Shortly after the Landmarks Preservation Commission declared a section of the Grand Concourse an historic district on Tuesday, New York Times columnist Constance Rosenblum received a call with the news. Walking down Montague Street near her home in Brooklyn Heights, the usually unflappable writer burst into tears. When it comes to the Concourse, Rosenblum wrote the book. Her 2010 chronicle of the corridor, Boulevard of Dreams (NYU Press, $20), played a significant role in calling attention to the plight and promise of the neighborhood. “It was notable day,” she said in a phone interview in reference to the announcement. “It wasn’t easy for the Bronx, and the stigmas will remain for a long time.” Thick with Deco and Moderne, to say nothing of early twentieth century Tudor and Renaissance, the district also showcases work of a few contemporary firms as well. Architectronica’s Bronx Museum of Art sits just down the street from Rafael Viñoly’s Bronx Housing Court. But not all of the 78 properties within the district are knock-out architectural gems. “It’s a little pockmarked,” said Rosenblum. “It’s not cute brownstones, one after the other.” Rosenblum profiled Sam Goodman in the book. He lives, works, and grew up on the Concourse. He said that should the Bronx's fortunes swing up or down, the redistricting will deter owners from abandoning the neighborhood. “Now they'll say, ‘I’m not going to sell to Donald Trump or to the city,’” said Goodman. “So let’s do what we can to keep the buildings attractive.” Goodman pointed out that the landmarking is for a very small section of the Boulevard. Plenty of wonderful buildings sit just to the north, including Emigrant Savings Bank, Paradise Theater and the freshly restored Edgar Allan Poe House. Even with a new visitors center by Toshiko Mori, recent vandalism at Poe Park show that the bad old days aren’t necessarily over. Funding and maintenance remain key issues that preservation alone can’t solve. To that end, Rosenblum believes that the designation goes beyond the bricks and mortar. Landmarking can provide pride of place. “Living in a place that’s important can make you feel good about yourself,” she said. “It’s more than protecting a gorgeous building, it’s giving imprimatur to a very important idea.”
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After a protracted land use review with vitriolic community meetings that disquieted even battle-hardened presenters, the Landmarks Preservation Commission finally approved plans by the Rudin development family and North Shore Long Island Jewish Medical to renovate the St. Vincent’s O’Toole building in Manhattan's West Village. As of Tuesday, the former Maritime Union headquarters is set to become a comprehensive health care facility with emergency services. "Today's vote is further recognition that the North Shore-LIJ Comprehensive Care Center is not only the best plan to bring health care back to the West Side, but the right one for the neighborhood,” Rudin Management CEO Bill Rudin said in a statement. Renovations by Perkins Eastman will preserve much of the original design by architect Albert C. Ledner. "The interesting point is that we are adaptively reusing a 1960's building and turning it into a 21st century medical facility," said Frank Gunther, principal at Perkins Eastman. "We're fitting a square into a circle." The final proposal also addressed concerns by commissioners and several preservationists that the cantilevered overhang not be undermined. Original designs included a ground floor glass wall that practically merged with the overhang on the building’s west side. The approved design pulls the glass wall back away from the second floor while gently curving toward the north entrance, which will be used for the medical offices. The south side of the building will be carved out to provide privacy for the ambulance entrance, while the east side of the building facing Seventh Avenue will remain largely unchanged with new glass block replacing the old, aiding the illusion of a substantial rectangular mass floating above a glass base. Atop the building, a large modernist turret and old executive office space will be restored and converted into medical offices. Perhaps the most substantial change will be the removal of the tiny-tile cladding, which was added by the client shortly after the building was completed in 1963. The new façade will sport a fresh coat of white paint the color of vanilla ice cream, as Ledner had always intended. “It was an ill fated application,” Gunther, said of the tiles. “We plan to restore it to the original concrete finish, similar to what they did at the Guggenheim a few years ago.” Gunther said the firm received Ledner’s blessing on the restoration after extensive consultations with the architect. The team even made a pilgrimage to visit the 87-year-old Ledner who accompanied them to his archives at Tulane University.
