Posts tagged with "LPC":

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Landmarks approves partial demolition of Lower East Side synagogue destroyed by fire

Update 7/12/17: The article was updated to clarify the resolution the commissioners voted on yesterday afternoon. On Tuesday the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) debated how to preserve a Manhattan synagogue gutted by fire earlier this year. Instead of approving the owner's request to demolish the building entirely, the commission agreed that important parts of the structure should be salvaged, where possible. The building in question is the Beth Hamerdash Hagodol, at 60 Norfolk Street on the Lower East Side. The modified Gothic Revival–style structure was built in 1850 as a Baptist church and converted to a synagogue in 1885. Home to a Russian Jewish Orthodox congregation for more than a century but vacant since 2007, it was one of the first structures added to New York’s landmark list, in 1967. In May, the building was destroyed by a blaze that was later characterized as arson; it's missing its roof and most of the interior is filled with rubble. Given the extensive damage, the hearing focused on whether the building has enough integrity to remain an individual landmark, and if so, how its structure should be preserved. In testimony to the commission, Bryan Chester, an engineer from Howard L. Zimmerman Architects, detailed the shul's precarious structural integrity. The wooden roof trusses are "beyond repair," while the masonry bearing walls are unstable and severely deteriorated. Of the two towers that flanked the main (west) entrance, the northern one is in bad shape, but the south and east facades, though unstable, are in slightly better condition. The building had no fire insurance, and the extent of the damages put restoration out of the question—any materials above the window sills would probably be unsalvageable, Chester said. On the whole, those who testified before the commission advocated against demolition and for preservation in some form. Simeon Bankoff, executive director of preservation group Historic Districts Council, said the group "strenuously objects" to demolition, while noting that the owner's negligence over the years shouldn't be rewarded with a tear-down. The synagogue is on a prime lot on the Lower East Side, a district that by some measures is one of Manhattan's most gentrified. Speaking for Friends of the Lower East Side, a group that preserves the architectural and cultural heritage of the neighborhood, Joyce Mendelsohn said the group was in "total opposition" to demolition. Andrea Goldman of the New York Landmarks Conservancy agreed, noting that years before the fire, the preservation advocacy group had worked with the congregation to come up with an action plan for the building, which was in poor repair. (Right before the blaze, the synagogue had almost reached a deal with the Chinese American Planning Council, a nonprofit that owns two neighboring sites, to restore the building and erect affordable housing.) Considering the state of the structure, demolition seemed a done deal, but the LPC commissioners were hesitant to okay the applicant's request in light of the building's cultural significance. Scaffolding surrounds the ruins; right now, there's little danger the remaining structure could topple, but Chester said that in a few more months the situation could be more dangerous. So what could be salvaged, and how should the building's heritage honored? Landmarks hired engineers at Superstructures to independently evaluate the site. The firm concurred with the Zimmerman team that the south and east facades, though unstable, were repairable. The demolition team would deploy tall machines to take the synagogue apart from the top down, a process Chester likened to dinosaurs chomping on trees. But commissioners had questions: What if the crew destroys more of the remains than necessary? What if the building could be preserved and appreciated like Roman or Mayan ruins, or the Carmo Convent in Lisbon? "I'm unconvinced of the absolute necessity for demolition," said Commissioner Michael Devonshire, even when taking into account the building's unstable walls. Fellow Commissioner Frederick Bland added that the group needed to "see what's left and re-assess" after the structure has been stabilized. At the meeting, the commissioners decided to preserve, where feasible, the building's most important elements, but did not vote up/down on the owner's demolition bid. Instead, LPC general council Mark Silberman was asked to draft a resolution on the project that modified the owner's request. The resolution states that parts of the building need to be removed for safety reasons, especially around the north, south, and west facades, while retaining as much material as possible, with significant architectural features salvaged. The whole process will be overseen on-site by the LPC's engineers. It was approved yesterday afternoon. Edward Gunts contributed reporting.
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What is happening to these landmarked fences in a Harlem park?

