On Tuesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission named the former Spring Mills headquarters at 104 West 40th Street the newest New York City landmark—arguably the most important designation of the year so far. What makes Spring Mills so special is, well, that it's not exactly special. Unlike notable predecessors—Lever House, the Guggenheim, the Ford Foundation—Spring Mills was preserved less for its architectural pedigree than its historical significance. Designed by skyscraper savants Harrison & Abramowitz, and completed in 1963, it is less the 21 stories of green glass on a slender facade that sets this building apart—though that is important, too—than its serving as a marker for the 1960s arrival of the Garment District in Midtown from its former Tribeca home. This makes Spring Mills more in line with, say, West-Park Presbyterian Church, a cultural and community icon, than Chase Manhattan Plaza, an architectural standout for being the first of its kind downtown. In other words, modernist landmarks have reached a point where they are akin to their brick-and-mortar predecessors, becoming simply another architectural style or era to be grappled with on its own merits. Last year, the commission nominated more than 1,000 landmarks. A vast majority of those were in the newly created Prospect Heights Historic District, as well as smaller districts created across the city plus 32 individual landmarks. None of them, however, were modernist structures, showing a continued deference for pre-modernist design. This is not a knock against the commission. Often times these buildings can be hard to love, and many of the good ones have already been given protection—buildings like Lincoln Center and 2 Columbus Circle, which have yet to be designated, demonstrate the risks and rewards of such non-preservation. Still, there is progress being made. Eight modernist buildings have been given landmarks protection since 2003, part of the commission's renewed efforts to recognize this important architectural era in the city's development. While such buildings account for only a few dozen of the 26,000 spread out across the city, Spring Mills is a sign of the continued mainstreaming of such structures. “This is very important to us—it’s a continuation of our interest in and action on modernism,” commission chair Robert Tierney told us last fall, when the commission had a hearing on Spring Mills, once the largest sheet and pillow-case maker in the country. That same day, it also considered the Look Building, famous as much for the magazine it once housed as its layer cake facade that transformed Madison Avenue. Paul Rudolph's former home on Beekman Place was also vetted, a building that would horrify many traditionalists. As the commission continues to grapple with such skyline-shaping buildings (Johnson's Sony and Lipstick buildings, Stubbin's Citigroup Center, Stone's GM Building all seem prime candidates) it is refreshing to know they will increasingly be considered like any other, and as such, maybe many more of them will be getting the landmarks treatment soon.
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One of the many flashy architecture projects believed to have been killed off by the recession was SHoP's highly impressionistic proposal for the waterfront portion of the South Street Seaport. The bankruptcy of mall owner and would-be developer General Growth Properties seemed to scuttle plans for the sail-and-net-inspired complex, but having emerged from court protection, GGP is evaluating what to do with its remaining properties and it appears SHoP may once again be in the mix. The company is being spun off into two pieces following its bankruptcy, with the one made up of mixed-use and development-worthy projects getting a $6.55 billion infusion from three outside investors. It remains up to this new person what to do with the Seaport, but a GGP spokesperson tells Downtown Express, “Presumably the new company would continue to pursue the highest, best use of that property, which we felt was the proposal we put out." Should the project return, there is still the issue of appeasing the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which saw it as more barnacle than beautiful.
Another piece of New York City's historic fabric is disappearing. But only for a short time! We hope... Curbed swung by 74 Grand Street today and discovered that deconstruction of the five story cast-iron building was just getting under way. The building has been leaning for years after being undermined by construction a neighboring lot. Because it had gotten so bad recently—some 30 inches out of alignment in spots—the Department of Buildings declared the building would come down before it brought the entire blog along with it. Afraid a unique piece of the city would be lost, the LPC demanded the facade be replaced whenever a new building gets built on the site, and it would be locked up in a city warehouse until then. The LPC signed on reluctantly, as the oldest cast-iron facade in the city was once stolen from such a warehouse and sold for scrap. We've got our fingers crossed this time around.