With unanimous approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Morris Adjmi's deceptively subtle take on the classic cast iron building is on its way to becoming reality. What at first glance appears to be a cast iron facade is actually a reverse bas relief cast in glass reinforced concrete—essentially a form in which you could mold a true cast iron facade. "This makes you think of how these buildings were built, from the initial casting to being assembled as components," said Adjmi. "So this is really taking that and inverting it so it becomes a record of the process." The architect said that assembling the facade would be carried out in the same fashion as the nineteenth century buildings, as if ordered from the Bogardus cast iron catalogue—James Bogardus patented the cast iron building in 1850. Columns, lintels, and window arches will be cast separately and then individually secured to the facade. "It’ll sit right on the slab so you get the full effect of the inverted façade," said Adjmi. If the effect on the street will command a double take then the interior will surely give pause. There, the positive of the facade will push into the interior, with the traditional exterior facade facing in living space. Adjmi said that he was inspired by the work of artist Rachel Whiteread whose 1993 piece, House, cast the interior of a house in London's East End in concrete. "I’ve always loved her work," said Adjmi, "and it was a natural progression from using historical references to reinterpreting them with modern materials." Apparently, the commissioners agreed. As the building is slightly higher than the zoning law allows, the next stop is City Planning, with the hope of beginning construction in six to eight months.
It's been few months since Morris Adjmi presented plans for his twisted tower at 837 Washington to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. He returned on Tuesday with a scaled-down version of the original design. The architect brought two 3-D models to better illustrate the before and after versions. The body of the exoskeletal steel structure still pivots clockwise atop a 1938 art moderne market building, but now it does so at a reduced height of 84 feet, instead of 113. Still, lopping off two of the seven stories from the original design may not be enough to satisfy commissioners who seem to be scratching their heads over how to address the major mood changes in Gansevoort Market Historic District, which sits within the ever expanding design glow of the High Line. For some commissioners the historic district's line of demarcation remains sacred and even renderings showing views of the new building from the perspective of the park strikes them as misleading. Nevertheless, the building does sit beside the Highline and several commissioners argued that park's influence should be embraced. Commissioner Michael Goldblum suggested that while the commission's objective was to preserve the district, they were participating in a dialogue with the surrounding area. To that end, he said, the building worked fine, as though the building were saying, "I'm not of the period; I'm sitting in it." Embracing the Highline was a cornerstone of William Higgins's segment of the presentation. Higgins, a consultant for preservation issues, was blunt. "The Highline is very much a part of this site," he told the commissioners, adding that the railroad park provides the diagonal from which the structure's twist spins off of. Later, Commissioner Pablo Vengoechea concurred that the newly added green elements respond to the spontaneous greening of the former railroad. But Commissioner Robert Tierney concluded that it didn't yet look like the board had enough votes to move the project forward. He sent the architect back to the drawing board with a few words of encouragement. The original building "reads legibly", he said, but the addition was still slightly out of scale. He then warned the architect not to over-restore the original building. It would seem that there's still room for meat hooks and grit in the district.
Shifting Skyline. London's famed skyline may be getting an addition, and it's not a new building. The Architect's Journal tells us that Mayor Boris Johnson recently approved a plan by architects Wilkinson Eyre and Expedition Engineering for a proposed cable car system designed to link two key 2012 Olympic venues, the O2 Stadium and the Excel Exhibition Hall. NYC's Youngest Landmark. The New York Times City Room blog reports that NYC has four new landmarks: the Engineer's Club, the Neighborhood Playhouse, Greyston Gatehouse and the Japan Society, which having been completed in 1971, makes it the youngest of the city's historic landmarked structures. Red Hook North. Meanwhile NYT Magazine reports that Red Hook developer Greg O’Connell hopes to do for tiny Mt. Morris, NY what he did for a slice of once-decrepit Brooklyn waterfront. Will the former NYPD detective's progressive form of gentrification and downtown revitalization work in an ailing upstate town? Onion domes in Paris. Inhabitat shares the news that the Russians are coming to Paris, in the form of a new domed church and cultural center. Situated near the Eiffel Tower, this new structure is the result of bi-national collaboration from the architects at Arch-Group and Sade Sa.