The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) this week approved a Parks Department plan to renovate a historic park, but proposed replacement of tall art moderne fencing with a shorter new fence—in keeping with an initiative to make parks more welcoming—was vigorously debated by commissioners and members of the public. At Tuesday's hearing, the Parks Department presented an expansive proposal to spruce up Jackie Robinson Park in West Harlem. The 13-acre greensward, once called Colonial Park, hugs Bradhurst and Edgecombe avenues between West 145th Street and West 153rd streets. Its rolling hills host a swimming pool and bathhouse at its southern end, one of the city's 11 WPA-era pool complexes and the only one built in a minority neighborhood. Designed by Aymar Embury II and Henry Ahrens, architects who worked under then-Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, the Jackie Robinson Play Center, built between 1935 and 1937, is art moderne through-and-through, with its simple brick massing anticipating the work of Louis Kahn. The pool and park perimeter are encircled by fencing; the most distinctive barriers are thin steel posts set between brick piers that match the bathhouse facade. The Parks Department would like to replace those landmarked fences with shorter ones, in keeping with Parks Without Borders, a new program to make parks more open and visually appealing. That program launched in 2015 with eight parks in the five boroughs selected for improvement the following year: Communities nominated parks for facelifts that could include lowering tall perimeter fences or removing them entirely, opening up narrow entrances, and building curb appeal in park-adjacent spaces. At various points in her presentation to Landmarks, a Parks Department representative called the entrances "unwelcoming" and referred to the fences as "giant," "heavy," "fortress-like," and "harsh," but acknowledged that the piers' brickwork matches the bathhouse. The Parks Department wants to remove the eight-foot-high perimeter fence at the southern border, which is bent and broken in places, and replace it with a four-foot-high barrier whose decorative elements borrow from fences elsewhere in the park of an earlier vintage. The agency also raised the possibility, based on its own research, that the southern fences were added at a later date (though the LPC designation report ties their to the construction of the pool and bathhouse). This project would come out of the almost $5 million in capital funds the city has allocated to carry out planned repairs, but that funding is not yet secured. Manhattan Community Board 1o reviewed the plans and supports the proposed changes. The fences were the subject of intense debate at the hearing, with members of the public and some commissioners voicing concern that the proposed fencing just doesn't harmonize with the surroundings. "This would be like replacing moderne windows with Victorian windows in an art deco building," said Patrick Waldo, reading a statement from preservation group Historic Districts Council (HDC). Reducing the height of the piers without reducing their width, HDC argued, would look strange and not dialogue appropriately with the monumentality of the pool complex. The group's statement noted that the wrought iron fence, which borrows from another park fence of a different era, is "stylistically inappropriate," adding that the complex is akin to a total development like Rockefeller Center; changing the details by stretching or shrinking them would compromise the overall design. In his testimony, landscape architect and preservation consultant Michael Gotkin called the fence replacement an "empty gesture." Gotkin, a longtime resident of the Upper West Side and West Harlem, believes that instead of the Parks Department addressing issues like inequality and disinvestment that prevent access to parks, the fences are being lowered for symbolic reasons. By the same logic, his testimony doubted whether the agency would lower Central Park's imposing Vanderbilt Gate or the tall wrought iron fence around the East Village's Stuyvesant Square. "We deserve as much preservation as rich neighborhoods," he said. After the hearing, historian and Harlem resident Michael Henry Adams highlighted a subtext to the planned changes in a historically black and rapidly gentrifying neighborhood where the median annual income hovers around $36,000. "It's just nutty to be talking about these airy-fairy things of making the park more welcoming for affluent white people when to do that, you are diminishing and altering an individual landmark. I think that's wrong." Adams has chronicled Harlem in two books and to works to preserve its history with Save Harlem Now!, a group he co-founded. The Landmarks commissioners, too, had conflicting perspectives on the fence replacement plan. Like every other commissioner, Adi Shamir-Baron favored the removal of chain link fences but called the removal of the larger piers a "strange thing to do." Formally, they dialogue with the monumentality of the building, but for her raised larger questions about their contemporary perception. "There's another discussion here: our new understanding of the heroic language of public work. We are uncomfortable with it. The tension around that is important to think about: What means what to whom?" Commissioner Diane Chapin noted that ideas around how the perimeters of parks should look are always in flux, she was not convinced on the appropriateness of a more ornate fence. Her colleague Michael Goldblum asked if there were other options: Could the piers stay and the fences be lowered? Lower most of the pillars but leave the ones near the entrance intact? "It's within preservation ideology and philosophy to make some changes along the perimeter and not be [a] slave to every possible historic aspect," said LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan, a statement with which Commissioner Frederick Bland agreed. Sybil Young, a Parks preservationist, requested approval from the Commission in light of the fact the project's funding remained undecided. Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan assented and the commission agreed it could approve the work, among other requested changes. If and when the Parks Department has the capital funding for the new fences, it can go back to the LPC for discussion. An LPC spokesperson said that if there is significant new information the commission may hold an additional public meeting. A Parks Department spokesperson said that right now, except for work at the two southern entrances, the agency does not have funding or LPC approval for a new southern border fence or money to reduce the height of the piers. The agency is not actively seeking funding for the southern border portion of the project.
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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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Historic Queens movie palace threatened with demolition

