Wednesday, December 20, 2006
We are pleased to announce a special exhibition and reception saluting the history of Amsterdam Houses and featuring the work of John Jay College of Criminal Justice students. This event is the product of a six-month collaboration with John Jay, the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center, the LaGuardia Archives at LaGuardia Community College and Landmark West.
Date: Thursday, December 21, 2006
Time: Noon to 1:30 p.m.
Location: Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center, 250 West 65th Street (between Amsterdam and West End Avenues)
As part of our continued advocacy for landmark designation, Landmark West has worked with John Jay College to raise greater awareness for the cultural, historical and architectural significance of Amsterdam Houses. We look forward to updating you on this project in 2007.
Amsterdam Houses is a significant example of public housing built immediately following World War II according to plans by prominent New York City architects Grosvenor Atterbury, Harvey Wiley Corbett and Arthur C. Holden, together with landscape architects Gilmore D. Clarke and Michael Rapuano. Originally home to many returning World War II veterans, Amsterdam Houses was unique from the start for its ethnic diversity. Today, it stands as one of the last publicly funded housing developments “to define open space along Classically inspired lines and to exhibit brickwork that was carefully detailed to create simple ornament,” according to New York City historian Robert A.M. Stern (New York 1960, p677).
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Fans try to save Automat
BY SARA STEFANINI
Special to amNewYork
December 19, 2006
Some of Susan Dessel's favorite childhood memories are of day trips into New York, when, between museum visits, she would lunch with her parents at a Horn & Hardart Automat.
"It was so exciting to put a coin in the slot and get food, it was so different from anything else," said Dessel, an artist who was about 7 years old at the time. "They were absolutely wonderful in every way."
Dessel, 60, was among a procession of people who lined up last week to urge the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to landmark one of New York's last Horn & Hardart buildings on Broadway and 104th Street, two blocks from where Dessel has lived for 30 years. The building's Art Deco design, still undamaged under the Rite Aid Pharmacy sign that now covers it, is a remnant of New York culture in the 1920s and 1930s, advocates said.
"I think it is important to look at this building as a major example of the vernacular popular architecture of this time," said Andrew Dolkart, a Columbia University professor of historic preservation, at the Landmarks Preservation hearing on Dec. 12.
The automat at 104th Street was built in 1930, at the peak of Horn & Hardart's popularity. Automats were the city's first fast food joints, where customers slipped change into slots to get their meals. Their numbers reached into the 50s in the 1930s and 1940s, and the last one closed in 1991, said Marianne Hardart, co-author of "The Automat" and great-granddaughter of Horn & Hardart co-founder Frank Hardart.
Many of the automats have since been built over or altered beyond recognition, said Kate Wood, executive director of Landmark West!, which advocates preservation on the Upper West Side. The 104th Street automat's multi-color terra-cotta decorations and large front windows remain intact, she said. Landmark West! added the structure to its designation wish list in 1985.
Rite Aid now occupies the building's ground level and two nonprofits rent the upstairs floors.But not everyone who spoke at the hearing did so in favor of landmark status.
Norma Teitler, 83, bought the building with her husband about 50 years ago, after the automat had closed and the Teitlers had opened a Foodarama supermarket in it.
"Making it a landmark it will devalue it, and I don't think it's fair," said Teitler, who worries about bearing the cost of maintaining a historic site. "If you look at that building, you will see it is no longer an automat, nor do you see a supermarket."
Owners of landmark sites must get the commission's approval on any work they plan to do and are required to keep the structure in good condition.
The commission has not yet voted on whether to make the automat a landmark. With the current development of the Upper West Side and new condominium buildings going up, many at the meeting hope the building is protected.
"This is one of the last undeveloped areas of New York," said Carol Goodfriend, found of the 104th Street Block Association. "To allow it to be torn down will dramatically alter the sense of light and space on the block."
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Read on for a New York Times story about major errors in the Department of Buildings database. As you will see, seemingly minor errors can lead to major problems for landmarked buildings. LANDMARK WEST! would like to address this problem and is looking for a volunteer to take on the project. We would love to hear from you!
The New York Times
December 3, 2006
New York Up Close
For Want of an 'L' ...