With snowpocalypse about to descend on the city, summer feels a long way away. But there is cause for sun-soaked celebration today, as the Landmarks Preservation commission calendared the Shore Theater, the first step in the public review process to make the building an official city landmark. The calendaring is actually the first fruits to bear from the Bloomberg administration's 13th hour deal with developer Joe Sitt. It will be months before amusements return to a saved Coney Island, but a major negotiating point for the community—and the amusement community in particular—was more landmarks in Coney to protect the area's historic buildings from the flood of development the city's rezoning hopes to create. So far, there are no other buildings in the docket besides the 1920s theater-and-hotel building, though, which could be cause for concern—especially after the area's oldest building recently suffered water damage. Still, after decades of deterioration, any progress is good. In other landmarks news... The commission also calendared today the Gramercy House and the Addisleigh Park Historic District. The former is an apartment building on East 22nd Street designed by Edward and Charles Blum in 1929 and completed in 1931. The building, according to the commission report, boasts "textured brickwork, contrasting base and striking polychrome terra cotta trim." Meanwhile, the latest proposed historic district (the 101st?) is located in Queens and comprised of 426 buildings, the St. Albans Congregational church and its campus, and 11 acres of St. Albans Park. Many of the buildings date from the 1910s to 1930s, and according to this page on the Historic Districts Council's website, the area was an enclave in the 1950s for the city's well-to-do blacks, including Jackie Robinson, W.E.B. DuBois, Count Basie, Joe Louis, and Ella Fitzgerald, among other notables. Here's a map of the area, and you can see it in GoogleMaps here. Finally, the commission voted in favor of two new landmarks today. The Penn Club, formerly the Yale Club, is located on 44th Street between 5th and 6th avenues, near a clutch of other robber baron-era clubhouses. The 11-story building was completed in 1901 on commission from Yale, with designs by two Yalies and McKim, Mead, & White alums, Evarts Tracy and Egerton Swartwout. The building was later acquired by Penn. The other new landmarks is the 143 Allen Street House, which was built around 1830 for ship captain George Sutton, a time, as the commission report notes, "when the Lower East Side was a fashionable residential district." And so the circle is complete. These two buildings also had hearings the same day as Paul Rudolph's 23 Beekman Place, so it's quite possible that building could be coming up for a vote in the near future as well.
Another entry in the good bad news department today, as the Post breaks the big story that St. Vincent's hospital in Greenwich Village is on the verge of bankruptcy again. According to the tab, crosstown rival Continuum Health, which runs Beth Israel, St. Luke's and Roosevelt hospitals is prepared to take over the city's last remaining Catholic hospital, and it could close many of the hospitals services, such as surgical and in-patient care, and possibly even the emergency room, one of the few on the west side of Manhattan. So how is this good news, that this critical hospital might close? Well, that pride of place, combined with the first bankruptcy, was part of the reason St. Vincent's used to justify its major expansion and real estate deal with the Rudins, which would have created a new hospital by Pei Cobb Freed and a huge condo project by FXFowle. Now all that could be in doubt:
The proposal throws into doubt St. Vincent's existing plan to build a new medical facility and sell its campus to the Rudin Co. for $300 million to erect a condo complex. The hospital had only just gotten the go-ahead from the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission last summer to proceed with its $1.6 billion modernization project after years of protests.While there is still time for a resolution to be worked out—we got about a dozen different press releases about the news from shocked and concerned politicians today—it looks like the hospital's expansion plan is at least on hold, possibly indefinitely. This could mean that the dogged efforts by preservationists to preserve the O'Toole building, formerly Albert C. Ledner's one-of-a-kind National Maritime Museum Headquarters, could be back on life support and possibly on the way to a full recovery. Not to mention a victory for the Village NIMBYists who felt threatened by two new towers in their low-rise, historic neighborhood.
