Search results for "historic districts council"

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Historic Preservation

A new study from the Historic Districts Council shows that historic districts are not the enemy of affordable housing
Timed to the 50th anniversary of the New York City Landmarks Law, The New York Landmarks Conservancy, NYU's Furman Center, and Historic Districts Council (HDC) issued independent studies that analyzed the impact of historic preservation on the economy, environment, and housing affordability in New York City. The idea that historic districts drive up housing prices—and drive out poorer residents—is baked into conventional narratives of urban development. This month, the HDC, one of the city's oldest grassroots preservation advocacy organizations, released an analytic report that shows a different side of the story. "The Intersection of Affordable Housing and Historic Districts" uses regression analyses to compare New York City census tracts that overlap with historic districts with census that don't overlap with historic districts. Controlling for borough location and the time a historic district was designated, along with the density of residential units, the study found that, between 1970 and 2010, historic district designation had very little effect on rental prices and the number of rent-burdened families in each district. (There was, however, a correlation in some areas between an increase in average income in some historic districts.) Historic district designation, crucially, didn't prevent the development of government-subsidized housing, nor did designation reduce the number of subsidized units at a rate greater than non-designated areas. A broad survey of the results showed that there may be a negative relationship between rent burden and historic district designation. Significantly, though, a fine-grained regression showed "no statistically significant relationship of rent and income to the concentration (high or low) of residential units in historic district census tracts, or the timing of historic designation." In historic districts, moreover, there was less of a rental housing burden compared to non-historic district census tracts: In historic districts, rental housing burden increased by 8.8 percent, compared to 18.1 percent citywide. In Manhattan and Brooklyn, for the census tracts that didn't overlap with historic districts, the rent burden increase was 9.9 percent (Manhattan) and 20.1 percent (Brooklyn), compared to census tracts that overlap with historic districts (a 4.3 and 10.0 percentage point increase, respectively). The full report can be found here.
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Historic Districts Council Design Awards
Courtesy COOKFOX

The Historic Districts Council, one of New York’s leading historic preservation organizations, has announced the winners of its first annual design awards. The goal of the awards program is to “broaden perceptions of the possibilities of design in historic settings,” according to a statement from the organization. AN served as a media sponsor for the awards, and I served as a juror for the awards along side jury chair James Stewart Polshek; Leo A. Blackman, principal, Leo A. Blackman Architects; Jean Caroon, principal, Good Clancy; Andrew Scott Dolkart, director of the Historic Preservation program at Columbia; and Adam Yarinsky, principal at ARO. Drawing over 70 entries from within the five boroughs, the award winning projects exemplify the power of contemporary design to engage with history and enrich the life of the city.

Award Winners

Historic Front Street at the South Street Seaport (Pictured at top)
COOKFOX Architects

Nic Lehoux
 

Weeksville Heritage Center
Caples Jefferson Architects

David Sundberg / ESTO
 

McCarren Pool and Bathhouse
Marvel Architects

Honorable Mentions

Catherine Tighe
 

48 Bond
Deborah Berke and Partners

Courtesy HDC
 

Corbin Building
Page Ayres Cowley Architects

Christopher Wesnofske
 

Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center
Belmont Freeman Architects

Jimi Billingsley
 

Wythe Hotel
Morris Adjmi Architects

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A Tale of Two NIMBYs

Historic preservation battles in Chicagoland turn to Trumpian tactics
Two controversial community battles in Chicagoland could redefine how historic preservation crusades are fought and won in our overheating national political climate. Both issues highlight how earnest and ethical historic preservation advocacy efforts are being overshadowed by those that are no more than thinly disguised manifestations of NIMBYism supercharged by a culture of divisiveness. In Pullman, originally a planned community outside of Chicago built for Pullman Palace Car Company employees, some residents have banded together to oppose proposed affordable housing for artists over concerns that the construction would destroy an archaeological site: the foundation of ‘Tenement B,’  one of the historic workers' homes. Members of this group, the Pullman National Monument Preservation Society (PNMPS), have gone after public-sector historic preservation entities and the Section 106 regulatory process, arguing the proposed artists' housing will have an ‘adverse effect’ on the site. Pullman became Chicago’s first National Monument in 2015, and it is one of the oldest. At Pullman’s peak, 20,000 factory workers lived and worked under an autocratic system, controlled wholly by the Pullman Palace Car Company, which owned the town's housing, factories, stores, and churches, all planned and designed in the 1880s by architect Solon S. Beman. After workers rioted over wage decreases and the company’s refusal to reduce rents, the Illinois Supreme Court ordered that all non-factory buildings be sold in 1897. Faced with demolition in 1960, the Pullman Civic Organization (PCO) was formed, establishing a foundation for future preservation efforts. By 1973 Pullman had been added to federal, state, and local landmarks lists and the Historic Pullman Foundation was formed, which went on to restore the Hotel Florence and organized the ever-popular house and garden tour. In the summer of 2015, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives (CNI) along with VOA Associates (now part of Stantec) introduced a plan to construct the first new rental housing in Pullman in over 50 years. Artspace Lofts would bring affordable artist housing and studio space to an empty lot on Langley Avenue just south of 111th Street. The new development would join two existing historic tenement houses, with the overall project scope including the restoration of both tenements to federal historic preservation standards. The project's site was once the home of a tenement building, demolished in 1938. A fragment of the original limestone foundation is present, as the site was never redeveloped. Pullman residents generally supported the Artspace Lofts plan. Pullman’s status as a National Historic Landmark meant that the project required a detailed federal and local review, but a small group of residents called foul, claiming that not enough was being done by historic preservation organizations to prevent the new development from being constructed and that the sanctity of the landmark was now at risk. The PNMPS was formed. Among the PNMPS’s original claims is that the Artspace Lofts will destroy the limestone foundation and “the associated artifacts” of the tenement building, the remnants of which PNMPS believes to be an archaeological resource, yet PNMPS has also stated that they would accept a reconstruction of Tenement B using the existing limestone foundation. Unlike the recent discovery of remnants of Mecca Flats underneath the IIT campus, which revealed never-before-seen colors and textures of the long-demolished building, further investigation or preservation of the remnants of Tenement B would not enhance existing knowledge of Pullman. PNMPS has gone after the regulatory processes of the National Park Service, the Illinois State Historic Preservation Office, and the City of Chicago, calling out staff members by name for what they claim to be a botched Section 106 review for the Artspace Lofts. This includes PNMPS's unsubstantiated claim that the Section 106 review did not include African-American groups as any of the forty local consulting parties, with PNMPS playing a game of virtue signaling within the neighborhood that grew the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