A 1928 vaudeville and movie palace in Queens by architect Thomas Lamb would be substantially demolished and replaced with a 269-unit residential tower designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, under a plan that New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) will consider Tuesday. RKO Keith’s Flushing Theater at 135-29 Northern Boulevard in Queens is the building that would be replaced by a residential tower. Along with the Valencia, in Jamaica, Queens, the RKO Keith’s appears to be one of two surviving "atmospheric" theaters of note still standing in New York in good condition, according to architectural historians. Originally seating 2,974 but closed since 1986, it featured marble staircases, an indoor fountain, gilded plasterwork and chandeliers in the auditorium, and a vaulted blue ceiling with lights that simulated stars. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The owner and developer of the Queens property is Xinyuan Real Estate, a Chinese firm that bought it last year for $66 million. Xinyuan is seeking to raze the bulk of the theater to make way for its project. The plan requires approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission because the city has designated part of theater an interior landmark, and that means it can’t be altered without approval from the preservation panel. The theater as a whole was landmarked in 1984, as the best one of only two surviving movie palace atmospheric theaters in New York City, based in large part on the preserved condition of its auditorium and the reversible nature of its division into a three-screen cinema. That designation was later amended by the city's Board of Estimates to remove the auditorium and the majority of the theater, leaving landmark protection for the ticket lobby, original ticket booth, grand foyer, ceilings, and fixtures and interior components of these areas. The LPC issued a permit in 2005, extended to late 2017, to demolish all but the designated sections. After the transfer of ownership in 2016, with a new architect attached, the LPC has an opportunity to review an expiring Commission decision from 2005, when Queens was not as vibrant as it is today, and when the city approved substantial demolition of an exceedingly rare New York-specific community-centered building type in order to spur residential development in the area. Xinyuan, based in Beijing, is the latest in a series of owners who have attempted to redevelop the property. The developer has proposed to temporarily remove and restore plasterwork and other ornamental features from the protected section of the theater, while work on the residential tower is underway. It would then reinstall the plaster pieces as part of the replacement structure. The reinstalled sections would presumably provide a reminder of the larger theater that previously occupied the site and help attract residents. According to documents on file with the city, the developer’s application is to re-authorize a Certificate of Appropriateness for the construction of a new building to enclose the interior landmark, and to “disassemble, restore off site, and reinstall salvaged ornamental plasterwork and woodwork and replicas.” Ayon Studio is listed in the application as coordinating the preservation-related aspects of the lobby rehabilitation. Drawings on file with the city indicate that the Pei Cobb Freed tower would be 16 stories tall and glass-clad. It would be H-shaped in plan, with walls and balconies facing Northern Boulevard and other streets at a slight angle. The ground level would contain commercial space, and underground parking would be provided for about 300 cars. The exterior would show no trace of the Thomas Lamb theater currently on the site. Atmospheric theaters closely followed the designs of planetariums and were first designed by Austrian-born theater architect John Eberson in 1923. The first was the now-demolished Majestic Theater in Houston (1923), where the auditorium ceiling simulated the night skies, with hidden machinery that projected "clouds" moving across the plaster ceiling, painted deep blue with star-like electric lights, with walls often built up in stages for the effect of garden follies. Reproduced around the country in a variety of architectural styles, these theaters recognizably featured an open, lit evening sky with stars and clouds, and walls built up, symmetrically, as stage sets suggesting a foreign setting. Eberson wrote that, "We visualize and dream a magnificent amphitheater, an Italian garden, a Persian Court, a Spanish patio, or a mystic Egyptian templeyard, all canopied by a soft moonlit sky." Although Eberson was the originator of this type, Lamb, already the most prolific movie palace architect, became well associated with this type of movie palace, especially in New York. A survey of the country's movie palaces cites 27 major New York examples. Seven of these were designed as "atmospherics" out of 34 listed from across the country: the RKO Keith's, the now-demolished Triboro in Astoria, Queens, the Valencia in Jamaica, Queens, the now-demolished Loew's 72nd Street (in Manhattan), Pitkin in Brownsville, Brooklyn (now retail), the Paradise in the Bronx (now a church), and the Brooklyn Paramount (now a school gymnasium). In its heyday, the RKO Keith’s attracted performers such as Judy Garland, Mae West, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and the Marx Brothers. Xinyuan's application notes that precedents for temporary removal and installation of ornamental plasterwork include the Lyric, Apollo, Selwyn (also known as the American Airlines and the Roundabout), and Eltinge (also known as the Empire and AMC 25) theaters in Times Square. Other Xinyuan projects include The Oosten in Williamsburg and a 100-unit development in Hell’s Kitchen. JK Equities was the seller of the RKO Keith’s. The hearing on the theater is scheduled to start around 9:30 a.m. at 1 Centre Street, ninth floor.  If the project is approved, according to the application, the developers would remove the ornamental plasterwork and other protected material this spring and start tearing down the surrounding structure in the fall. Their schedule calls for construction of the residential tower to begin in the spring of 2018 and be complete by the spring of 2020. For more details on the hearing, see the LPC's web page here.
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Landmarks cites nonexistent permits for iconic Citicorp Center plaza