"Sometimes the best way to restore a historic structure is to reuse it." The comment came from Landmarks Preservation Commissioner Robert Tierney at the conclusion of Tuesday's landmarks hearing on revisions proposed by Vornado Realty for interiors of the recently landmarked Manufacturers Trust Building on Fifth Avenue. The statement summed up the mood of the commission with regard to changes in the space, originally designed by Gordon Bunschaft, which include dividing the first floor to make space for two retail tenants. Most of the commission picked apart the specifics while maintaining that the architects from SOM overseeing the renovation were generally on the right track. The crisp, well-paced presentation from SOM's Frank Mahan delved into several controversial changes, including destroying all of the black granite wall and interiors that sit behind the Henry Dreyfuss-designed safe door, shifting the escalators from north-south to east-west orientation, and losing the 43rd Street entrance, which would be replaced with two entrances on Fifth. The removal of the granite wall allows for the construction of a partition wall that will separate the space into two retail units. The partition wall will run east to west the length of the 9000-square foot space, dividing it into a 4000-square foot southern section, where the safe and granite wall once stood, and a 5000-square foot space in the northeast corner of the building. Only eleven feet tall, the partition wall is topped by seven-foot high glass panels that stretch to the ceiling. The famous paneled ceiling and its fluorescent glow spans most of the ground floor space and now will continue on through the area once occupied by the safe. In addition to moving the escalators, the retailer proposes to crisscross them. Instead of a twin sculptural mass (the double escalators were once clad in perforated bronze) two new glass-clad escalators split the traffic to go in different directions. From 43rd Street the profile will form a large "X" shape. No one on the commission responded favorably to the configuration and, needless to say, the preservationists didn't go for it either. One aspect that Meredith Kane, representing Vornado, said would not be negotiable was the positioning of the doors, stating that the new retail use necessitated a Fifth Avenue entrance. "The entrance on the side was sort of a discrete hiding of wealth, which is not appropriate for retail," she said, implying that without shifting the entrances, finding tenants would be difficult and put the project in jeopardy. "Without entrances on Fifth Avenue we won't be able to do any of the other [restoration] work," said Kane. The Canadian fashion retailer Joe Fresh will take the larger retail space at street level plus the entire 9000 square feet above. The smaller space does not have a tenant yet. The SOM proposal also includes a new screen inspired by the Bertoia screen that was removed by the building's former owner, Chase, when they vacated the building. A new screen made of anodized aluminum references its predecessor but cleans up its organic qualities with sharper lines and flat panels. Still, the proposed efforts to restore and revamp the space did not satisfy everyone. "Adaptive reuse is not a one way street. In some cases the user needs to adapt to the character of the landmark," said Christabel Gough, secretary for the Society for the Architecture of the City. "Moving the escalators and demolishing the vault would be equivalent, because of the [building's] transparency, to demolishing the Fifth Avenue facade of a traditionally composed building."
Yesterday morning, after a bevy of Modernist aficionados crowded into the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing room to tout the merits of Bunshaft's interiors at the Manufacturers Hanover Trust, the commission turned their focus to two historic African American neighborhoods: Sandy Ground in Staten Island and Addisleigh Park in Queens. The unanimous vote for the landmarks designations passed on the first day of Black History Month. While the three building designations in Sandy Ground may have appeared a bit piecemeal to an outsider, the historically inclined might have been able to knit together the original fabric of the historic black community on Staten Island. The designations included the Rev. Isaac Coleman and Rebecca Gray Coleman House, the Rossville A.M.E. Zion Church, and two wood frame houses on Bloomingdale Road. The real blockbuster designation went to Addisleigh Park Historic District. The new redistricting includes more than 400 homes, putting the area firmly in the historic camp with Sugar Hill in Harlem, though its English Tudor, Colonial and Mediterranean Revival suburban homes make it look more like Ardsley or Bronxville in Westchester. The land, purchased at the end of the 19th century, saw its first homes in the 1910s and 1920s. Originally an exclusive white neighborhood that prohibited blacks from moving in through restrictive covenants, the area became a legal battleground when white neighbors took to the courts to keep blacks out during the 1940s. But by that time the area was already home to 48 black families, including Lena Horne, Count Basie, and Fats Waller. "The very people who had to fight to preserve it had to fight to get in it," noted one of the commissioners. After the Supreme Court ruled against racially restrictive covenants in 1948, the area blossomed as a middle class black community. Horne, Basie and Waller were joined by baseball greats Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. Bassist Milt Hinton and Ella Fitzgerald moved in. For Rene Hill, a member of the United Coalition of Veterans and Community Rights (UCVCR), the designation was bittersweet because it did not include the 55 acres of the Community Living Center run by the Veterans Administration. Nearly half the site has been proposed for a housing development by St. Albans Village, LLC. Resident Yvonne Jackson nodded her head in agreement, but said the day was still worth celebrating. Jackson grew up walking through Addisleigh Park on her way to school and bought her home in the neighborhood after retiring in 2001. She said, "I always told my friends, when I grow up I have to move there."