By JEFF VANDAM
IN the dossier of information for each property listed with the city's Department of Buildings, there are arcane references that might mystify themost seasoned New Yorkers. Is the building "Little E Restricted" or "UB Restricted"? Does it have a grandfathered sign or qualify for "Legal Adult Use"?
But some people pore through such documents avidly, among them Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. This fall, Mr. Berman's organization conducted a survey of allthe buildings within the 100-block Greenwich Village Historic District, created in 1969.
In doing so, members of the group discovered that of the 2,200 buildings inthe district, the records for 337 of them had not automatically been given the notation "L - Landmark," the indication that a building is a protected property. As a result, at least in theory, there was nothing to prevent them from being altered or even torn down."
We were shocked by this," Mr. Berman said. "Even in a 35-year-old historic district, about 15 percent of the buildings had never been marked as landmarks."
Officials of the group first noticed a problem after the nearby Gansevoort Market Historic District was established in 2003. While many properties inthe new district were immediately given the "L" notation in the city's Buildings Information System, some weren't; in one case, on Little West 12th Street, that resulted in the installation of a billboard on the side of a building.
Mr. Berman and his colleagues set out to see if the same was true in the larger Greenwich Village district. They discovered that among the buildings not properly identified as landmarks were a row of 1840s Greek Revival houses along Washington Square North. Along West 11th Street, 28 buildings were not identified as landmarks, nor were 18 of 25 stables-turned-residences on Washington Mews.
Two weeks ago, after receiving a list of the 337 properties, the LandmarksPreservation Commission said that all of them had since been properly designated. The Buildings Department also said that it was working to correct the problem."
Landmarks brought this to our attention," said Jennifer Givner, a Buildings Department spokeswoman, "and we're working to make sure that all designated buildings have that notation in our system."
Concerns about the issue are not limited to the Village. In the waterfront neighborhood of Douglaston, Queens, similar problems were noted as soon as part of the area became a historic district in 1997."
Every once in a while a property would come up," said Kevin Wolfe, vice president of the Douglaston/Little Neck Historical Society, "and the owner would see that it was not listed as a landmark and get permits, and off he'd go."
Random checks of historic districts in other parts of the city confirmed that the problem exists elsewhere. In Brooklyn, for example, on Garfield Place in the Park Slope district, 8 of the 91 properties that should have been logged as landmarks were not. The problem, said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, a nonprofit advocacy group, often lies with the Buildings Information System, which is not necessarily equipped to handle streets and addresses from centuries past.
"Once you get off the standard grid, which in many of the historic districts you do, it becomes increasingly possible to miss an address - or it was never entered correctly," Mr. Bankoff said.
An examination of the Department of Buildings records for the GreenwichVillage district last week showed that only two of the properties in question remained unmarked. Nevertheless, 17 properties that had previously been identified as landmarks did not bear that designation. Mr. Berman's response was simply to sigh. "
I'm almost speechless," he said. "This should be the easy part."
Published in New York Magazine, December 11, 2006
To the Editor:
REGARDING ARIANNE COHEN'S article on the possible future of the First Baptist Church on West 79th Street [Intelligencer: "Joachim's Temptation," November 27]: When I moved to the city two years ago, I spent two nights in a hotel near the church. After wandering around Central Park, I returned to my hotel in the late-summer dusk and was stopped in my tracks by the warm glow of the church's stained glass. This remains one of my favorite and most soothing views in the city. A church is not merely a beautiful façade, and, as W. Lawrence Joachim, president of the church's board of trustees, noted, the building may not be "an end unto itself." However, in this busy city full of faceless buildings and crowded sidewalks, the church offers a pleasant reprieve to those passing by.
HILLARY FERGUSON, Manhattan
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
"The Central Savings Bank (now The Apple Savings Bank), built in 1926-28, is one of the most impressive and dominant features of upper Broadway."
The Apple Bank for Savings is presenting a series of free recitals to be held within their landmarked Banking Hall, located at 2100 Broadway at 73rd Street. The recitals are open to the public and limited open seating is available. The next recital will be on Friday, December 15th, from 2:00-3:00. Additional performances will be held on Wednesdays and Fridays from 2:00pm - 3:00pm.
Recitals will feature young talent from Mannes College, which is part of The New School. For more information about Mannes concerts, visit www.mannes.edu/concerts.