WALK OF SHAME The developer, representatives from Stantec (project architect), engineers, and a "consultant" on the Pullman Artspace Lofts project site today. The representative from Stantec wasn't aware of the 153' x 33' ruins of Tenement "B" located on the project site. I spoke with them about the history of Pullman's tenement block houses and the importance of this cultural landscape to the Pullman National Monument. Do these companies really want to be associated with the destruction of a 137 year old ruin of the Town of Pullman located within the boundaries of a National Monument and a National Historic Landmark? Time will tell. Learn more about how this project went so wrong... http://www.gofundme.com/savepullman #SavePullman #PNMPS #PullmanNationalMonument #CulturalHeritagePreservation

A post shared by PNMPS, Pullman Preservation (@pnmps) on

On social media PNMPS has dragged the National Trust for Historic Preservation for supporting the project and has posted photos to Instagram of developers and architects working at the site, presumably to expose their identities. Despite the complex explanation of the National Historic Preservation Act and the Section 106 process posted to its website (as well as this bizarre video, including footage from a South Park episode about gentrification and Donald Trump’s inauguration) and other thinly veiled claims attempting to draw attention away from NIMBYism, quotes by Mark Cassello, the president of PNMPS, to the Chicago Tribune in 2016 distill the organization’s real objective: “Pullman doesn’t need to attract artists, they are already here. Pullman doesn’t need affordable housing.” With CNI and Stantec having received all of the necessary approvals, ground is expected to be broken on the Artspace Lofts this fall. Across town, the Evanston City Council recently moved forward with a plan to allow the Evanston Lighthouse Dunes (ELD), to pay for the demolition of the Harley Clarke Mansion, a local historic landmark on Sheridan Road. While the 1927 Tudor revival mansion, designed by architect Richard Powers, boasts impressive architectural features, Evanstonians remember it as the place where they learned to dance, paint, and draw, and when the building was a lakefront art center. Harley Clarke housed the Evanston Art Center for fifty years, providing people of all incomes with their own opulent lakefront mansion. As the city prepared to close the art center over deferred maintenance costs in 2015, several offers were made to take it off the city's hands, including one that proposed a hotel on the property, and another by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. A committee was formed to study uses for the mansion, and a request for proposals was introduced. Late in 2015, a non-profit volunteer group, Evanston Lakehouse & Gardens (ELHG) formed to restore and repurpose Harley Clarke as a public space, initially working closely with city staff to develop a plan that would work similarly to the lease held by the Evanston Art Center, but would include a stipulation that allowed ELHG to build a capital campaign, as the organization lacked the funds upfront for repairs. The City of Evanston initially approved a lease agreement with ELHG in early spring of 2018, but the plan was redacted at the council level, with the city council claiming that ELHG did not present a sound financial proposal. ELHG counterclaims that the city never allowed them to use pledges as fundraising benchmarks, placing the organization in a difficult position, but one that they worked with the city directly to negotiate. Despite this setback, ELHG continues to advocate for the Harley Clarke Mansion, a contributing property to a National Register of Historic Places landmark district, and a City of Evanston local landmark. In May of 2018, Evanston aldermen introduced a proposal by ELD to pledge $400,000 towards the demolition of the mansion. ELD has justified the demolition as a way to absolve Evanston of the financial burden of deferred maintenance and upkeep, as well as a way to open up the lakefront to the public, restore the natural setting of the beach and dunes, and improve the viewshed of the neighboring Grosse Point Lighthouse. According to ELD, demolition of the mansion would also honor the City of Evanston’s Lakefront Master Plan.  Conveniently, the demolition of Harley Clarke would also ensure that no public or private entity could gain ownership or operation of the mansion, be it a boutique hotel or a public art center. While ELD has not disclosed a list of funders, those that have publicly aligned themselves with the organization live nearby, leading to speculation that the demolition of Harley Clarke might provide ELD members with precious views of the lakefront. Views of Lake Michigan would be a boon to real estate values in a neighborhood where home values hover just below $2 million. This has led to the speculation that the 41 individuals, couples, and one family organization that have provided money to ELD may include city leaders, explaining the ability for a previously unknown organization to get out in front of city government so quickly and so easily. The ELD has recently offered to pay for the full price of demolition and restoration of the dunes and Jens Jensen garden, but has stated that the money will only be available to the City of Evanston for two years. Recently softening their preservation ordinance yet still welding substantial power to prevent new construction in historic districts, the City of Evanston needs only to remove the mansion from their list of local landmarks in order to capitalize on private funds for demolition. This differs from the complex matrix in play to review the proposed Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, which includes consultation with local and federal agencies. Perhaps the cases in both Pullman and in Evanston echo a larger national political trend of Trumpian normalcy now seeping into historic preservation. Attacking long-standing organizations and entities when they come down with a less than ideal determination is becoming acceptable behavior, and the public sector can be increasingly enticed with private money to do things that affect a greater population that lack the funds to influence political decisions. These changes, combined with historic preservation’s tendency to turn a blind eye to any accusation of NIMBYism, whether accurate or not, weaken the field's ability to protect historic resources for the good of our collective culture. As the larger field of architecture works towards a long-overdue reset of abusive practices within it and associated with it, historic preservation, too must take a timely look at how its tactics are implemented, and who will benefit from them.
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Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

