While the big news out of the LPC today was the approval of 980 Madison, there were quite a few noteworthy developments as well, namely the designation of three new landmarks and the calendering of 23 Beekman Place, better known as the Paul Rudolph house, which is the first step in the designation process. Poking fun at her fellow colleagues who had been skeptical of the Norman Foster designed addition at 980 Madison, which had been approved earlier in the day, commissioner Margery Perlmutter quipped, “Sometimes a rooftop addition does become a landmark.” Rudolph’s quixotic construction was completed in 1977, though he would revise it, like much of his work, until his death two decades later.
It sits atop an otherwise typical Upper East Side brownstone built in 1900, and it also happened to be occupied by Catherine Cornell, who bought the rowhouse in the 1920s, just as she was becoming a major star on Broadway. Winking back at Perlmutter, commissioner Pablo Vengoechea remarked that were Rudolph applying for the addition today, there is no way the commission would support it. It was also pointed out that the interiors, once a testing ground for Rudolph’s design ideas, would not be landmark in light of a rather drastic renovation earlier this decade.
As for the new landmarks, they are the former Jarmulowsky Bank building at the corner of Canal Street and Orchard Street, the Ralph and Ann Van Wyck Mead House on Second Avenue near 7th Street, and the Lamartine Place Historic District, a contiguous row of houses on West 29th Street between 8th and 9th avenues. The first is, as the name suggests, the former 12-story headquarters of a Lower East Side bank built in 1911-1912 in the Beaux Arts style out of limestone and brick. It was praised by the commissioners for being a monumental structure in an otherwise low-rise neighborhood, which is perhaps why it is currently on the market for many, many millions of dollars. Perhaps the building was built because someone tried to cash an equally large check at the bank’s former location in 1905.
The Mead House happens to be the world’s oldest halfway house for women, having been bought by the Womens Prisoners Association in 1874, a decade after the townhouses construction. Despite the ominous sounding name, it is this uninterrupted ownership that helped keep the house intact for so long. As commission chair Robert Tierney put it, “The strands of history that flow through this house are amazing.”
Finally, the Lamartine Place Historic District [PDF] protects a row of houses in Chelsea originally developed by William Torrey and Cyrus Mason in the 1840s. In the proceeding years, two of the houses would become important stops on the Underground Railroad, one of which was attacked during the notorious draft riots 1863. Many of the Greek Revival buildings still stand, some even relatively intact, but two were considered so altered, they were removed from the district. “This is an important row and a very important reminder of the draft riots,” Vengoechea said, adding that he hoped this bit of history could somehow be incorporated into the site.