Post-Industrial Preservation

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Noho’s cast-iron cachet has drawn contextual new construction. At far left, 40 Bond by Herzog & de Meuron. At center, 48 Bond by Deborah Berke.
Matt Chaban

Manhattan’s all-but-vanished industrial history was front and center yesterday when the Landmarks Preservation Commission considered two former manufacturing neighborhoods for landmark designation. Though they share a soot-stained past, the two neighborhoods in question—Noho and West Chelsea—fared quite differently at the commission, due largely to their wildly divergent architectural trajectories in the last few years.

Much of Noho, of course, is already a historic district, which was designated in 2000 and expanded in 2003. Today’s action sought to further enlarge the district to fill a gap [.PDF] between East 4th Street, the Bowery, Great Jones Alley, and Lafayette Street. The commission voted unanimously to approve the designation, following a public hearing on March 18.

It was a different story for West Chelsea, which had its first-ever hearing before the commission, with preservationists facing off against developers and their representatives, who turned out to question the historical value of the area under consideration.

The proposed district covers [.PDF] 30 buildings between West 28th Street and West 25th Street, and between the West Side Highway and Tenth Avenue. At the heart of the district is the individually landmarked Starrett Lehigh Building.

This tale of two landmark designations hinges on local development trends. One need look no further than Bond Street and the High Line to see how. In Noho, at 25, 40, and 48 Bond Street, three marquee architects have all built high-profile luxury condo projects, all of which are surprisingly contextual considering that they did not have to go before the commission.

Chalk it up to Noho’s tighter zoning rules. But also credit the cachet of the surrounding cast-iron architecture, which a number of projects in the area embrace not only in their designs but also in their marketing. While landmark status for the area might have blunted these buildings, it would not have been by much.

Chelsea, on the other hand, has seen a flood of disparate, often dynamic new projects, many of which could be called landmarks in their own right—think Jean Nouvel, Annabelle Selldorf, Neil Denari, Shigeru Ban, and Polshek Partnership, to name but a few. The announcement of the High Line park and a rezoning that followed it led to this burst of development, and preservationists have so far framed the proposed district as a corrective.

While the majority of this development has taken place to the south and east of the proposed district, the developers and their representatives who spoke before the commission argued that to landmark the area might put a cap on its architectural renaissance. This, they said, is because the area lacked the cohesion and historic value of a more unified neighborhood. A neighborhood like, say, Noho.

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