Last month the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) sidestepped a crucial discussion of a developer's plans to overhaul a plaza at the Citicorp Center (now 601 Lexington Avenue), citing permits that were, in fact, never issued (Update 5/8/17: see note at bottom). The opaque and irregular approvals process for these renovations—detailed below—deprived the public of the opportunity to weigh in on highly visible changes to the landmarked Citicorp Center, one New York’s most essential late modern buildings. Those changes especially impact a plaza and fountain by Sasaki Associates, one of the firm’s only surviving works in New York. In March The Architect's Newspaper reported on the planned changes to the building, one of the city's newest landmarks. The 59-story tower, designed by Hugh A. Stubbins & Associates in 1977, commands a busy corner in East Midtown, Manhattan. The landmark designation includes three interrelated structures—a 59-story, 915-foot-tall office tower on the western portion of the site, a six-story mixed-use structure nestled into the main tower, and St. Peter's Lutheran Church of Manhattan—all connected by a series of indoor and outdoor spaces that are privately owned but open to the public. At the Midtown East building, though, proposed changes to those spaces—known to city planners as POPS—have attracted attention.  The LPC put the Citicorp Center on its calendar for landmark consideration in May 2016, and, after one hearing on September 13, the commission declared 601 Lexington Avenue—three buildings and the POPS—a New York City landmark in December 2016. Typically, calendaring puts all renovations on hold—but not this time. In July of that year, just two months after calendering, the owner, Boston Properties, filed plans with the DOB for a $46.8 million renovation that included changes to the POPS and the six-story office-retail building at the base of the main tower. Fast forward to a March 21, 2017 hearing to discuss a proposed renovation, designed by Gensler, that included work on the building's facade. At this hearing, LPC commissioners twice stated that they couldn't comment on the plaza renovations because they were "already permitted" (5:38:01 and 5:41:40), while LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said the owner "already got the permits" for the plaza reconstruction. But where are those permits? The permits the LPC referenced could only been approved by one agency: the Department of Buildings (DOB). For this project, the DOB approves development plans, while the Department of City Planning's (DCP) City Planning Commission oversees and approves changes to privately owned public spaces. Neither agency can approve major changes to a landmark or potential landmark without LPC approval. Today, a DOB spokesperson confirmed to AN that the agency rejected Boston Properties’ plans (just this week, in fact) but stated that the owner may file new plans at a later date. With no permits on file, was the LPC referencing approvals from City Planning? At the March 2017 hearing, the commission stated that, because the DCP oversees privately owned public spaces, any changes to the POPS had to be—and were already—approved by that department. That’s true: At DCP, public review of the project commenced September 14, 2016—a day after the LPC’s September designation hearing—and garnered departmental approval on November 2, 2016, months after the May calendaring and a little over a month before designation. This bizarre dialogue between Landmarks and City Planning left no opportunity for the public to comment on major changes to a landmarked public space. The LPC was unable to confirm what permits the commission was referring to at the March 2017 hearing, despite repeated requests. The designation report (PDF) confirms that the DCP has oversight over the POPS, but it incorrectly says Boston Properties received DOB approval to modify the sunken plaza. (The designation report contains an additional error: The Citicorp Center's calendaring is listed as August 9, 2016 but an LPC press release pegs its calendaring to May 10.) The DOB confirmed that it had not issued a permit for the renovation of the POPS at the site. With regard to the plaza changes, "I'm not sure what the Landmarks Commission thinks it is doing," said Michael Hiller, Esq. Hiller is the founding principal of Hiller, PC, a New York City firm that litigates zoning, preservation, and land-use issues. At press time, the LPC issued the following statement:
The application before the Commission on March 21st was limited to the building’s façade. The applicant represented to the Commission that they had valid DOB permits for the work on the plaza that pre-dated designation and, as a result, that portion of the work was not before the Commission. During the process, the Commissioner’s reference was based on the representation by the applicant. If there were no valid DOB permits for the work on the plaza issued prior to designation, the applicant would be required to obtain an LPC permit prior to the issuance of a DOB permit.
A site visit this week revealed that there is construction fencing surrounding the perimeter of the plaza, though the stair to the subway through the sunken plaza remains unimpeded. Signs show a Gensler rendering of the revamped plaza and office building, above, but the only permits posted are for work on the 29th floor: Boston Properties could not be reached for comment on the current status of the renovations or the approvals process. The changes that DCP approved in Boston Properties’ land use application would add benches and would not reduce the total area of the POPS's sunken plaza. (Technically, to the DCP, the plaza is an "open air concourse," an exposed area that sits more than 12 feet below-grade and provides access to the subway. Here, at its lowest, the tiered public space sits 13 feet below grade.) Its 6,000 square feet of tables, chairs, and concrete gave the Citicorp Center a FAR bonus of almost 59,000 square feet. In exchange, the public received six trees, 19 tables, 76 chairs, and a designer fountain, plus retail at the western edge of the concourse. The DCP-approved changes would add two tables, eight chairs, and 153 feet of benches to the count, and a new fountain would replace the Sasaki fountain in "approximately the same location." Among other changes, the plans call for a stairway from the concourse to the sidewalk would be widened, and repositioned to improved pedestrian circulation from the subway to the street. The land use review application says the changes would "improve public access, provide better circulation and connectivity, and create a more visible and vibrant Public Spaces [sic]." This fountain-for-fountain, space-for-space tradeoff is acceptable per City Planning but for preservationists, the thought of losing Sasaki fountain is devastating. “The Citicorp Center is about public space—that’s what makes it architecturally interesting and designation-worthy,” said preservation activist Theodore Gruenwald. “We are seeing all of these changes done very much behind the scenes, without public oversight.” Designed by Sasaki Associates principal emeritus Stuart Dawson, the Citicorp Center's plaza and fountain is just one of the city’s 333 POPS, the essential New York City micro-spaces that make public places out of office building plazas, atria, and concourses. Introduced as a development incentive in the 1960s, POPS let developers build taller than zoning allowed in exchange for open space. Recently, though, the public-ness of these public spaces has come under threat. The election propelled Trump Tower's inaccessible POPS into the limelight, and the loss of the Water Street arcades last year has further highlighted the vulnerability of POPS, especially those that are more marginal. Though not a POPS, the owners of SOM's landmarked One Chase Manhattan Plaza tried—and failed—to build three glass pavilions on the building's plaza, a move that would have segmented the public space and blocked views of a massive Dubuffet sculpture. Rule-breaking POPS have caught the attention of the law, too. This month the office of the New York City comptroller released the results of a POPS audit (PDF), which found that more than half of the city's privately owned public spaces did not provide mandated access or amenities (though the POPS at Citicorp Center was in-compliance—at least by this measure). UPDATE 5/8/17: The DOB initially represented to AN that there were no permits issued for the work on the sunken plaza and Sasaki fountain. On May 5, 2017, the agency informed AN that an ALT–2 permit to remake the plaza was filed on November 18, 2016 and issued on December 2, 2016. The LPC signed off on the permits that same day, four days before Citicorp's landmarking on December 6 and well after the conclusion of the public comment period. AN plans to update readers on this developing story.
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Sasaki fountain at Citicorp Center may be demolished