The bank's exterior was designated a landmark in 1975 and its interior was designated in 1993.
Read on to learn more about the impressive interior and exterior of The Apple Bank building at 2100 Broadway!
"The Central Savings Bank, built in 1926-28 (designed by York & Sawyer), is one of the most impressive and dominant features of upper Broadway. The building is six stories high, including the monumental story of the banking room, and it is faced with exceptionally handsome blocks of rusticated limestone. As a freestanding building, it is visible from all four sides, and three sides are accented by the tall arched windows which light the main banking room."
"This bank interior is one of the most impressive in the corpus of bank buildings from the York & Sawyer firm and an outstanding example of the best of the academic classical architectural tradition."
Wednesday, December 6, 2006
easy things you can do:
1. Mark your calendar:
Save the date for public hearing for the former H&H Automat, 2710 Broadway at West 104th Street. The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has scheduled the hearing for Tuesday, December 12 at 10 a.m. Check the LPC website for the most up-to-date information:
http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/html/working_with/calendar.shtml. (Hearing location: 1 Centre St., 9th Floor)
A strong turnout at the hearing will show the LPC how deeply the neighborhood values this building and its place in New York culture and history.
2. Send letters of support to LPC:
Hon. Robert B. Tierney, Chair
NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission
1 Centre Street, 9th Floor, NYC 10007
For sample letters, please visit our website:
Read the LPC statement of significance (below) for additional ideas.
3. Sign the online petition:
Visit our website or http://www.petitiononline.com/Automat/petition.html. Email the link to others who care about the Automat's future.
4. Stay tuned for "Automat-ic Pie"
We are as pleased as punch that grassroots musical activist, singer-songwriter and neighbor Mark Foley was inspired to write "Automat-ic Pie" about the 104th Street H&H Automat. The lyrics are below, and we will add an MP3 recording of this musical treat to our website later this week.
Cherry pie, you and I
It was automat-ic
When I walked by
With a stack of nickels
And a piece of time
I had my pie
And I made you mine
But some good things
Don't seem to last
And our love went the way
Of that Automat
Hopper might have painted it as Boggie walked by
They probably got some pictures in the MOMA archive
Streamlined stainless, chromed so cool
It looked so pretty.it sounded good too
'Cause the slide of those nickels opened your door
And brought me the lovin' that I lived for(at the Automat)
Let me tell you sugar, it was a time so sweet
With your flaky crust on that cherry treat
You're always in the mood to meet my needs
But when I bit on you, you got the hold on me
And if you'd come back, you'd find it's true
I'd build an Automat for me & you(for me and you)
The automat's gone and a drug store's there
But it don't have a potion to ease my cares
There's even talk to tear the whole place down
That would make it worse since you're not 'round
My just desserts turned to vinaigrette
But I'll always cherish the place we met(that's the Automat)
Copyright 2006 Mark Foley www.volunteermusic.org 917.776.8948
Landmarks Preservation Commission Statement of Significance for 2710-2714 Broadway
HORN & HARDART AUTOMAT - CAFETERIA BUILDING
2710-2714 BROADWAY (AKA 228-234 WEST 104TH STREET), MANHATTAN
The 3-story, limestone-clad Horn & Hardart Automat-Cafeteria Building located at 2710-2714 Broadway (at West 104th Street) is one of the most distinctive small-scale commercial buildings in New York City executed in the Art Deco style, and is, in particular, one of the best surviving examples of the popular chain restaurants that proliferated in the city during the first three decades of the 20th century. In 1927, the Horn & Hardart Co. became the leaseholder of this site, which was owned by George W. Walker. The structure, originally two stories plus mezzanine, was constructed in 1930 to the design of the firm of F[rederick]. P[utnam]. Platt & Brother [Charles Carsten Platt], specialists in building alterations who executed numerous New York commissions for the Horn & Hardart Co. from about 1916 to 1932. By 1927, F.P. Platt & Bro. had developed a design prototype for purpose-built Horn & Hardart automat-cafeteria buildings that assisted the restaurant chain in achieving a consistent commercial image. The Horn & Hardart Co., established in 1911, was the New York subsidiary of the Horn & Hardart Baking Co. of Philadelphia, Pa., which had been incorporated in 1898 by Joseph V. Horn and Frank A. Hardart, lunchroom proprietors since 1888. In 1902, Horn & Hardart opened their first waiterless Philadelphia restaurant, or "automat," in which customers could retrieve food directly from windows after depositing nickels in European-made equipment. The first New York automat opened in 1912, with American machinery, at No. 1557 Broadway in Times Square.
