Certificate of Appropriateness Testimony

HDC@LPC – Testimony for LPC Hearing on March 5, 2019

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 2

206A Bergen Street – Boerum Hill Historic District


An Italianate style rowhouse built c. 1871-1872. Application is to construct rooftop and rear yard additions.

HDC applauds the restoration work taking place at the building’s front façade, but we are given pause by the bulk of the rear addition, which seems excessive for this row of matching brownstones. Whenever applications like this come before the Commission, we typically ask to reduce the height of the rear addition in order to retain the original top floor windows and cornice line to maintain some legibility of the original structure.

LPC Determination: No Action

Item 3

200 Montague Street – Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District


An altered Modern style bank building designed by Philip Birnbaum and built in 1959-60, with two stories added in 1967-68 and a new curtain-wall façade added in 2006. Application is to demolish the building and construct a new building.

As a “style” building in a historic district characterized by an eclectic collection of different scales, styles and eras, HDC objects to the wholesale demolition of this Philip Birnbaum-designed 1960s Modernist commercial building. As Commissioners may recall, this designation was achieved not that long ago and against considerable opposition. Each building chosen to be in the district was done so quite deliberately for its architectural contribution to the district as a part of the story of the area. This building speaks to the district’s commercial development in the post-war urban renewal years, and must be retained in some form. In an ideal world, we would like to see the building’s original curtain-wall restored, re-establishing its relationship to 175 Remsen Street, which was built concurrently by Birnbaum, with a rooftop addition better relating to the former bank building and the district rather than the proposed new building.

As proposed, we find that the replacement building’s design, massing, and scale would have a homogenizing effect on this eclectic district. We particularly object to the use of GFRC above the third floor, which does nothing to alleviate the monotony of the design, and is likely to quickly begin to deteriorate.

LPC Determination: No Action

Item 4

18 Harrison Street – Tribeca West Historic District


A Utilitarian store and loft building, with neo-Grec style elements designed by Detlef Lienau and built in 1885. Application is to construct rooftop and rear yard additions, and replace windows and storefront infill.

The Historic Districts Council agrees that this utilitarian store-and-loft building could sustain a visible rooftop addition, but not this excessively tall Corten steel lump. The incongruous cladding material only accentuates the obtrusiveness of the intervention. We also note that as proposed, this addition will disrupt the visible skyline of a very well-preserved street and have the effect of fore-shortening this building’s handsome façade. We ask the Landmarks Preservation Commission to direct the applicants to reconsider the plan, and return with a less obtrusive addition in less discordant materials.

LPC Determination: Approved with Modifications

Item 7

210 Sixth Avenue – Sullivan-Thompson Historic District


An Art Deco/Art Moderne style apartment building designed by John B. Peterkin and built in 1928. Application is to install storefront infill.

HDC finds this proposal to be a stylistically inappropriate missed opportunity, and the plans need to be rethought to better integrate with the Moderne apartment building above the storefront alterations. The tiny squares of the accordion-fold storefront openings contrast harshly with the vertical alignments of the openings above, and the arrangement of the facades. We also object to the proposed glass doors, as they would detract from the solidity of the base.

LPC Determination: Approved

Item 8

121 Washington Place – Greenwich Village Historic District


A rowhouse built in 1831, and altered in the neo-Georgian style in 1925. Application is to excavate the cellar, modify the back house, and replace windows.

HDC implores the commission to protect the existing configuration of the back house and main houses. As we testified in January against a proposal to demolish a back house at 267 West 11th Street, the contributions of back houses to the cultural life and history of Greenwich Village must be respected.

Like the back house at 267 West 11th Street that housed Abstract Expressionist Joan Mitchell and her husband, publisher Barney Rosset, this property and back house possesses cultural significance beyond its architectural charm. This property was owned by painter and arts patron Clara Davidge, an heiress who hosted cultural luminaries at the turn of the twentieth century in her home. Among the artists she sought to help was poet Edward Arlington Robinson, then at loose ends, drinking heavily, and a decade away from winning the Pulitzer Prize. According to the biography of Robinson by Scott Donaldson (published in 2007 by the Columbia University Press), Davidge built the studio in rear of the building for Robinson, and it was where Robinson composed the poems that made up his book The Town Down the River.

The loss of the stained-glass windows at the rear of the main house and their replacement with a new large boxy opening would damage the character of this lovely rowhouse. Additionally, the removal of decorative brickwork and the replacement of openings with glass doors at the back house is entirely inappropriate.

HDC joins other preservationists in expressing our concern about the newel posts that were original to 121 Washington’s front stoop, and were removed and placed at the back house when the stoop was reconfigured. As they are not visible in the boards made available, we hope they are not gone for good.


LPC Determination: Approved with modifications

Item 9

132 East 71st Street – Upper East Side Historic District


A residence originally built in 1884-85 and redesigned in the neo-Federal style in 1928. Application is to replace windows and modify the rooftop addition.

The Historic Districts Council finds the proposed work at the front facade and roof to be appropriate, but we object to the substantial interventions at the eclectic rear facade that entails the loss of special windows, and will significantly alter the historic character of this building. We ask that the multi-light special windows be retained in place and restored, as well as the charming balconies, if possible.  

LPC Determination: Approved

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