Certificate of Appropriateness Testimony

HDC@LPC – Testimony for LPC Hearing on August 15, 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

34-15 83rd Street – Jackson Heights Historic District


An Anglo-American Garden Home style house designed by Pierce L. Kiesewetter and built in 1928-29. Application is to legalize alterations to an areaway and entrance stair, construction of walls and posts, and installation of a fence and security gate without Landmarks Preservation Commission permits.

34-15 83rd Street is one of thirty homes identified in the Jackson Heights historic district designation report as the Plymouth Houses, which the report describes as “characteristic of many similar groups of attached and semi-detached houses built in Jackson Heights during the second half of the 1920s.” The changes that have been made to this building, particularly those involving the fence and security gate, are inappropriate and uncharacteristic of these unique Plymouth Houses. Nothing short of removing these features is acceptable. The point of landmarking a district is to maintain an area’s historic integrity and encourage homeowners of significantly-altered properties such as this to restore their properties to their original conditions, preventing this type of unsympathetic incursion that is found throughout Queens. We ask the Commission to take a firm stand in support of its own regulations requiring property owners in historic districts to seek approval of the LPC prior to working on their building, and to deny the application.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications

Item 2

161-02 Jamaica Avenue – Individual Landmark 


A Beaux-Arts style bank building designed by Hough & Duell, and built in 1897-98. Application is to modify masonry openings, and install storefront infill and signage.

As the Landmarks Commission is aware, it took three separate designation attempts over the course of decades to gain protection for this remarkable building. This is a building which the Commission worked very hard to designate, and it was designated as an individual landmark for its many exemplary architectural qualities. Among these, according to its designation report, is the “imposing, symmetrical, four-story limestone façade” with a rusticated high first floor. Two basement openings, “each crowned by scrolled ornament with foliate decoration,” “contain historic, metal grilles with ornate, scrollwork tracery.” The applicant’s proposed changes to these side bays will diminish many of these features and completely eliminate others. The main entrance “consists of a pair of historic paneled and glazed double doors set within a historic enframement featuring a paneled reveal, fluted engaged columns crowned by Corinthian capitals, and a pair of sidelights with paneled reveals and recessed lower panels. The columns support a frieze,” above which is “a segmental pediment ornamented with egg-and-tongue and acanthus-leaf moldings, and filled with ornament consisting of a central scallop flanked by foliate decoration. A five-paned transom with a group of three central panes separated from the two, narrower, outer panes by baluster-like mullions.” We include this long list of architectural details to emphasize everything that will be lost if this application is approved. It is unacceptable to significantly remove this much historic fabric from this storied façade. Replacing the main entrance’s historic doors and beautiful transom with aluminum glass doors is particularly inappropriate. In short, this proposal obliterates or covers all of the features that make this a designated building, replacing them with the typical fluff so characteristic of our tinhorn, consumerist society, and reducing this grand, historic building to mediocrity.

LPC determination: No action

Item 3

288 Hicks Street – Brooklyn Heights Historic District


An eclectic rowhouse built in 1856. Application is to construct a rooftop addition.

Our committee is concerned that the proposed rooftop addition is too visible and will remain visible given its adjacency to so many two-story buildings. We are surprised to see such an incongruous rooftop addition from such a usually conscientious and responsible design firm.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications

Item 4

54 South Portland Avenue – Fort Greene Historic District


An Italianate style rowhouse built c. 1864. Application is to replace an oriel window.

HDC finds the proposed scope of work unnecessary and inappropriate. This stained-glass oriel is a significant architectural feature and even if it is not original from 1864, is absolutely historic and found on the neighboring house. The nature of this alteration is purely destructive; this application could have been as simple as applying to modify an opening but instead proposes to eliminate a finite commodity. It would be quite simple to create a door opening for porch access from the middle window bay or even create French doors within this opening, leaving the stained glass intact. HDC holds that this is an important architectural feature and this application is a compelling example of why oriel windows, or any Special Window, should not be relegated to staff-level permits and out of view of the public.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications

Item 5

207 MacDonough Street – Stuyvesant Heights Historic District


An Italianate style rowhouse built in 1872- 1873. Application is to legalize the installation of windows without Landmarks Preservation Commission permit(s).