The Landmarks Preservation Commission has put the Gordon Bunshaft-designed Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company Building onto its Public Meeting/Public Hearing agenda for tomorrow morning at 9:30AM. Up for discussion will be the building’s first and second floor interiors, including the entrance lobby, escalators, teller counters, and floor and ceiling surfaces. The iconic vault designed by Henry Dreyfuss, which is visible from Fifth Avenue, and Harry Bertoia’s multifaceted metallic screen both made it on to the agenda. But according to Theodore Grunewald of the Coalition to Save MHT, the Bertoia has already been removed by Chase Bank, the sculpture's owner. "Chase still has the sculpture, but they have not said where it is,” said Grunewald. AN’s Jennifer K. Gorsche joined a chorus of alarmed bloggers back in October and turned up renderings of a proposal for a teen clothing store, Forever 21. “It’s more than world class building, it’s a world monument,” said Grunewald. “People come from all over the world to see this building.” The building also happens to be the subject of several Ezra Stoller photos, two of which shown here, are now on view at the Yossi Millo Gallery through February 12. The gallery is closed on Mondays, but if you need a Stoller-fix stat, there will be lecture tonight on Stoller at the Center for Architecture called Mid-Century Modernism: as seen through the master's lens. Architectural historian Kenneth Frampton will be joined by John Morris Dixon, Brook Mason, and Erica Stoller.
I.M. Pei speaks and NYU listens. The university announced this week that plans for a Grimshaw-designed residential highrise planned for Pei's landmarked Silver Towers block will be scrapped after the architect expressed disapproval over the project. The proposed 400-foot tower set amid three original concrete structures had been a point of conflict between NYU and its neighbors. Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, led an effort to landmark Pei's Silver Towers site and has been vocal in his opposition to the proposed fourth tower. "This arrangement of three towers in a pinwheel fashion, with one side left open around a central space, was a motif you see throughout [Pei's] works,” Berman told AN earlier this month. “It was not an accident or an incomplete design awaiting a fourth element.” While neighbors in Greenwich Village repeatedly battled the fourth tower, the final blow came from Pei himself. “From the beginning, we sought a design for the Silver Towers block that was most respectful of Mr. Pei’s vision. Some people disagreed with our proposed approach; others agreed. We believed that among those who agreed was Mr. Pei himself, who expressed no opposition to the concept of a tower on the landmarked site when we spoke with him directly in 2008,” said Lynne Brown, NYU’s Senior Vice President, in a release. “Mr. Pei has now had a change of heart. The clarity Mr. Pei has now provided--that the Morton Williams site is ‘preferable’--is helpful to us in understanding how to proceed with our ULURP proposal.” Now, plans call for a return to the adjacent original building site where a Morton Williams grocery sits. That location had been passed over in favor of the Silver Towers site to preserve sight lines, the University said at the time. Berman has also expressed concern about the Morton Williams site. “The fact that building on the supermarket site would also be bad doesn’t make building on the landmark site any less terrible,” Berman said earlier in November. He suggested at the time that NYU explore building opportunities in the financial district, where community boards have actively invited such development. New York University has begun preparing a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) application for submission next year to build on the Morton Williams site. New plans must undergo full review before construction can take place.
