Certificate of Appropriateness Testimony

[email protected] – Testimony for LPC Public Hearing on August 3, 2021


50-02 39th Avenue, aka Phipps Playground – Sunnyside Gardens Historic District

Queens – Block 129 – Lot 30                          Zoning R4           CD: 2


A quarter acre fenced-in playground with a shed and pavilion. Application is to refurbish the playground.

Architect/Designer: NYC Parks & Recreation

The Historic Districts Council is pleased to see that the Parks Department is moving forward with long-sought improvements to this small plot of land. We are particularly excited to see the retentions and restorations of the two existing historic structures, which seemed like an unattainable goal when renovations of this site were last publicly contemplated. These restorations are a sound and solid basis for a vision for this site’s future use.

Unfortunately, the rest of the plan does not build appropriately upon this foundation. The proposed playground equipment is too big, too colorful and too cluttered. The checkerboard paving patterns are too busy, the jumping water features are too close to the rest room and the overall design is cacophonous and, on the whole, trying to stuff 10 pounds of sand into a 5 pound bag. Historically, this was a reasonably passive space capable of being used for flexible purposes such as eating and children’s free play. The probable designer of the space, Marjorie Sewall Cautley, had a fine eye for such things and this simple design is in line with the nearby play spaces in the Phipps Houses, which were designed by Cautley. Bringing this more into the present, passive use would also seem to align with the community’s wishes, as evidenced by the word cloud of community comments presented on page 8 of the presentation.  A massive jungle gym is not among the items strongly supported. This is a small, open public space in a community known for its open spaces. Please let it take a cue from the shared greens of Sunnyside Gardens and let it breathe and just be.

LANDMARKS COMMISSION: Commissioners were disappointed in the lack of historic plans in the presentation.  Chair Carroll instructed them that the LPC does not typically regulate playground equipment. There was a general consensus that it would be preferable to expand the greenspace being provided. 

Approve with Modifications 6-1 (Commissioner Shamir-Baron voted against). Parks Department were told to explore opportunities to extend the green space beyond what was proposed, including perhaps planting a hedge to simulate historic condition, create green screening areas for adjoining building, investigate different types of paving and restudy the flagpole to make it more of a feature.


291 St. Paul’s Avenue – St. Paul’s Avenue-Stapleton Heights Historic District

Staten Island – Block 517 – Lot 49                 Zoning R3X        CD: 1


A neo-Colonial style freestanding house designed by Otto Loeffler and built in 1917. Application is to construct a rear deck.

Architect/Designer: None Indicated

Reviewing this proposal, the Historic Districts Council finds it inappropriate on a variety of levels. The length of the deck, combined with the topography of the back yard, and the proposed concrete deck make this proposed design a massive structural intervention on the property and remarkably intrusive, even amongst this row of historically-altered rear facades. In addition to the ungainly size and shape of the proposed deck, the proposed material palate of exposed steel columns, chrome railing and grey concrete are more fitting for a retail parking structure than an appendage to an early 20th-century neo-Colonial house. It is not our place to redesign this proposal, but we recommend that its neighbors are more closely examined for possibly appropriate design cues and that the architectural language of the historic district is strongly considered as well. A rear deck could be appropriate here, but not this one.

LANDMARKS COMMISSION:  Commissioners seemed very dissatisfied with this project, commenting that it seemed completely divorced from the historic house, doubting claims of minimal visibility and stating that it did not seem to be designed. However, the decision was: 

Approval with modifications. Applicants were instructed to work with staff to explore visibility – including installing a mock up; study the design of the deck, which should be made from suitable materials and and designed to blend with its neighbors and house; explore lowering or reducing the footprint of the deck to make it more harmonious.


49-51 Chambers Street – Former Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank – Individual and Interior Landmark – African Burial Ground & The Commons Historic District

Manhattan – Block 153 – Lot 7501                Zoning C6-4        CD: 1


A Beaux-Arts style skyscraper and interior banking hall designed by Raymond F. Almirall and built in 1909-12. Application is to amend a proposal approved at the Public Meeting of July 21, 2020 for alterations to the banking hall, to include the installation of partitions, desk and cabinetry.

Architect/Designer: CultureSpaces Digital/IMG

The Historic Districts Council has no objections to this proposed amendment to the previous approved permit for this space as long as all the proposed appurtenances are as potentially movable and removable as they appear in the drawings. We would also like to take this opportunity to again stress the importance of minimally impacting or penetrating the protected historic materials of the interior landmark in all installations.

Approved with modifications to check out the positioning of the lockers


36 Walker Street – Tribeca East Historic District

Manhattan – Block 194 – Lot 14                    Zoning C6-2A     CD: 1


An Italianate style store and loft building built in 1859-60. Application is to construct bulkheads and a pergola, remove steps, replace storefront infill, and install a cornice.