Back in March, Protect the Village Historic District sued the Landmarks Preservation Commission over its granting of a hardship to St. Vincent's Hospital, so that it might demolish Albert C. Ledner's National Maritime Union Headquarters, now known as the O'Toole building, and replace it with a new hospital tower designed by Pei Cobb and Freed. The focus of PVHD's suit is that the hospital did not explore suitable alternatives, nor did the commission require them, but now, the state Supreme Court appears to be questioning the very nature of the hardship finding—that retaining the O'Toole buildings prevented the hospital from carrying out its charitable mission—or at least that is the finding of a brief filed today by the Municipal Art Society and half-a-dozen preservation groups that directly challenges the LPC on the matter. Filed on behalf of neither the petitioners nor the defendants but at the behest of the court, which is trying to better understand the mechanics of the hardship finding, the MAS' attorneys argue that the LPC erred in finding that a hardship was created by the O'Toole building when in fact it was the neighboring buildings that created the problems for the hospital. The LPC then falsely created a campus that included both the historic buildings east of Seventh Avenue and the Ledner building west of it, and with this campus, extended the hardship from the buildings responsible for it to the one that was not. MAS and company—Historic Districts Council, Greenwich Village Society, the National Trust, the Preservation League, Brooklyn Heights Association, and Friends of the UESHD—argue that in part because the Ledner building remains quite usable, and is not directly infringing on the functioning of the neighboring hospital, it can not be held accountable. And this does not even get into the issues of whether sufficient off-site alternatives were explored and the fact that St. Vincent's knowingly bought a landmark it could not alter, which are at the heart of the original suit. MAS does note that the standards for determining hardship are complex, and it should also be pointed out that, while ostensibly neutral, all seven amici have lobbied on behalf of preserving the Ledner buildings and indeed hold quite a vested interest in the LPC's defeat. Simply consider the conclusion of the brief [PDF], which states, in part, that the commission "has created a dangerous precedent that may have a devastating effect on the preservation of landmark buildings and historic districts throughout New York City." This is personal. We're still waiting to hear back from some real estate attorneys as to the exact role this brief might play in the case, whether or not it will actually sway the judges, but as soon as we know, you'll know.
While the big news out of the LPC today was the approval of 980 Madison, there were quite a few noteworthy developments as well, namely the designation of three new landmarks and the calendering of 23 Beekman Place, better known as the Paul Rudolph house, which is the first step in the designation process. Poking fun at her fellow colleagues who had been skeptical of the Norman Foster designed addition at 980 Madison, which had been approved earlier in the day, commissioner Margery Perlmutter quipped, "Sometimes a rooftop addition does become a landmark." Rudolph's quixotic construction was completed in 1977, though he would revise it, like much of his work, until his death two decades later. It sits atop an otherwise typical Upper East Side brownstone built in 1900, and it also happened to be occupied by Catherine Cornell, who bought the rowhouse in the 1920s, just as she was becoming a major star on Broadway. Winking back at Perlmutter, commissioner Pablo Vengoechea remarked that were Rudolph applying for the addition today, there is no way the commission would support it. It was also pointed out that the interiors, once a testing ground for Rudolph's design ideas, would not be landmark in light of a rather drastic renovation earlier this decade. As for the new landmarks, they are the former Jarmulowsky Bank building at the corner of Canal Street and Orchard Street, the Ralph and Ann Van Wyck Mead House on Second Avenue near 7th Street, and the Lamartine Place Historic District, a contiguous row of houses on West 29th Street between 8th and 9th avenues. The first is, as the name suggests, the former 12-story headquarters of a Lower East Side bank built in 1911-1912 in the Beaux Arts style out of limestone and brick. It was praised by the commissioners for being a monumental structure in an otherwise low-rise neighborhood, which is perhaps why it is currently on the market for many, many millions of dollars. Perhaps the building was built because someone tried to cash an equally large check at the bank's former location in 1905. The Mead House happens to be the world's oldest halfway house for women, having been bought by the Womens Prisoners Association in 1874, a decade after the townhouses construction. Despite the ominous sounding name, it is this uninterrupted ownership that helped keep the house intact for so long. As commission chair Robert Tierney put it, "The strands of history that flow through this house are amazing." Finally, the Lamartine Place Historic District [PDF] protects a row of houses in Chelsea originally developed by William Torrey and Cyrus Mason in the 1840s. In the proceeding years, two of the houses would become important stops on the Underground Railroad, one of which was attacked during the notorious draft riots 1863. Many of the Greek Revival buildings still stand, some even relatively intact, but two were considered so altered, they were removed from the district. "This is an important row and a very important reminder of the draft riots," Vengoechea said, adding that he hoped this bit of history could somehow be incorporated into the site.
