Certificate of Appropriateness Testimony

HDC Testimony for LPC Hearing on May 16, 2017

HDC regularly reviews every public proposal affecting Individual Landmarks and buildings within Historic Districts in New York City, and when needed, we comment on them. Our testimony for the latest items to be presented at the Landmarks Preservation Commission is below.

Item 1

135-29 Northern Boulevard – Interior Landmark 


A Churrigueresque style movie palace interior designed by Thomas Lamb and built in 1928; including the ticket lobby, original ticket booth, grand foyer, ceilings, and fixtures and interior components of these areas. Application is to re-authorize Certificate of Appropriateness 06-1202 for the construction of a new building to enclose the interior landmark, and to disassemble, restore off-site, and reinstall salvaged ornamental plasterwork and woodwork and replicas.

While the Historic Districts Council has no objection to the proposed restoration of what is sadly left of this historic theater, we are very concerned about aspects of this larger project. Principally, our concern is regarding the eventual disposition of this long-fought-over Interior Landmark. As the commissioners are very aware, public accessibility to an interior landmark is a key characteristic of its designation, which only stands to reason as an inaccessible interior would be hard put to serve a public purpose. Historically, this consideration has prevented the Landmarks Commission from acting to designate private apartment lobbies as they are not “customarily open and accessible to the public or to which the public is customarily invited.” Unlike lobbies for office buildings or publicly-oriented spaces such as restaurants, theaters and bank lobbies, people are not permitted into the lobby of a residential building except at the invitation of a resident. Quite recently, this LPC chose not to act on the designation of the Osborne Apartments partially for this reason. The transformation of this theater lobby into a residential lobby must therefore be carefully examined with regard to its program, so that the essential nature of its designation as an interior landmark and public good remains intact.

From a physical design perspective, the glass antechamber with its idiosyncratic sloped roof separates the lobby from the street, visually as well as physically. Understanding the complexity of the regulatory web surrounding this building project, HDC nonetheless strongly suggests that specific aspect of the design, the interface between the street and landmark lobby be reexamined in order to facilitate greater public access to and awareness of the wonders which lie behind the doors. At the absolute, very least, appropriate and visible wayfinding and informational signage delineating hours of public accessibility must be posted where the public will see it.

This brings us to the next point; the programming of public accessibility to the designated space. While it might be beyond scope for the LPC to publicly deliberate on negotiations with the owners, it is imperative in this case that the Landmarks Commissioners ensure that the public will be able to regularly visit and experience this fantastic landmark, especially considering all the fine work which this team is putting into restoring it. More than any other interior landmark we can think of, the tortured history of the RKO Keith’s demonstrates the importance of binding public protections. This is a site which has been abused, neglected and passed from owner to owner like an albatross. We do not mean to judge the current owner by the misdeeds of previous ones, but the history of this site makes us very concerned about the future of the site when it inevitably changes hands and new management entities become responsible for this fragile landmark. There are two historic spaces – the ticket lobby and the grand foyer – which still exist, thanks to the Landmarks Law, and which this team is putting a great deal of work into restoring and recreating. They must both be open and accessible to the public in order for the Landmarks Law to be truly served. If there are concerns about security, they could possibly be answered with measures incorporated within the non-historic elevators, such as keypad security codes or key cards. The permittance of regular “open hours for the public” for the Grand Foyer which are publicly posted and supervised by building staff would be another, non-intrusive remedy for this concern. This could take a form of regulation analogous to how “privately-owned public spaces” are supposed to be regulated.

HDC urges the Landmarks Commissioners to legally insist on regular public accessibility to both these spaces before granting any other permits. 

LPC determination: Approved 

Item 2

316 Grosvenor Street – Douglaston Historic District


An Arts and Crafts style house with Colonial Revival details designed by Edward A. Maclean and built in 1910. Application is to construct an addition and retaining walls and perform excavation.

The Historic Districts Council finds the proposed addition to be inappropriate. This Arts and Crafts style house has a simple, vernacular layout which appears to have remained unchanged for over a century. The sheer bulk of this addition destroys the character of this historic house. A small setback addition to expand the size of the bedroom and family room might be appropriate, but that is not what is being proposed here. This application seeks to nearly double the size of the house, and would disrupt the house’s symmetrical massing, central dormer, and two lovely bays.

Additionally, freestanding garages are a signature feature of the neighborhood whereas underground, in-house parking garages, while they do appear in the district, diminish the role of the house in its landscape, which is also a defining characteristic of the district.

We’ve seen excellent examples of sensitive additions to houses in Douglaston. This is not one of them.

LPC determination: No action 

Item 4

235 Lincoln Place – Park Slope Historic District


A Neo-Federal style apartment building designed by Charles Kreymborg and built in 1937. Application is to replace windows.

HDC questions the change in operation from an elegant arrangement of windows that open side by side to windows that run in the same direction but open right into the fire escape. Our committee would also strongly recommend the applicants replace the windows with thermally-broken rolled steel windows, which are readily available and have a much more slender profile than the windows currently proposed.

LPC determination: Approved 

Item 5

456 East 18th Street – Ditmas Park Historic District


A Colonial Revival style house designed by Arlington D. Isham and built in 1905. Application is to replace the entrance stairs.

HDC does not support this application. The bluestone being proposed here, which is quite lovely, is an inappropriately fancy material for the lovely, informal nature of this house. An ideal historic restoration would return this stoop to its original wood, although a simplified brick stoop would be acceptable as well.

LPC determination: Approved 

Item 6

77 Washington Place – Greenwich Village Historic District


A Greek Revival style townhouse built in 1844, and altered in 1917. Application is to construct rear yard and rooftop additions; modify masonry openings at the rear facades; and replace skylights and install railings at the roof.

HDC has no objection to the proposed modifications to the back house and the removal of the glass block infill on the rear of the main building. We would, however, ask that the rooftop mechanicals for the HVAC units be made less visible if possible, and that the upper portion of the rear façade which is not being covered by the elevator be retained and restored. This rear elevation is an interesting and visible layer of century-old history with windows, sidelights, and balconies which add historic character and complexity to a very old house.

LPC determination: Approved 

Item 7

225 Fifth Avenue – Madison Square North Historic District


A Beaux-Arts style store, loft, and offices building designed by Francis H. Kimball and Harry E. Donnell, and built in 1906-07.  Application is to install sidewalk planters

HDC does not support this application. As many New Yorkers will know, pedestrian space on this busy stretch of Fifth Avenue is already a rare commodity. The proposed sidewalk planters add unnecessary clutter to a sidewalk that is crowded enough as is with hot dog carts, phone booths, parking meters, and a mailbox. In effect, the planters create a wall and a barrier in a place where space is at a premium and where pedestrianism and foot traffic should be encouraged, not deterred.  Finally, the reasoning behind these large planters eludes us, as there is a magnificent green space, one of the few in lower Midtown, directly across the street from this building.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications

Item 8

420 Lexington Avenue – Individual Landmark 


An Art Deco and Byzantine style office building designed by Sloan & Robertson and built in 1925-27. Application is to alter the façade and install signage.

HDC finds the changes to the historic Graybar Building proposed in this application to be inappropriate. Façade changes made prior to designation should not be a defacto guide to permitted work, especially when one considers that this building has been a landmark for less than a year. This application proposes to remove historic fabric for a transitory use in order to create a visual symmetry which erodes the monumentality of this building. It is important to consider that this building lies at the focal point of an important view corridor on 44th Street westward towards Grand Central. A far less intrusive solution, if a needless symmetry is desired, would be to affix the sign band to the stone such that it could be removed at some later date with far less impact on the historic material. 

LPC determination: Approved 

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