Landmarks approves new building around historic movie palace
This week the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) cleared the way for the owner of a historic but dilapidated theater to build a new structure around the interior and replicate its historic features, leaving the aura—but little of the original—in place. The movie theater, RKO Keith’s, is one of the city's only surviving "atmospheric" theaters built in the early 20th century. Abandoned since the mid-1980s, the opulent Churrigueresque structure's interior was landmarked in 1984, though a series of owners did little over time to curtail extensive deterioration inside. Now, a new owner, Xinyuan Real Estate, has hired Pei Cobb Freed & Partners to transform the Flushing, Queens building into 16 stories of offices and apartments. (Last week AN contributor Edward Gunts covered the theater's history and the current development.)
At a Tuesday meeting, the LPC voted unanimously to re-authorize a previously issued Certificate of Appropriateness to build out Pei Cobb Freed's vision and undertake preservation work on the interior. Plans call for retail and an apartment lobby to be built around the 1928 theater's landmarked ticket lobby and grand foyer (the rest of the interior was initially landmarked, but its protections were removed by the Board of Estimate after an appeal by an owner). Significant architectural elements will be conserved, while those too damaged for conservation or missing will be replicated offsite and reinstalled in the theater. Those changes, the LPC said, will be reviewed and permitted at staff level. Pei Cobb Freed is collaborating with New York–based historic preservation firm AYON STUDIO on the project. During the meeting, AYON founding principal Angel Ayón explained how steel trusses will span the landmarked interiors on the east-west and north-south axes to preserve the cavity as construction on the new building gets underway. When the architects have a new envelope, the team will be able to reinstall the plaster, woodwork, and new curtains. Ayón likened the work on the decorative features to the preservation of Times Square's Lyric Theater, which underwent a similar process to remove and conserve ornamental plaster.

The LPC is working with the owner to make sure plaster gets put back in place. The two parties agreed to $10 million bond for storage and periodic inspection of the plaster, though the commission said those details still being hammered out. One major requirement of interior landmarks is that they remain open to the public. Patrick Waldo of preservation advocacy group Historic Districts Council (HDC), as well as Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City, raised concerns about the accessibility of a space that fronts a future (private) apartment lobby. HDC "strongly" suggested the street entrance be re-examined to expose the interior more fully; at the very least, the group recommended strong wayfinding signage to alert the public to the presence of the landmark.

To the knowledge of those in the room, there hasn't been another instance where an interior was preserved but the building around it demolished. Echoing others, Commissioner Frederick Bland summed up the situation as "very strange." With much of the theater's ornamentation slated for replication, “This is one of the strangest, if not the strangest, situation I’ve seen as a commissioner,” he said. “At what point is a landmark lost?"

To get more insight into the theater's place in New York history, Gunts reached out to Anthony Robins, a former senior preservation specialist at the agency who wrote the original designation report, for more on RKO Keith's. Here's what he had to say:

The recent history of the RKO Keith’s—once a mainstay of Flushing—has been dismal. Designed by Thomas Lamb—perhaps New York’s most prolific theater designer—it was planned originally as a vaudeville theater, with movies more or less an afterthought. Lamb designed it as a so-called “atmospheric” theater, attempting to create the illusion that the theater’s customers were seated outside, under the stars, in a picturesque Spanish village. The Spanish-inspired ornament ran throughout the theater into all its major spaces. Located at the major intersection of Main Street and Northern Boulevard, the Keith’s became a very visible institution in the neighborhood.
By 1984, the Keith’s, still in use as a movie theater, was one of only three major “atmospheric” theaters surviving in New York City (the others being the Loew’s Paradise in the Bronx and the Valencia in Queens, both now official landmarks). The Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation of the Keith’s entire interior that year was cut back at the Board of Estimate to include just the grand foyer—apparently because a politically connected developer wanted to include the site in a proposed new shopping mall. That plan evaporated, as did the plans of a subsequent developer, but the Keith’s remained shuttered; for 30 years it has sat vacant, decaying and crumbling, its interiors long since vandalized, even as other grand movie palaces have been lovingly restored. Now comes the ultimate indignity of the proposed demolition of the theater shell, and the grand foyer’s disassembly and reconstruction, all by itself, as an odd relic of a vanished theater from another era. There can be no happy ending for this story.
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As Is Air Right

At long last, City Council approves St. John’s Terminal–Pier 40 development

Yesterday the New York City Council approved a massive Manhattan air right transfer that allows the controversial St. John's Terminal–Pier 40 development to move forward.