The latest Upper East Side landmark isn't another of its signature rowhouses, but rather what's atop one of those brownstones. Yesterday, the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved landmark status for mid-century architect Paul Rudolph's less-than-context-sensitive home at 23 Beekman Place. Rudolph moved into the 4-story on which the addition sits in 1961 and added his three-story design in 1977, modifying the house throughout his life. Located between East 50th and 51st Street, 23 Beekman Place has been moving through the landmark process for over a year, and its approval marks an emerging phase in historic preservation. Now that many examples of modern architecture are getting older, they are becoming fair game for landmark protection, a notion the New York Observer says can sometimes be full of contradiction:
And yet there remains a certain alienness to a building like 23 Beekman. In a way, it is an oxymoron, a cancer atop a truly "historic building." The very idea of a modern landmark is itself a contradiction in terms because modernism sought to wipe away history. Consider Robert Moses, Le Corbusier, even Rudolph, all trying to eradicate history, to defeat nature, end poverty and blight, addressing all of the world's ills through their work. Where better to recognize this tension than a building with such a clearly split personality? And yet all of that Utopian zeal failed as much as it succeeded, so much so that many of the buildings it left behind are now unloved, even hated. This makes modernist preservation all the more essential and immediate. Not only have these buildings-beyond-time themselves aged (some quite severely), but they have become examples of architectural idealism, experimentation, and failure. Thus they are something to be saved, even as they sought to wipe out their forebears.
As we reported a few weeks ago, the Landmarks Preservation Commission is gearing up to create a huge new historic district on the Upper West Side. Last night, the commission held a meet-and-greet with the neighbors, at which the tentative boundaries for the new district—technically five contiguous extensions to five existing districts—were unveiled. As the map shows, it's quite a lot of real estate, and though smaller than the extant Upper West Side historic district (2,000+ versus 745) it will become, should it be approved, one of the largest in the city. What's most interesting, though, is how much of the Upper West Side will now be under the commission's purview. It will be interesting to see how the development community reacts.
The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission continued its efforts to preserve what have been, at least historically, unlikely landmarks. There is focus on the not-so-outer boroughs and modernist masterpieces and on the scruffy, increasingly tony "Lower East Side," one of the oldest, yet long-neglected parts of the city. This is of course not the small neighborhood that had been sequestered by real estate agents, but the real LES, as defined by historians and historic maps, from 14th Street to the Brooklyn Bridge, with the Bowery as its eastern bounds. In 2007 and 2008, the commission surveyed more than 2,300 properties and has been bolstering the landmarks rolls ever since, from Webster Hall to Wheatsworth Bakery. Yesterday, three more were added. You may never have noticed 97 Bowery Street before, unless maybe you were looking for karaoke in Chinatown, because that's what occupies the first two floors of this unassuming cast iron beauty. The Loew's Canal Street Theatre makes a little more sense, given the name, though it, too, is all but hidden behind the garish storefronts that are de rigueur, er, 典型 (typical) in Chinatown. The gorgeous terracotta cornice is still visible behind grime from the Manhattan Bridge if you look closely, though. The Eleventh Street Methodist Episcopal Chapel (now the Father’s Heart Church) is perhaps the most obvious landmark based simply on looks. But on the Lower East Side, it's not just about the looks. “These buildings collectively speak to many aspects of the immigrant experience in the East Village and on the Lower East Side in the 19th and early 20th centuries,” Commission Chair Bob Tierney said in a release. Consider the chapel. The evangelical Methodists to foster outreach to the city's burgeoning immigrant community. Ironically, they eventually took it over, when in 1930 and reopened 11 years later as a Slavik Eastern Orthodox church. But as much as saving these previously overlooked buildings, the commission is also preserving them from the rampant overdevelopment that has seized the neighborhood in the past few decades, and particularly during the boom. Commission spokeswoman Elisabeth de Bourbon wouldn't say that this was the explicit purpose of the renewed focus on the LES. "But it certainly doesn't hurt," she said. The real interesting question is what will happen to all those gaudy signs when gentrification finally gets to them, and renovations no doubt ensue, as they have in Tribeca, Soho, and elsewhere. Will they be grandfathered in? Or will the commission fight hard for a full restoration?