One of Hideo Sasaki's few remaining works in New York is set to be demolished as the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved changes to the exterior of 601 Lexington Avenue, formerly known as the Citicorp Center. The building, designed by Hugh A. Stubbins & Associates in 1973, features a stepped public plaza by Sasaki Associates. As it dips into 601 Lexington Avenue, the plaza, built in exchange for a taller tower, reveals a fountain and entrances to the subway. Amid a dense urban setting, many consider the cascading design a welcome sight. Its corner location encourages passers-by to look up in tandem with steps towards the building's open vertices made possible by Stubbins's unusual column arrangement. Dubbed “super” columns, the four skyscraper supports rise above 100 feet and cover 24 square feet each. The resultant cantilevers articulate space in a way not commonly found in Manhattan and in the space, one is seldom aware of being situated below the 915-foot-tall structure, once described by critic Ada Louise Huxtable as a “singularly suave blockbuster that comes down to the street with innovative drama." This feature has prevailed for almost 40 years and subsequently, the sunken space works in an established harmony with the skyscraper. At the time of Stubbins’s death in 2006, critic Paul Goldberger called the Citicorp Center “probably the most important skyscraper built in New York in the 1970s because of its elegant and memorable shape, but also because of its engagement with the city at the base.” Tuesday's review included building entrances along 52nd and 53rd streets, as well as skylights and rooftop mechanical equipment. The Sasaki plaza, designed by principal emeritus Stuart Dawson, was included in the landmark designation, but DOB permits to alter the plaza were approved prior to the designation, and so the plaza changes were not under review by the LPC. In a March 23 email, a LPC spokesperson clarified that the permits are unrelated to the designation report's statement of regulatory intent (page 14) that states that the City Planning Commission is responsible for approving all changes to the plaza. The plaza design depicted in Gensler's renderings was not being considered at the hearing that day, a situation infuriated some preservationists who came out to speak the meeting. The renderings Gensler presented depicted the plaza without the fountain that was initially intended, in the words of the architect, to "mask much of the street noise and add to the feeling that the passerby is free from the congestion of the street." In a statement to The Architect's Newspaper (AN) Dawson commented on the situation:
I was and am incredibly proud of the work we did on the sidewalks, plaza, cascading fountain, and interior atrium of the Citicorp Center. The response from the public was immediate and strong: they loved it. As the fate of this work is up in the air I cannot help but to return to the original idea that carried through all aspects of the project: the idea of connection. At the time, we asked why not carry the fountain and broad steps all the way from street level; to chapel and atrium entrance level; to the subway level? While it required difficult permitting and multiple bureaucratic maneuvers, it seemed well worth the effort—and it was. It was a first! And today, as I learn that the plaza we designed is in danger of demolition I ask that we consider connection once more. I would like to see the plaza live on, connecting one era of design into the next. Once again, it may take some persistent maneuvering but I believe it will once more be worth it.