The development of St. John's Terminal, which occupies a three-block area along the West Side Highway across from Hudson River Park, is made possible by the transfer of air rights from the park's stewards to the developers, Westbrook Partners and the Atlas Capital Group. The firms will pay the Hudson River Park Trust $100 million for 200,000 square feet of air rights; in return, they can build five buildings to replace the aging terminal. The exchange allows the Trust, which is self-funding, to repair the pier, which hosts a parking garage, much-needed playing fields, and offices. City Councilmember Corey Johnson, whose district includes the project area, has been negotiating the quid-pro-quo for three years. Despite weaker allowances for affordable housing, many elected officials, preservationists, and residents say they already see its benefits. Part of the deal included a bid to designate the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District (also called the South Village Historic District), a 40-block zone in Soho bounded by five other lower Manhattan historic districts. The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved the district two days before the City Council's vote. At that public hearing prior to the LPC's vote, preservationists and South Village citizens testified to the “spirit of the neighborhood”: “safe and clean,” “neighbors know each other,” and its “wonderful lifestyle and cityscape.” Besides protecting the social and cultural history of the neighborhood, the designation of the 160-building area will prevent outsize construction within its mostly low-rise boundaries. Preservation advocacy group the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) spearheaded the decade-plus campaign to landmark a downtown area that includes over 1,250 structures. The two-million-square-foot St. John's project includes 500 units (30 percent of the total) of housing that will be offered to qualifying households at a range of below-market rates, but the rates are not as low they should be under current law. Typically, projects like St. John's Terminal that benefit from upzonings must comply with the city's Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, which says at least 30 percent of a development's units must go to households making 80 percent of the area median income. This time, though, Johnson, Borough President Gale Brewer, and the community board okayed the upzoning because of the millions going to park upgrades. On Thursday, two council members voted no on the plan, with one abstention, to protest its lowered affordability requirements. Despite the size and ambition of the approved development, the community bargained for provisions that try to keep its character. The deal includes a restriction on future air rights transfers from Hudson River Park within Community Board 2, as well as a ban on big box (most stores over 10,000 square feet) and destination retail to prevent an odious amount of traffic.
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Architects, preservationists come out in force against bill that would change historic preservation in New York City
New York City Council members Peter A. Koo and David Greenfield introduced a bill in April 2015 that would radically alter the way the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) considers sites for historic preservation. That measure, Intro 775, was debated yesterday in an epic public hearing that lasted more than six hours.  Intro 775 is a proposed City Council measure to eliminate the LPC's backlog of sites under consideration by instituting time limits on how long a site can stay up for landmark consideration. The bill would impose one-year time limits on individual sites up for landmark status and two year time limits on proposed historic districts. All items that the LPC fails to reach an agreement on would not be eligible for reconsideration for five years. If the bill is passed, the LPC would have 18 months to review their calendar and decide on the status of the 95 items. If the review is not complete in 18 months, these items would be permanently deleted from the calendar. Currently, there are 95 sites under consideration by the LPC (map). Of those sites, 85 percent have been on the LPC's calendar for more than twenty years. The LPC actively solicits public input on how to clear the backlog. Area preservationists and architects overwhelmingly oppose the measure. New York City's five AIA chapters issued a joint statement on the bill: "LPC plays an essential role in ensuring the quality and character of our physical city. The bill, as written, will compromise our City’s seminal Landmarks Law that so greatly contributes to the uniqueness of our urban realm, gives definition to communities, and increases the value of real estate." Other opponents of the bill claim that putting a time cap on the review process would discourage the nomination of controversial or complicated sites. Meenakshi Srinivasan, the LPC's chair, also opposes Intro 775, but is open to internal rules (in lieu of a city law) to expedite the review of sites. After six hours of intense discussion, the Committee on Land Use delayed the proposal until its next meeting on September 25th.
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Letter to the Editor> Health Food and Historic Preservation
[Editor's Note: The following are reader-submitted responses to a pair of articles about the opening of an urban Whole Foods in Gowanus, Brooklyn, “Suburbs Meet City” (AN 03_03.05.2014), and the pending redevelopment of the Coignet Building on the site, “Set in Stone” (AN 03_03.05.2014). Opinions expressed in letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions or sentiments of the newspaper. AN welcomes reader letters, which could appear in our regional print editions. To share your opinion, please email editor@archpaper.com] Thanks for the article (“Suburbs Meet CityAN 03_03.05.2014). About the note at the end referring to the project’s intent—is it possible that what could be a corporate marketing ploy on the front end positively contributes to a vibrant local culture? If consumers keep demanding this type of sensitive response from national corporations, I hope with time this business strategy evolves and matures from just local products and signs that say “Brooklyn” all the way to careful stewardship of a community, i.e. good use of the Coignet Building, etc. Thanks again. Chris Hoal Intern Architect Gresham Smith & Partners Thanks for this very needed article (“Set in Stone” AN 03_03.05.2014). What has happened to this important building is a tragedy, but hopefully it’s turned the corner to its restoration. It’s a shame, however, that the Whole Foods building was allowed to completely abut the building—some thoughtful massing would have made the situation much more bearable. Historic Districts Council
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Brooklyn Skyscraper District Clears Key Council Vote
Despite a very public effort by the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) to stop City Council's landmarks subcommittee from approving Downtown Brooklyn's skyscraper district, the measure passed, paving the way for a full Council vote on February 1.  As the proposed district always had full support of Council Member Stephen Levin and Borough President Marty Markowitz, it wasn't likely that REBNY's shot across the bow would make much of a difference. But it may point to a more assertive stance by the group which has been decrying layers of regulations from Lanmarks and ULURP. REBNY sent out a full color flier that portrayed a dumbstruck cartoon figure looking at bland Court Street edifice with a banner reading "Is this a landmark?" According to the Daily News, it's the first time the group has had done a direct mail campaign in response to landmarking. Just last week REBNY's senior VP Michael Slattery told AN that he found the landmark districts "problematic." With Mayor Michael Bloomberg promising to streamline City Planning's land use applications, and with a regulatory-fatigued industry grumbling a lot louder, REBNY's public stance against Landmarks has all the markings of a campaign.  The group's loud opposition against the 21-block historic districting accompanies a gathering storm of anti-ULURP opinions from high-profile developers like Jonathan Rose who called for an overhaul of the review process at Planning''s Zoning the City conference last November. But as Landmarks trumps zoning on many levels, the campaign, if it can be called that yet, seems to be starting on the ground floor.
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Landmarks Lost

