Certificate of Appropriateness Testimony

HDC@LPC – Testimony for LPC Hearing on September 12, 2017

Item 5
23 West 69th Street – Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District
A Renaissance Revival style rowhouse designed by Gilbert A. Schellenger and built in 1892. Application is to replace windows, construct rooftop and rear yard additions, and alter the rear façade.
HDC opposes this proposal, which is described on the docket as an alteration to a rear façade but is actually an application to construct an entirely new curtain wall. This addition would leave only the façade of the building intact. As proposed, the all-glass mass displays no differentiation between floors and does not salvage any historic material. The proposed replacement with a metal and curtain wall cube certainly does not seem to be in keeping with the character of the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District, and we would like to see examples of where this has been permitted in the district, as we could not determine any.
LPC determination: Approved


Item 8
111 Noble Street – Greenpoint Historic District
A wood frame house, constructed in 1855 and heavily altered in the 20th century. Application is to demolish the existing house and construct a new building.
HDC strongly opposes this application, which seeks to erase 160 years of neighborhood history for one person’s financial gain. This house should be restored to its original historic condition. Fortunately, we have clear evidence of what that original appearance was. This work could be done for a fraction of the expense of building a new building.
In a letter to the Chair of the community board, the applicant states that the changes in the façade “led to 111 Noble Street being a non-contribution building to the Greenpoint historic district.” This is flat-out false. While the terms contributing and non-contributing, as well as style and no-style, appear in other designation reports, they aren’t mentioned a single time in the Greenpoint designation report. In labeling this building non-contributing, MDIM has taken on the role of Landmarks Preservation Commission, deciding for themselves what buildings are and are not worthy of landmark status. Our committee would prefer these decisions be made by the Commission, not by third parties looking to profit off of the destruction of historic buildings.
 An accurate reading of the designation report is helpful, however, in understanding that Noble Street contains “some of the earliest houses erected in the district.” And while this house, which dates back to 1855, is listed as “heavily altered,” similarly altered houses in the district have been restored successfully. 218 Guernsey Street is a perfect example of one such property, a heavily altered historic frame house that has been gracefully restored and returned to its original appearance. 111 Noble sits among other houses on the street that could be similarly restored. The houses on either side of 111 retain a lot of their original detail. It would be a shame to destroy a part of this block with so much historic potential, leaving no chance for historic continuity.
The Greenpoint Historic District Designation Report details the importance of houses such as 111 Noble. According to it, “these early frame structures occupy an important place within the district and in the city. Some were built individually by shipwrights and shipcarpenters connected with the nearby shipyards. Although most have now been resurfaced with modern materials, the original mass, size, scale and window arrangement remain as does the underlying framing which tangibly link them with one of New York’s most romantic eras, the age of graceful wooden ships.” Greenpoint is a rare historic district in that it provides a glimpse at a vernacular neighborhood with houses that weren’t built for the wealthy. They were instead built for people who worked on the docks, for middle class New Yorkers who kept the city running. That’s the beauty of this historic district.
Permitting the demolition of this historic house sets a dangerous precedent for many other buildings in this historic district and districts throughout the city, essentially communication that developers (and in this case, the owner is an appraiser and works in real estate) that landmarked properties can be torn down and replaced with luxury apartments. We urge the Commission not to let Greenpoint, a neighborhood tangibly linked to New York City’s “romantic era” of “graceful wooden ships,” be turned into a neighborhood whose only tangible link is to an era of excessive greed and careless destruction of culture, history, character, and community.
LPC determination: NO ACTION

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