HDC finds this proposal to be completely unacceptable. 207 MacDonough is one of fifteen Italianate brownstones identified in the Stuyvesant Heights Historic District designation report that are “among the earliest in the Historic District.” Its segmental arch, characteristic of Italianate brownstones, is noteworthy enough to receive mention in this early designation report. And its removal would diminish the historic character of this house and row. 207 has a lovely composition that has a flat arch. Windows on this brownstone should follow that line and should be wood or aluminum-clad. There is an easy way to achieve this effect and maintain the historic integrity of this home, and we urge the LPC to instruct the applicant to put this building back to its proper condition.

LPC determination: Approved 

Item 6

38 Decatur Street – Bedford Stuyvesant/Expanded Stuyvesant Heights Historic District


A Renaissance Revival/Romanesque Revival style rowhouse designed by Louis Berger & Co. Architects and built in 1907. Application is to construct a rooftop addition.

38 Decatur is one of five two-story, modest rowhouses, illustrative of the different building heights and typologies in this historic district which also includes detached wood frames, French flats, and grander, higher-style rowhouses. These buildings are modest and distinct in comparison with the grander homes in the district and this is inherent to their character.  To this end, HDC objects to the quite large rooftop addition proposed for this modest home and this is a classic case of an owner buying too small of a house for his or her programmatic endeavors at the cost of the historic building and streetscape. Why wasn’t a larger house chosen for purchase, or, moreover, a house that was not located within an historic district? As shown in the visibility studies, this bulk will be quite visible down the street and mar what is now a crisp and uniform row.

It should be noted that the examples provided of other “tall” buildings in the area are either of buildings of completely different typology such as apartment buildings; or examples of alterations and accretions that occurred prior to LPC’s oversight. There is not one example in this application of a similar treatment to a house this size–or even a taller house–in the district that shows a precedent for this large of a construction project. 

LPC determination: Approved with modifications

Item 7

63-63A Reade Street – TriBeCa South Historic District


A Moderne style commercial building designed by Frederick J. Harwig and built in 1935-36. Application is to legalize alterations to a storefront without Landmarks Preservation Commission permits and to install new storefront infill.

The proposed storefront is a vast improvement from the current configuration and HDC is happy to see this design taking cues from the handsome storefronts that occupy this small building. To that end, it would be much better if the fresh-air-intake louvers were not prominently situated about the entryway, as they are not present on the other storefronts.

LPC determination: Approved 

Item 9

83 Wooster Street – SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District


A neo-Grec style store and loft building designed by J.B. Snook and built in 1876. Application is to install a painted wall sign.

While HDC mourns the loss of any of New York’s few surviving ghost signs, the painted wall sign this applicant is proposing to cover up at 83 Wooster Street is particularly important in telling the story of New York’s industrial heritage. The sign, advertising the cardboard boxes that were once manufactured and sold in this building, is a direct connection to the thriving paper businesses that played a vital role in New York’s economy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Entrepreneurs in New York City lay claim to the first patent for corrugated boxes, as well as the invention of the pre-cut paperboard box, both of which had a major influence on the shipping and receiving of goods throughout the world. HDC objects to this proposal, as covering this sign would obscure this history. If the Commission wishes to approve a sign here, we ask that whatever is put up is removable and will not do any further damage to the underlying artifact.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications

Item 10

413 West 14th Street – Gansevoort Market Historic District


An Arts and Crafts style market building designed by James S. Maher and built in 1914, and altered by William P. Seaver in 1922. Application is to install signage.

HDC appreciates the historic research which clearly displays a precedent for signage in the building’s parapet. The committee asks that the graphic be removed from this area, however, and reserve it simply for text.

LPC determination: Approved 

Item 11

103 East 91st Street – Carnegie Hill Historic District


A rowhouse originally built in 1884-84 and altered in the neo-Georgian style by C. Dale Bradgeley in 1950-51. Application is to construct a rooftop addition.

This application includes no axonometric design, no rendering, and the only sightline studies provided are from directly across the street. Consequently, this presentation is insufficient to make an accurate determination of its appropriateness.

LPC determination: Approved with modifications

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