What does the future hold for the leaderless Landmarks Commission?
Though it’s one of the smaller departments in New York City’s large municipal government, the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s impact is as vast as the five boroughs. The regulatory body that identifies and protects the integrity of the city’s most significant structures is an important shaper of its present, future, and the understanding of the past. Yet the LPC finds itself rudderless. On June 1, Commission chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan served her last day, having given public notice six weeks before. Mayor Bill de Blasio has not put forward a replacement–and he only filled the vacant vice-chair position last week. (The job went to Commissioner Fred Bland, a prominent architect accused of having conflicts of interest.) The four years of Srinivasan’s tenure marked a significant break, in both substance and style, from her predecessors. To preservationists, Srinivasan has been the most overt supporter yet of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), one of New York City and State’s most powerful interest groups, and preservationists’ most reliable opponent. Because the next appointee will be chosen by De Blasio, as was Srinivasan, preservationists see little cause for hope that her departure will be any more helpful to the Landmarks cause. Just past the halfway mark between De Blasio’s two terms as mayor, it’s an inflection point for his land use program overall. De Blasio has made his affordable housing plan central to the mayoralty, and observers say that it can seem like other elements of land use fall into place around that, rather than being guided by a holistic urban planning agenda. Another recent political move illustrates the dynamic of influence: a move at the state level to eradicate NYC’s longstanding floor area ratio (FAR) zoning requirements has no support from city representatives, but plenty from upstate legislators who are courted by REBNY for votes. “This mayor seems not to have a personal opinion about preservation,” said Anthony C. Wood, a preservation activist and historian. “It appears he needs REBNY to advance his priorities in affordable housing, so he’s willing to facilitate their priorities when it comes to landmarking.” REBNY tends to oppose landmarking protections as obstacles to new development. Under Srinivasan, Wood said, “The philosophy appears to have been a constrained view of what the Commission can and should do. The strategy seems to have been operationally rewriting the law rather than legislatively.” The ways that Srinivasan’s tenure broke with precedent are many. Based on interviews with LPC staff, commissioners, and preservation advocates, top complaints include: pressure from the chair on staffers to provide certain action recommendations, and on commissioners to vote certain ways; sudden campaigns by the chair to make major overhauls (a rush to clear a decades-long backlog between 2014 and 2015, and a push for rules changes this year are just two examples); moving some business from the portfolio of the Commission to that of the staff, thus removing these items from public deliberation; a lack of interest in maintaining high standards for historically congruous building envelopes and materials; a demoralized and overworked staff with higher-than-normal turnover and open positions that go unfilled, and a commitment to outer-borough landmark designations, even when they come before at the cost of more-deserving Manhattan locations. One such example is the designation of the Coney Island Boardwalk–which is no longer all-wood, nor in its original location–as a feel-good photo-op, while the history-drenched Bowery between Cooper Square and Chatham Square, recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, has been rebuffed by LPC and is being redeveloped day by day. Other sources of preservationist angst include the potential razing of iconic Lower East Side tenements that served as a crucible of American immigration, as well as Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where a historic district desired by residents has not been embraced by the LPC, among many examples. But the Mayor’s office points to a variety of Srinivasan’s actions as meaningful achievements, and anticipates nominating her replacement this summer. Not only did the LPC designate over 3,800 buildings and sites across the five boroughs during her tenure (including 67 individual landmarks, 3 interior landmarks, 1 scenic landmark, and 9 historic districts); it ruled up or down on the many “calendared” properties that had never had hearings; enhanced the consideration of cultural, not just architectural, significance for designations, and created new online databases, such as this website about NYC archaeology, among other initiatives. Asked for specific comment on several questions, REBNY, for its part, supplied a positive review of Srinivasan, who previously chaired the city board that reviews requests from property owners for zoning variances. REBNY President John H. Banks said: "As she did at the Board of Standards and Appeals, Meenakshi effectively balanced competing interests for the public good. She did a terrific job of fairly administering the Landmarks Law, protecting our city's architectural and historic resources, and professionalizing the operations of the agency to benefit all New Yorkers.” Michael Devonshire, a LPC commissioner and the body’s most outspoken preservationist, isn’t so sure. Devonshire has held the unpaid volunteer post since 2010, while working as director of conservation at the architecture and preservation firm Jan Hird Pokorny Associates, and as a teacher at Columbia University. He worries about the Commission’s recent turn toward approving more ahistorical modifications to landmarks. “We have been given a legacy in this city of buildings that are culturally and architecturally significant, and we have the ability to recognize that and designate buildings and districts,” said Devonshire. “My fear is that the incremental loss of the significant sites and buildings results in an aggregate loss for the generations to come. You can’t recreate them.” On its best day, the LPC faces an uphill battle because adding new landmarks and historic districts means continually increasing its own regulatory workload. It remains to be seen whether the Commission can regain its footing under a new chairperson. Advocates say they are not optimistic about a “true preservationist” being appointed under Mayor De Blasio, and they’re wary of naming favorite candidates for fear of jinxing their chances. (REBNY also declined to name a shortlist.) Instead, Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, said it’s not about who, but what. Bankoff says the mayor should instruct the new chair to do three things: “Respect their promises to neighborhoods who want to be landmarked (e.g. Sunset Park). Make preservation an actual part of the municipal planning process (e.g. in Gowanus, East Harlem, the Bronx, etc.). Stop signing away the farm to every plush bottom with a fat wallet.” Soon he’ll find out whether, in De Blasio’s New York, that’s too much to ask. Karen Loew is a writer in New York. She worked at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation from 2013-2015.
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Fricked Out

