avenue – Madison Belmont Building, Individual Landmark
A transitional neo-Renaissance/Modern style building designed by Warren & Wetmore with ironwork by Edgar Brandt built in 1924-25. Application is to establish a master plan governing the future installation of storefront infill.

HDC finds this application to be another case of an unnecessary master plan.  These plans are great for large apartment buildings with a hodge podge of windows or a full-block building with a mish-mash of non-historic storefronts.  The object is to ensure that the building will be brought back, even if it’s done slowly, closer to its historic appearance and create more uniformity.  The fine, intact storefronts of the Madison Belmont Building do not fit into this category.  HDC thanks the owners of the Madison Belmont Building for their support in landmarking and compliments them on their fine stewardship.  A master plan follows a building throughout its lifetime though, which means through many owners.  Altering historic fabric on an Individual Landmark should be considered carefully on a case by case basis by the commission to ensure quality of work, not as a master plan.

LPC determination:  no action



Item 16
126325- Block 1013, lot 39-
214 West 42nd Street – New Amsterdam Theater, Individual Landmark
A Beaux-Arts style theater designed by Herts & Tallant and built in 1902-03. Application is to replace internally illuminated signage at the marquee with LED signage and lighting.

The rendering does not seem to reflect what is detailed in the drawings, and HDC wants to ensure that the chaser lights and neon are staying on the marquee of the New Amsterdam Theater as indicated in the section.  Seeing as the rendering failed to interpret these important elements, we doubt that it also reflects what LED signage will truly look like here.  We fear that the pixilated nature of LED’s across such a broad expanse would be a significant change to the marquee.  Lights and signage are key components to this Individual Landmark in the heart of Times Square, a landmark that has no trouble being noticed, and HDC urges that the existing be retained until a presentation that more accurately illustrates the results can be reviewed.

LPC determination:  approved



Item 17
124293- Block 1334, lot 41-
320 East 42nd Street – Tudor City Historic District
A Tudor Revival style apartment hotel built in 1928-29. Application is to establish a master plan governing the future installation of windows and window air conditioner units.

HDC is opposed to this application to install aluminum windows at 320 East 42nd Street.  Elsewhere in Tudor City, similar windows approved by the Commission have been installed and are noticeably thicker and heavier than the historic, steel windows.  A few years ago I was called by an upset resident of 5 Tudor Place regarding the installation of windows that she could not believe LPC had approved.  After reviewing the master plan drawing and measuring the installed windows, we sadly came to the conclusion that the new windows were LPC-approved.  These windows are a key design feature of these Tudor Revival style apartment buildings and hotels, and any replacement, if necessary, should stay truer to the originals.  A master plan is a chance to bring a building closer to a more unified, historic design.  Unfortunately, it is a chance that happens only once, and the decision should be closely considered.

Finally while we prefer this window air conditioning plan to through the wall panels, we are curious as to why the a/c locations are so big.  Over the past year or so, the Commission has encouraged, even required, buildings to look at a/c units specifically designed for casement windows so that there is as little intrusion as possible.  We ask similar study and design go into 320 East 42nd Street.

LPC determination:  no action


Designation Reports:
Landmarks Preservation Commission:  http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/html/forms/reports.shtml

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