A group of Midtown residents and concerned citizens, many from the West 54th/55th Street Block Association, have been the leading opponents of Jean Nouvel's MoMA tower. They have been very vocal during hearings at Landmarks and, just a few weeks ago, City Planning Commission. Now, The Coalition for Responsible Midtown Development, as the group is calling itself, have launched a website, no2moma.com. There, they succinctly recast their previous opposition to the project--light & shadows, traffic & congestion, out-sized & ugly--as well as presenting a six minute documentary that makes the group's best case yet. Our favorite part is the clip above, where the Nouvel tower rises, Frankenstein-like, from "a lot no bigger than a McDonald's drive-thru." The full video is after the jump, but, given statements made by some commissioners during a meeting Monday, all this flash and frustration may be too little too late. At the very end of Monday's scheduled City Planning Commission meeting, the commissioners held an impromptu discussion of the project they were presented at the hearing two weeks ago. Impromptu because the full discussion, and likely the vote, will all come at the next scheduled meeting on the matter September 9. Still, the commissioners are clearly struck by this project, it's Pritzker Prize-winning architect, its heavyweight patron, its skyline-altering design. But as before, the discussion centered on the design and not its surrounding impact, which is the overwhelming concern of the tower's opposition. Asked by fellow commissioner Kenneth Knuckles how she would be voting on the project, chair Amanda Burden gamely demurred, saying she was withholding judgment until the actual vote. And yet at the same time, she seemed to be leaning strongly in favor of the project. "We're an optimistic city, we're a skyscraper city, so this project would not be out of place" Burden said. "It must be iconic, it must be distinguished. To get to that height in the sky, it's got to be great. I don't have a problem with the height. But let's see it, and see where it falls with the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building and if it deserves it." Burden added, underscoring the commission's concern with preserving the building as designed over other issues, "It's very important how we memorialize and freeze critical design elements." This way, the commissioners believe, and the applicant, Hines, seems to agree, Nouvel's tower and nothing else would or even could be built there. It's a valid concern (see: Frank Gehry, Atlantic Yards), but for the building's neighbors nowhere near the top of the list. Perhaps the coalition should have brought this video with them last month, as it might have helped sway the commission in its favor. Then again, there's always the City Council, where Speaker Christine Quinn, in whose district the project lies, has yet to take a position. Perhaps she's more of a cinephile than Burden. The coalition had better hope so.
The financial crisis has officially hit architects. No, not in the way you think. We're talking about banks selling their marquee properties, namely the news today, delivered by the Observer, that JPMorgan Chase may be selling its former headquarters building at One Chase Manhattan Plaza. Designed by Gordon Bundshaft of SOM under the auspices of then-bank president David Rockefeller, the building, which also features an Iasmu Noguchi rock garden, was named a landmark by the LPC in February of this year. Maybe that helped auger the sale, which could include 22 buildings and which the bank continues to deny. (See, we care about commercial real estate, too, and not just famous houses.)
Last week, Prospect Height's became the city's newest landmark district. At 850-odd buildings, it is the largest district to be created since the Upper West Side Historic District was created in 1990. Clearly, a lot of work went into the three-year effort championed by locals and the Municipal Art Society and driven largely by the nearby Atlantic Yards project and the undue development it spurred on one of Brooklyn's last unprotected brownstone neighborhoods. To highlight just how hard it is, but also what a triumph, MAS put together this thoughtful little video. Hopefully it will inspire you to do something civic minded as well on this patriotic weekend or beyond.