AN takes a deep dive into Frick Collection expansion plans
After a major, failed expansion attempt a few years ago, the Frick Collection, that venerable Upper East Side museum and library, revealed its latest renovation plans last month. The Frick tapped Selldorf Architects and Beyer Blinder Belle to bump up the landmarked building's footprint by ten percent, while sinking most of the rest of the program underground. Now, a few days before the architects present their ideas to the city's Landmarks commission for approval, more details on the addition and renovation have emerged. When the Frick went public with Selldorf's design in April, reactions were mixed, but mostly positive. The tallest addition will grow two stories from the building’s music room, while an addition adjacent to the library will top out at the same height as that building. The above-ground additions should preserve sightlines into John Russell Page's gated garden, while a below-ground auditorium and galleries will add give the Frick more space for events and shows. A major goal is to improve the flow between rooms, which will be achieved in part by linking the new second floor galleries with the enlarged lobby and the auditorium beneath the garden. That space is badly needed. The institution is mounting more exhibitions and welcoming more visitors than any time in its history, but its building is strained at the seams. The Frick says its galleries are too packed, and the lightless ones below ground are less appealing to visitors. Wheelchair users must take an unglamorous ride in the service elevator to reach the main entrance. Workers in the conservation areas, meanwhile, labor in dark, cramped offices far from the service elevator. And there's nowhere to get coffee—unlike most other museums, the Frick doesn't have a cafe. Before building out below-ground spaces to make way for a 220-seat auditorium, a larger reception hall, and an upper lobby, the Frick plans to document and restore Page's design. The sculptures, reflecting pool, and north wall will be dismantled and rebuilt (the latter with a different design), while the paths will be restored to their dimensions with new gravel. According to the presentation submitted to Manhattan Community Board 8, which held a public meeting on the plans earlier this month, the garden's plants and trees will be "retained to the extent possible or replaced with appropriate species." As part of the Upper East Side Historic District and as an individual landmark, any changes to the Frick have to be approved by the city's Landmarks commission. Carrère and Hastings, the same architects behind New York Public Library's 42nd Street main branch, designed the original, now-landmarked Beaux Arts home for the Frick family in 1914, as well as an attached library in 1924. (That structure was demolished a decade later to make room for a museum and library conversion by John Russell Pope.) These buildings, plus 1977 and 2011 additions by Bayley Van Dyke Poehler and Davis Brody Bond, respectively, comprise the majority of the significant, still-visible work on the site until now. Although the exterior was landmarked in 1973, the interiors not protected. In mid-May, CB8's Landmarks Committee rejected Selldorf's designs (PDF), while the full board of CB8 couldn't come to a consensus on the appropriateness of the expansion when it considered the matter a few days later. Although community board votes are only advisory and non-binding, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) takes their thoughts into account when it makes its decisions on whether to modify a landmark. Overall, most preservationists prefer Selldorf's design to the Davis Brody Bond scheme the museum proposed a few years ago, but there's concern that interior renovations will sacrifice period interiors like Russell Pope's music room for white-box galleries and splashier events spaces. There's also growing concern around the Page garden. Current plans scuttle northern end of the 4,100-square-foot green space, which features trees of different species planted against a wall. Here's what landscape architect Laurie Olin had to say about Page's work in a recent letter to the Frick trustees that was printed by landscape preservationists at The Cultural Landscape Foundation (we've excerpted the letter, below):
I have always liked this garden and admired Page. It is inconceivable to propose to eliminate the northern planting above and beyond the wall that Page used to give an illusion of depth and of a garden beyond it to the north.  The pear trees, wall, planter, and door are key contributing elements of the garden. His famous asymmetrical planting of four trees of different species plays off not just against the rectangular basin but also this uniform layered plane of green that one thinks the door goes into. It’s a thought worthy of Borromini if he’d had a green thumb, and a mark of Page’s genius and subtlety. These elements are not expendable, but the conclusion of a remarkably witty and brilliant solution to a difficult problem, that of a tiny urban space hemmed in by buildings – one that has challenged designers and artists since Roman times. I have on numerous occasions in my teaching graduate students in landscape architecture and garden design over the decades used this as an example of how a skillful designer can overcome the awkward problem of such a small space in a dense urban setting. I urge you to save your Russell Page garden, the whole garden, not just some of it.
In its testimony to the LPC, historic preservation advocacy organization the Historic Districts Council (HDC) suggested the shelf above the north garden wall, now festooned with trees, be maintained to add interest to the library's rear wall. Meanwhile, in a long letter to the LPC chair, Henry Clay Frick's great-granddaughter Martha Frick Symington Sanger wrote expressed disappointment in the "over-the-top architectural expansion that promises to alter the landmarked buildings and severely compromise the historic Russell Page Garden [sic]." For those who want to have their say on the Frick, the LPC is hearing from the museum, the architects, and the public at its May 29 meeting. The hearing begins at 9:30 a.m., and the exact time should be posted on the agency's website today. At meetings with preservationists at the Frick in May, HDC Executive Director Bankoff confirmed that Selldorf Architects principal Annabel Selldorf said the designs were "schematic"—typically, architects seek the LPC's approval when their designs are final. While the Frick has done a "very good job" at community outreach, given the complexity of the proposal, "I would be shocked if the LPC approved this in one hearing," Bankoff said.
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A Landmarked Tenure