Christabel Gough of the advocacy group Society for the Architecture of the City told AN that the Sasaki project has "fallen between the cracks of arcane inter-agency procedures and is not protected. Boston Properties would earn the gratitude of so many New Yorkers by abandoning the demolition plan revealed today." 

According to the LPC, the changes put forward by Gensler and Boston Properties were approved by the City Planning Commission prior to 601 Lexington Avenue’s designation as a landmark in December 2016 and that permits to alter the plaza had already been filed with the Department of Buildings (DOB). Despite an extensive search, at press time AN was unable to locate the permits on the DOB's website.

At the hearing, preservationists and commissioners raised questions about the missing foundation. "The HDC wishes to express its regret at reports that the water feature may be removed from the space, which seems like an unfortunate loss," said Barbara Zay, of advocacy group the Historic Districts Council. "We would suggest that the LPC retain a seat at the table in discussions for the fate of courtyard by working closely with the owner, and perhaps the MTA, to find an alternative or return this decorative feature which provides an element of civility and whimsy to the space.” Echoing Zay, Commissioner Michael Goldblum expressed regret about the turn of events. "It’s a shame that the plaza will be changed and the fountain lost," he said, adding that the fountain was a "key element of how the public experience this complex." Fellow commissioner John Gustafsson clarified that no decision on the plaza could be made. "We’re not expressing an opinion here because we can’t," he said. The only changes on the agenda then, were to that of the facade, particularly on 53rd Street. Here, a recessed entrance would be eradicated, but the LPC voiced weariness ahead of this decision.

AN asked representatives from Gensler and Boston Properties at the hearing about why they are eliminating the plaza. Both declined to comment.

In her closing statement, chair Meenakshi Srinivasan noted that "the Citicorp Building has a long history of changes... We recognized that these spaces will continue to change." She concluded that the proposed modifications were consistent with the building's history, and retained the spirit of the original design intent, particularly with the building's zoning history in mind. Prior to granting its approval, the LPC suggested that the proposed changes to the recessed entranceway be reconsidered. But questions remain as to why a plaza so integral to the landmark is beyond the LPC's oversight in the first place. AN will keep readers updated on this story as it develops. Update 3/22/17: This article originally stated that Sasaki's plaza was not included in the building's December 2016 landmark designation. It was in fact included in the designation. The post was also updated to include clarifying information about the plaza's jurisdiction and additional background on the statement of regulatory intent. The text was updated to reflect that Sasaki Associates principal emeritus Stuart Dawson designed the fountain.
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New York’s angled icon, the Citicorp Center, in line for a 200,000 square foot renovation

