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.
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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?
When shoe retailer Crocs set its sights on Soho, the blogosphere didn’t hesitate grouching about the rubber clog emporium’s arrival at the corner of Spring and Wooster streets. What was feared as an assault of global branding, however, has become an unlikely symbol of a sea change for New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, which pushed for a modern, glassy volume in the heart of the historic cast-iron district. The project began in 2006, when Crocs signed a 20-year lease for 4,800 square feet for its New York flagship. At that time, the three-story corner house was in bad shape. Built in 1818 as a single-family residence, it had undergone six renovations and most recently housed a Tennessee Mountain restaurant. Because of its age and location, any alterations of the Federal-era building needed LPC approval, and thus began a year-long saga with five public hearings that resulted in the unusually contemporary structure in the center of Soho. Heading up design work for both building exteriors, New York architect William J. Rockwell proposed a restoration for the old townhouse based on a photograph from the 1920s. The first twist Rockwell encountered concerned a three-story, 1925 garage attached to the old house, which had undergone many alterations and was set to be demolished. To replace the structure, Rockwell suggested a simple building that resembled the old garage. But to his surprise, LPC preferred a modern transitional glass piece instead. The idea was that the townhouse would be better expressed if accompanied by an almost invisible structure, which at the same time could reinforce the street wall along Wooster. “The fact that it could be more transparent and modern was very exciting,” said Rockwell. “In the ten last ten years, Landmarks has been more and more interested in different expressions if it can serve the purpose of representing history,” he added. “And in this case it does.” The first order of business was to shore up the historic house. Working with ELAN General Contracting, the team re-bricked the south face of the old corner building, salvaging some of the original brick, and replaced dilapidated brownstone lintels and sills with cast stone that resembled the originals. The adjacent facade was covered in new cedar shingles over a wood frame, a typical Federal 1920s design. Replacement wooden clapboards were used on the west and north facades, new multi-pane windows inserted, and the original gambrel roof lifted to its present configuration. A wood-and-glass storefront flanking a chamfered entrance was also kept, having been the house’s first transformation. Its original columns were saved, but stainless steel replaced the storefront’s wooden frame as a more modern and durable alternative. The Wooster Street addition is a much bolder story. Here, a structural system in finned glass and zinc-coated panels was designed to reveal most of the original house’s features. The flat roof was pushed back, while panels of 18-inch-deep structural glass and metal spring plates hold up the walls. At the north wall, the glass was put into a metal channel inserted from floor to ceiling in the old building. The palette of zinc and coated copper was picked to correspond with the weathered steel in the area. With taller buildings nearby, the new glass structure could theoretically have been made six stories high. This, however, wasn’t something either LPC or Crocs desired. From Crocs’ point of view, additional floor plates were not seen as viable for commercial or residential use, given a plate area of only 1,000 square feet. LPC, on the other hand, did not want the old structure to be obscured. “In New York, you always want to maximize square footage, but because of the old building, it is very hard to make use of that area,” said Rockwell. Inside the store, which opened in May, a ceiling height of almost 30 feet creates a spacious feeling. An elevated mezzanine surrounds the space, a remnant from the 1970s, when the building was a sushi restaurant. Salvaged hand-hewn trusses and an exposed brick wall contrast with the modern retail interior, designed by the Crocs team with architect Donald W. Laukka of L&M Associates, who helped plan interior improvements and mechanical systems. Up the new curved staircase, the transparent addition allows a view over the vibrant street below, as well as a closer look at the restored northern facade of the old townhouse. “When a lot of people think of restoration, they think of historical accuracy,” concluded Rockwell. “But in New York City, there is some flexibility, and that is why we have buildings like this.”
It looks like New York isn't the only city with a controversial mosque on the horizon—and in the case of Marseilles, that's quite literally where it's going. Archinect points us to a BBC report about the Grand Mosque, a huge new complex atop one of the city's northern hills. As the video above shows, the complaints are akin to those surrounding the proposed mosque around the corner from the World Trade Center site—concerns about culture, paternalism, terrorism, and community, though in France the concerns are obviously less direct. In a favorable sign for the NYC mosque, the local community board voted against landmarking the former Burlington Coat Factory ahead of a binding review at the commission next Tuesday. The vote is non-binding but tends to carry some wait, though we're curious to see what actually happens, as this should be one of the more interesting commission meetings in recent memory. Do check back for a full report.
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.
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.