Landmarks chair steps down; exclusive interview to come
Chair of New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) Meenakshi Srinivasan is stepping down effective June 1, and tomorrow AN will present an exclusive interview with Srinivasan on what her next steps will be. As first reported by the Times Ledger, Srinivasan will be leaving a position she’s held since her appointment by Mayor de Blasio in July of 2014. “I am honored to have served as chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission for the past four years and to have had the opportunity to serve the city for the past 28 years,” said Srinivasan in a statement. “I am proud of what we have accomplished—promoting equity, diversity, efficiency and transparency in all aspects of LPC’s work, and working with the administration to make preservation a critical part of the city’s planning process. “It’s been an intense, challenging, and incredibly rewarding experience. I’ve been very fortunate to work in three agencies and chair two commissions involved with the city’s land use and built environment, and to have played a role in shaping this incredibly diverse and dynamic city. I would love to do more hands-on project-based work related to land use planning and zoning and will be transitioning to the private sector.” The move comes during a tumultuous time for the LPC, as the commission has been roiled by criticism of a proposed rule change meant to improve efficiency and streamline the approvals process. The changes, discussed further in-depth here, drew charges that they lower the agency’s standards from preservation groups like the Historic Districts Council. AN will follow this announcement with an interview on Friday.
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Easy as LPC?