Architect/Designer: The Turrett Collaborative


The Historic Districts Council supports this proposal but asks for some modifications to made in order to raise it to the proper standard of appropriateness. We see from the drawings that the applicant may have chosen to use fiberglass for the storefront cornice to mirror its neighbor, 38 Walker Street, which seems to have done the same. However, we wonder if this material was approved by LPC as, being so close to the street level, it would not seem to fall under the Amended LPC Rules for replacement materials. If so, HDC believes that previous approvals should not always be a standard for future approvals. As the Landmarks Commission is continuously evolving and improving the judgement of its approvals and the availability and cost of appropriate materials has also improved over time, we believe that proposal should be looked at with the highest standards of architectural and historic preservation currently available. Therefore, HDC urges the Landmarks Commission to request using metal on the cornice, as is indicated on slide LPC- 4 in the presentation.  Additionally, the actual storefront design itself seems slightly visually discordant in that the horizontal planes of the door panes and transoms do not fully align. We strongly recommend adjusting the bottom elements of the transoms so that they horizontally align and removing the two over two configuration of the middle door, so that it may better align with the elongated accessible entrance to its left. These small alterations would quiet down the design much to its betterment.

With regard to the rooftop proposal, HDC recommends pushing the pergola back on the rooftop, so that it is not as visible and prominent as it currently appears.

Approved with modifications to work with door details and align data lines of the doors


13 Crosby Street – SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District Extension

Manhattan – Block 233 – Lot 4                       Zoning M1-5B    CD: 2


A Renaissance Revival style store and loft building designed by Charles Abbott French and built in 1901. Application is to enlarge a rooftop bulkhead and extend a chimney.

Architect/Designer: CannonDesign

The Historic Districts Council understands the intent of the application is to satisfy accessibility requirements,  but wonders if the proportions of this proposal are absolutely necessary. These enlargements are extremely visible and are three times the size of what is currently there. We ask the applicant to restudy this issue and modify the scale of the enlargement to the least intrusive height possible.

Landmarks Commission:  Approved with Commissioner Jefferson objecting. 


451-455 Madison Avenue, aka 29 1/2 East 50th Street – Henry Villard Houses (in part) – Individual Landmark

Manhattan – Block 1286 – Lot 21                  Zoning C5-3, C5-2.5 CD: 5


A complex of Italian Renaissance-style townhouses designed by McKim, Meade, and White and built in 1882-85. Application is to establish a restoration master plan for the use of substitute materials.

Architect/Designer: Edge Design+Restore

The Historic Districts Council is concerned about this proposal in that its appropriateness lives or dies in the skill of the craftspeople doing the actual work. This is truly the case of the devil living in the details, as stone replacement and substitution can be seamless or grotesque and the plans are only that: plans. We defer to the perspicacity of Commissioner Devonshire on reviewing the specs for these plans to be adequate and on the expertise of the LPC staff to ensure they are implemented correctly.

HDC would like to take this opportunity to refer to one element of these drawings however, specifically Slide 9 where it is stated “The stone from this [demolish] portion of the building was intended to be salvaged but there are no records of the locations of this stone.” We are now in the unfortunate position of having witnessed more proposals to remove historic materials that shall someday be reused than we can easily count. This was proposed for removal of the black stone panels at the Lever Building earlier this summer, a proposal which is still under consideration. This is no longer believable and should not be considered a viable stratagem by this commission.

Landmarks Commission: No Action.  Long discussion of materials and appropriateness of replacement materials. Commissioners were dissatisfied with choices and recommended further study and investigation. 


118 East 62nd Street – Upper East Side Historic District

Manhattan – Block 1396 – Lot 65                                Zoning R8B         CD: 8


A rowhouse designed by Robert Mook and built in 1869-70 and altered in a late Beaux Arts style by Carrere & Hastings in 1909. Application is to replace areaway ironwork.

Architect/Designer: None indicated

The Historic Districts Council does not object to the installation of a replacement fence on this site, but we’re not certain the details on this one are quite appropriate. We recommend that the curb detail should be realigned and pulled back to fit within the same plane as its neighbors and align with the corner of the stoop of the adjacent property. We further recommend that the details on the iron work be should be more sensitive to this historically reworked façade. Rather than the stark fence proposed, we recommend that some details from the existing Juliet balconies be used as inspiration. It is unclear if they are original to the 1909 façade but they are more in keeping with its design intent. Finally, the proposed height of 5 and a half feet seems more reminiscent of a holding pen than an areaway. We recommend that it be dropped down to more humane height which would indicate a barrier while not walling off the house.

Landmarks Commission: Approved with modifications. Restudy curb material and development fence design that harmonizes with window grilles

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