601 Lexington Avenue, widely known by its former title as the Citicorp Center, may be the subject of a revamp totaling 200,000 square feet, courtesy the New York office of global architecture firm Gensler. The recently landmarked building (designated in December) could see a new exterior plaza and array of terraces added if the design is approved by the Landmarks Preservation Committee (LPC) next week. Further changes include an atrium located inside (and thus exempt from LPC endorsement) that will house a coterie of retail outlets and dining facilities. Speaking to The Architect's Newspaper, a spokesperson for Gensler clarified that the plaza is indeed "being redesigned" as renderings suggest. 601 Lexington Avenue was designed by Hugh A. Stubbins & Associates in 1977 and completed the following year. The resultant angular apex created a silhouette that has become an icon of the Manhattan skyline and was a feature that led the building's landmark designation last year. It's at the other end of the building, at Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street, however, where the changes will be made. Critic Paul Goldberger was complimentary of the existing ground-level features at the time of Stubbins's death in 2006: “[It is] probably the most important skyscraper built in New York in the 1970s because of its elegant and memorable shape, but also because of its engagement with the city at the base," he said. According to Gensler, the building's owners, Boston Properties is "focused not on increasing rents, but on increasing the value of the entire neighborhood by making a distinctive plaza and atrium space." The firm continued: "To this end, the new outdoor plaza and terraces make room for more dining and retail options, while enlivening the staid office component. The resulting 200,000-square-foot redevelopment transforms an internally focused space into a bustling urban oasis for Manhattan’s Midtown East neighborhood." 601 Lexington (c) Gensler_4 Changes date back to as recently as 2010 when a new office lobby was installed. Twenty years ago, the existing atrium and open-air concourse were renovated. The LPC hearing for the changes will be on Tuesday, March 21.
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Waldorf Astoria interiors designated as historic landmarks by LPC

Following an initial hearing in January, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted unanimously on March 7th to designate several of the interior spaces of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel as historic landmarks. The move was widely expected and has not stymied the owner’s ambitious plan to renovate the building, a plan which includes converting a majority of the existing 1,413 rooms into condominium apartments. The Anbang Insurance Group released a statement in response to the decision:
Anbang knows the Waldorf Astoria's history is a large part of what makes this hotel so unforgettable. That is why we fully supported the commission's recommendations for designation of the Waldorf Astoria's most important public spaces and applaud the commission on achieving landmark status for them.
LPC’s designation protects many of the public spaces throughout the first three floors of the iconic art deco building, including the Park Avenue Lobby, entry hall on the ground level, and the Grand Ballroom on the third level, one of the largest event spaces in the New York City. The designation currently awaits approval by the city council.
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David Chipperfield-designed West Village condo finally gets Landmarks approval

It seems the third time's the charm for David Chipperfield. After twice declining to approve his firm's proposal for a West Village condo, pictured above, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has okayed the design, which has changed only slightly since its last hearing. The proposed structure, at 11-19 Jane Street, sits on a largely residential side street in the Greenwich Village Historic District. Chipperfield's work would replace a two-story parking structure with a six-story condominium building. The firm's first proposal, a white precast concrete building, was rejected by LPC in July of last year. A January proposal did not fare any better and was turned down mostly on the basis of its out-of-character entrances and sliding windows. The new design features casement windows divided by red brick mullions topped by stone lintels that echo the neighbors. A more subtle penthouse roofline responded to commissioners' concerns around the building's height. In a post-decision statement, preservation advocacy group the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) remained deeply unimpressed with Chipperfield's most recent round of revisions, suggesting the condo would look better beside a highway off-ramp:
It is deeply disappointing that the Landmarks Preservation Commission chose to approve a design which is so patently inappropriate for the Greenwich Village Historic District and for Jane Street. The design is barely changed from the one roundly criticized by the public and rejected in January. It still looks like a chain motel, it’s still too large, and it still sticks out like a sore thumb.  The changes made by the architect since January are the proverbial rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic.  This design might look at home next to the off-ramp of I-95, but it does not make sense on this historic side street. We hoped for better from this architect, and from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Though the project received unanimous approval, the commission urged the architects to continue to refine the design, especially the windows at street level.
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The Waldorf Astoria’s iconic interior inches towards landmark status

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) held a public hearing this morning to discuss the status of the much-loved interior of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue. At the meeting, cases for landmarking much of the 1930s art deco interior were made with many speaking passionately about their significance. The hearing comes after owners of the hotel, the Anbang Insurance Group from Beijing, China, announced plans to renovate the building last year. Plans call for gutting 560 hotel rooms and converting them to 321 luxury condos. However, upon hearing the news of the owner's plans—work is due to start this fall—the LPC voted unanimously in November to calendar the hotel's interior spaces for consideration. "All of [the interior] spaces are of exceptional design and character. We strongly believe that the protection, designation, and restoration of these important art deco interiors is a critical part of preserving New York City's rich history of architectural design and style—especially the city's art deco monuments," said Roberta Nusim, president of the Art Deco Society of New York (ADSNY). "The interior design of the Waldorf Astoria exemplifies a period of New York life that was extraordinarily important to the growth of the city's image," she continued. "The Waldorf Astoria's interiors hold significance as being one of the finest surviving examples of art deco, classic modernist design." Nusim also added that the ADSNY had received more than 700 signatures from across the globe (a testament to the hotel's international status) calling for the interior's designation. Local officials, including City Councilperson Dan Garodnick, have also expressed their support of the motion. Under review for designation were the Park Avenue foyer and colonnade, the West Lounge (“Peacock Alley”), the East Arcade, the Lexington Avenue stairs, assorted lobbies and vestibules, the Ballroom entrance hall, and the famous Grand Ballroom. The ballroom hosts many high-profile events, including the Al Smith dinner that serves as comedic relief each presidential election season as the two candidates take light-hearted jabs at each other. Most of the spaces are publicly accessible, too. Landmarking them will ensure the renowned hotel maintains its standing as an architectural must-see for tourists and locals alike. A decision is due to be made, though a date for this is yet to be decided. Meanwhile, the interior rework should be finished by 2020. Last year, the company issued a statement declaring their support for the LPC's decision:
Anbang knows the Waldorf’s history is a large part of what makes this hotel so special. That’s why we fully support the LPC’s recommendation for what would be one of the most extensive interior landmark designations of any privately owned building in New York. These designations are consistent with our vision and will protect the Waldorf’s significant public spaces. We are now finalizing renovation plans for the Waldorf that preserve these spaces and will ensure that the Waldorf will provide memorable experiences for generations to come. We look forward to sharing our plans publicly when they are complete.
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David Chipperfield’s West Village condo totally misses the mark, says LPC