Here’s what NYC architects need to know about changes to Landmarks rules
This week the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) is holding a public hearing on changes to its rules of operation. Among other modifications, the new rules would allow the agency to move items off its public hearing calendar, a change the LPC says would alleviate pressure on the almost all-volunteer commissioners who meet weekly to debate and vote on new landmarks, as well as changes to historic properties. Many leading preservation groups, however, believe that channeling more items to agency staffers would deprive New Yorkers of the opportunity to meaningfully weigh in on changes to the historic built environment. Right now, select LPC applicants go through a public hearing, a Tuesday meeting at the LPC’s Manhattan office where architects and owners present their plans to the agency's 11 commissioners and to the public. These meetings let stakeholders weigh in on small items like the window replacement scheme for a private home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and on headline-grabbing proposals like the landmark potential of Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s AT&T Building. Discussions on each item can last twenty minutes or one-and-a-half hours, depending on how controversial the item is or if the commissioners debate the owner's request vigorously. Other more minor issues, like small storefront build-outs in a landmarked building or railing replacement on a private home in a historic district, get evaluated by LPC staff and approved behind the scenes. The items in public hearings are seeking a Certificate of Appropriateness, while the items processed by staff are awarded either a Certificate of No Effect or a Permit for Minor Work. The draft of the new rules (PDF) addresses both changes to the public hearing process as well as issues like sidewalk modifications, appropriate materials, and “no style” buildings, to name a few. Together, they cover more nuts-and-bolts preservation issues than can be discussed in a single article, so The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) reached out to preservation leaders to get their take on the key issues the public, especially architects, should watch out for ahead of tomorrow’s hearing on the proposal. Many leading preservation groups are worried that the proposed rules would silence the public’s voice on changes that have a cumulative impact on the city’s historic fabric. Simeon Bankoff, executive director of preservation advocacy group the Historic Districts Council, was concerned about what he sees as a softening of requirements around materials for repairing and replacing historic building components. After six stories on masonry buildings, for example, the new rules would allow owners to use substitute materials like fiberglass in lieu of original stone or terra-cotta when replacing historic building elements. “Rather than lowering the standards—which we felt was being done in many cases in these rules—you want to raise them,” Bankoff said. “People are going to build to whatever standard you give them. If the reward is they don’t have to go through a public hearing, they should be held to the highest standards possible.” Under the new rules, rear yard additions, which can be contentious, would be heard by staff only, provided they met certain requirements. HDC believes that rear-yard addition should go before the public, because neighbors have a right to comment on what is (literally) going on in their backyards. On the plus side, Bankoff said, the proposal includes “nice language” on the collective impact of rooftop and rear yard additions, as well as signage. Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), a leading downtown preservation group, expressed concern that, under the new public hearing rules, more buildings could wind up like Twin Peaks, an unusually proportioned Greenwich Village co-op that that exemplified the neighborhood’s bohemian spirit. The owner got staff approval last year to repaint the structure and its distinctive brown half-timbering beige and dark grey, a move that Berman believes could have been avoided had the public been given a chance to weigh in on the significance of the original contrasting color scheme. He was blunt about the impact of the changes to the public hearing. “The proposed rules are fundamentally anti-democratic, anti-transparency, and anti–public participation. This is the opposite direction the commission should be moving in.” Landmark West! Executive Director Sean Khorsandi echoed GVSHP’s concerns. “The New York City landmarks commission has been trendsetters, nationwide and globally,” he said. “The commission is in a league of its own; people have been looking to it to set the standards. We see these proposed changes as a little bit of a backtrack.” On the Upper West Side, the neighborhood for which Landmark West! advocates, Khorsandi said the new rules would have a substantial impact on current and future landmarks. The  rules would allow alterations to features not mentioned in the designation report, a change that would disproportionately impact earlier designations like The Belnord. The apartment complex’s one-page report doesn’t mention the property’s distinctive vault lights, as the LPC used to require short-and-sweet reports on all items, regardless of their size or importance. This leaves historic features on early designations vulnerable to inappropriate changes or outright removal. To ensure sensitive treatment of protected items, Landmark West! would like to see the agency hire more staff, instead of moving items away from public hearings. Architecture and urbanism advocates at the Municipal Arts Society (MAS) also believe the new rules might unintentionally incentivize removal of these vault lights, among other historic features. Tara Kelly, MAS’s vice president of policy and programs, explained that the group was concerned about the language around “no style” buildings, vague wording that covers structures that are undistinguished or don’t contribute to the look and feel of a historic district. The term originated in the Upper East Side Historic District around three decades ago, but, a “no style” structures of yesteryear might become historically significant years later. Kelly (a former executive director of Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts) cited 966 Lexington Avenue, a simple mixed-use building that wasn’t named in the original historic district, but probably would have been included had the district been designated today. “It takes time to appreciate a new style,” Kelly said. “We want to see the commission take a harder look at those buildings, not make exceptions for them.” To help the public understand all the changes afoot, MAS has released a set of interactive maps for each category of permit to help the public understand what landmarks currently exist and how they’ve been modified over time. Unlike other preservation groups AN consulted, however, MAS conditionally supports the changes that would move items out of the public hearings. “As long as these rules are strong, robust, and thoughtful and take into consideration the recommendations that we have for the rules, and the staff is well-trained and well-supported in their ability to execute the regulation, we don’t have a problem with the staff doing so,” Kelly said. Although the chatter around the changes to the public hearing is loud (especially on preservation Twitter), the new meeting rules would affect relatively few items. A LPC spokesperson said that each year, the vast majority of the approximately 14,000 permit applications are decided by staff, while fewer than 1,000 items get discussed at the public meetings. Right now, the agency has 36 staff members reviewing permits, and they will welcome three new permit-reviewing staffers in fiscal year 2019, which begins in July. Taken together, the number of permit-reviewing staff has increased 44 percent between fiscal years 2013 and 2019.  Even so, the increasing number of permit applications places stress on the commissioners at the public hearing—only LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan is paid for her work. The other ten commissioners take time away from their practices as architects and planners to serve in a volunteer capacity on the commission nearly every week. Of the items that go to public hearing, the LPC contends in its summary of the new rules that agency staff could “approve a variety of work-types that are consistently approved by the Commission utilizing established criteria.” AN spoke with a government insider familiar with the proceedings who confirmed that the changes are intended to save staff time and increase efficiency so LPC staffers can process more applications. Overall, the insider said the intended goal is to make the process easier for homeowners and developers. The rules changes were a long time coming. Beginning in February 2017, the LPC convened multiple meetings with eight leading preservation groups to discuss the agency's ideas. A LPC spokesperson confirmed that representatives from the New York Landmarks Conservancy, MAS, the Brooklyn Heights Association, HDC, Society for the Architecture of the City, Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, Landmarks West!, and GVSHP were shown criteria for specific types of work and asked for input on the criteria. As part of its outreach, agency representatives also met with community boards, members of the public, and other preservation groups, as well as AIA New York (AIANY), Urban Green Council, the NY Bar Association, and REBNY. In addition to those groups, LPC staffers solicited input from window manufactures, expeditors, and preservation architects on the rules. The current draft was released in January of this year. Suzanne Mecs, managing director of AIANY, delivered a statement in support of the rule changes. The organization characterized the public hearings in pursuit of a Certificate of Appropriateness as “a process that can often be expensive, time-consuming, and complicated.” With more items decided on by staff, AIANY believes the public hearing process will improve because, it reasoned, the commission will have more time to focus on “complicated preservation projects with subjective design considerations or innovative technical solutions that do not readily conform to the previously-established criteria of the Commission.” The AIA held a forum on the changes with its members and Srinivasan in early March. For those who want to weigh in on the rules, the meeting begins tomorrow, March 27, at 9:00 a.m. The agenda and more details can be found here. Edward Gunts contributed reporting.