We've been following the proposed hospital cum condos plan for St. Vincent's rather closely as its percolated through the LPC the past year-and-a-half, but due to conflicting plans and just a smidge of St. Vincent's fatigue, we couldn't make it to yesterday's latest hearing on the Rudin condo proposal. As we understand it, though, it was no different than the proposal unveiled 51 weeks prior. What was on view, however, were some fancy new renderings of those same old buildings, which you can find here. According to the Times, the proceedings were raucous as usual, with some 80 opponents speaking out against the project, a 233-foot condo tower designed by FXFowle along with a handful of condo conversions made out of historic hospital building. These apartments, developed by Rudin Management, are meant to help finance the recently approved 286-foot hospital tower designed by Pei Cobb Freed that will rise across Seventh Avenue on the site of Albert Ledner's former National Maritime Union Headquarters. "Essentially, they felt the building had to come down," LPC spokeswoman Elisabeth de Bourbon told us today in a phone interview. Did they happen to say how big is too big? "They didn't specify," de Bourbon replied. "They just said it was too bulky and too tall." Dan Kaplan, the FXFowle partner in charge of the project, assured us the firm would be back. "I was encouraged by the Commisisoners' constructive comments on the scheme presented," he wrote in an email. As for these renderings, it's always impossible to tell what a building will really look like once it's built, but these don't seem so bad, do they? Then again, the design team has often been criticized by the commission for manipulating their media to only produce the desired affect. But hey, who can blame 'em?
The Observer points us to a lawsuit filed today in State Supreme Court aimed at stopping the demolition of Albert C. Ledner's National Maritime Union HQ in Greenwhich Village, now known as the O'Toole Building. If you read the paper with any regularity, you should know full well the story of St. Vincent's Hospital's attempts to replace the one-of-a-kind "overbite building" with a 300-foot tall Pei Cobb Freed-designed hospital tower. Well, the lawsuit may be just in time, as the Landmarks Preservation Commission is due to vote today on whether or not it approves the outsized plans for the new hospital building. As we most recently reported, a majority of commissioners are leaning towards approval, meaning the suit may be the last chance to save Ledner's building. The petition, which can be found here, was filed by the Protect the Village Historic District and a coalition of preservation groups and neighbors. It effectively calls into question the commission's torturous 6-4 October vote, which condemned the building in question, on the grounds that the hospital, and its development partner Rudin, were not wholly forthcoming. The petitioners claim the developers mis-attributed their "constitutional hardship"--St. Vincent's argues that it cannot carry out its charitable duties in its current facilities and that it cannot find a suitable replacement site beyond the O'Toole building--and that this hardship was falsely accepted by the commission. Perhaps more importantly, they challenge the fact that the property was knowingly purchased as a landmark by St. Vincent's:
In addition, petitioners contend that because St. Vincent’s acquired O’Toole Building AFTER the restrictions imposed by the Landmarks Law were already in place, the Hospital could not have had “reasonable investment-backed expectations” of the sort that would justify a constitutional exception to the otherwise proper and lawful restrictions on an owner’s use of its property that are codified in the Landmarks Law.This has been a major issue for preservationist throughout the two-year fight because they fear it sets a dangerous precedent wherein any charity could purchase a landmark, claim it does not suit its needs, and then demolish it. The hope is that with the subpeona power of the courts, the petitioners can bring to light many of the concerns that were never fully aired in public at the commission, such as the financial position of the hospital and any closed-door discussions and analysis performed by the developers with regards to alternative site. Still, one prominent land-use attorney who often goes before the commission doubted the suit's success. The attorney, declined to comment because, on the one hand, a number of associates lived in the neighborhood and were upset by the proposal, while on the other, the firm had and might yet deal with similar claims. Generally speaking, however, the attorney said the commission is always very cautious on such matters. "The hardship is rigorous, it's difficult" the attorney said. "It's difficult to meet the standard, and the commission is sure to dot all its 'i's. Usually, it's difficult to overturn these administrative decisions." Indeed, at the October vote, every single commissioner read from prepared remarks, something almost never seen, especially from the entire commission. An LPC representative even explained that prepared statements were used to be sure everything was on record and legitimate. The rep then added, "You know, in case there's a law suit." Well, the commission's gotten it's wish, so to speak. (The city has declined to comment until it receives the petition, which a spokesperson said it had not.) Whether this turns into another Atlantic Yards, or even another Grand Central, which is what got us here in the first place, remains to be seen. Then again, if they vote down the hospital tomorrow, maybe it won't even matter. But if not, we can only hope Joe Pesci is on the petitioner's side, 'cause he sure puts up a good fight.