This week David Chipperfield went back to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) for a second time, hoping to get approval for his heavily revised design for a West Village condo.

The architects first went before the LPC in July with a white precast concrete residence at 11 Jane Street. This time they were hoping to get the commission’s blessings—but no such luck.

The new design swaps concrete for red brick, and knocks ten feet off the total height to better align with the block's townhouses. The residence, presented in collaboration with Higgins Quasebarth & Partners, would replace a one-story parking garage.

In an email to supporters last week, preservation advocacy group the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) said the design is not appropriate for the street or in keeping with the overall ethos of the Greenwich Village Historic District.

"[Unfortunately] the new design is not much better than the old one (and may even be worse in some respects)," the email said. "While the new design is slightly shorter and uses a more appropriate brick material, instead of looking like a corporate office building it now looks like a corporate chain motel."

The commission mostly agreed. Though it said the current design "plays better with the neighbors,” commissioners took issue with the sliding windows and door, especially the narrower vertical glass doors to a row of second-floor terraces. To many that spoke, the entrances that flank the sides of the building, closed off from the sidewalk by a low metal gate, lacked the egress signifier that a stoop, for example, would provide.

“I just don’t think this very capable architect has reached the mark," said Commissioner Michael Devonshire. “Articulation in the district is extremely rich and this building lacks it."

Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan echoed Devonshire and added that the LPC must “work within the concept and not send it in another direction."

The LPC took no action and will review a revised design at a later date. Third time’s the charm, right?

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Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo’s Ambassador Grill is now a NYC landmark

Update 1/17/17: This post initially stated that the LPC excluded a colonnaded hallway and seating area near the lobby from the designation. The LPC included the colonnaded hallway, but excluded the seating area and the elevator hallway that connects the lobby and the Ambassador Grill. The post was updated with additional reporting to support these changes.

Today the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted unanimously to landmark Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo Associates' Ambassador Grill and Lounge and Hotel Lobby at the United Nations Hotel.

The vote came after preservationists mobilized to seek protection for the interiors: A sequence of lush and mirrored spaces that today evoke the glamour of the disco era. New owners Millennium Hotels and Resorts, who bought the space five years ago and renamed it One UN New York, were set to convert the rooms to a more contemporary style. The Ambassador Grill and Lounge and Hotel Lobby opened in 1976 and 1983, respectively.

In light of development pressure, the LPC moved swiftly to calendar the item in September, and the commission heard (all positive) public testimony from the likes of Docomomo, Robert A.M. Stern, Alexandra Lange, and others, in November.

To the regret of many preservationists, the LPC decided not to include a seating area adjacent to the lobby's colonnaded hallway and the elevator hallway that connects the two landmarked rooms.

"I'm happy the LPC called out the columned hallway, perhaps limiting the alteration of the lounge, but it's disappointing the [non-designated] areas didn't come up in the commissioner's deliberations today," said preservation activist Theodore Grunewald. "While we know that virtually no historic preservation battle is ever '100 percent,' and that preservation requires flexibility and must include [necessary] compromises, the exclusion of the seating area is still troubling."

At today's vote, which took all of 15 minutes, LPC researcher Matt Postal called Roche and Dinkeloo’s work “lavish” and "exceptionally well preserved, [some of] the best public spaces of the 1970s and 80s in New York City.”

Like all city landmarks, the rooms have one final hurdle to clear: The City Council will vote in the coming weeks to officially adopt—or in rare cases, refute—the LPC's designation.

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