Automats, known for uniformly good food at low cost, became wildly popular and one of the city's cherished democratic institutions, appealing to a wide clientele.
This Horn & Hardart Automat-Cafeteria Building is made notable by its glazed polychrome Art Deco style terra-cotta ornament on the third story. Executed in hues of green, blue, tan, and gold luster by the Atlantic Terra Cotta Co., it is located on sills, panels above the windows, stylized pilaster capitals, and the building's terminating band. The highly sophisticated panels feature stylized floral motifs and zigzag patterns; the modeler of these panels is not yet identified, but the work is strikingly similar to that of preeminent architectural sculptor Rene P. Chambellan.
Horn & Hardart remained a tenant on the ground story and mezzanine of this building until 1953. The mezzanine level interior was remodeled as a full story in 1955. There have been a wide variety of commercial and organizational tenants over the years. While the current groundfloor storefront covers historic elements, visible above this are the upper portion of the original central segmental arched opening (with a fluted molded granite surround with a keystone) and the top of the bronze entrance portal and molded bronze spandrel.
Monday, December 4, 2006
December 2, 2006
Landmarks Commission (1 Letter)
To the Editor:
Re "The (Naked) City and the Undead," by Tom Wolfe (Op-Ed, Nov. 26):
Backed by the country's strongest landmarks law, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has protected more than 7,000 historically, architecturally and culturally significant buildings and structures in the last 20 years alone.
The notion that the commission has been "defunct" for two decades simply doesn't hold up.
In total, there are 23,000 designated landmarks in New York City. The commission is slated to designate over 1,000 more in the coming year, including the Crown Heights North section of Brooklyn, a historic district that is poised to become the city's largest designation in more than a
The commission works throughout the five boroughs and in close consultation with communities and other city agencies. This comprehensive approach ensures that we preserve what's distinctive about our great city for future generations, even at a time of tremendous growth.
Robert B. Tierney
Chairman, N.Y.C. Landmarks Preservation Commission
New York, Nov. 27, 2006
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Published in The New York Times, November 28, 2006
To the Editor:
Re "The (Naked) City and the Undead," by Tom Wolfe (Op-Ed, Nov. 26):
Hurrah to Mr. Wolfe! The real estate industry’s control of our city needs to be revealed more and more on a daily basis.
My own mantra for years has been that it owns the city.
Mr. Wolfe’s article proves the point quite well.
The only aspect unmentioned is the need for affordable housing, another issue the industry has no interest in; no “luxury condos” would be needed to house the middle class in this town, and that seems to be all we see around us.
Among my friends, we find that our college-educated, hard-working children cannot afford to live here.
New York, Nov. 26, 2006
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Published in The New York Sun, November 29, 2006
Bonfire of the Landmarks
By Edward Glaeser
Once again, the dark clouds of a real estate battle darken the sunny cooperatives of the Upper East Side. The neighborhood's great paladins of preservation are sharpening their verbal rapiers to wage war against those nefarious malefactors, the developers who make Manhattan more affordable by building more housing. The great melee on Madison, the fight over new construction on the old Parke-Bernet building, is starting.
Glamorous neighborhood activists will fight developer Aby Rosen and architect Norman Foster for the hearts and minds of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. That commission has the power to block or change any development plans for the site. Sunday, Tom Wolfe wrote a fiery broadside against the allegedly increasing control that developers have over the once independent Landmarks Preservation Commission.
As a student of land-use battles, I am in heaven. Not since Kevin Kline tried to persuade the Landmarks Commission by quoting Richard II on proportionality has a zoning fight been so exciting. I spent last night dreaming about the educational novella that Mr. Wolfe could write to further his cause. Perhaps the developer turned stoic of "A Man in Full" will try to build a shopping mall atop the New York Public Library only to be stopped by the brave opposition of Charlotte Simmons and the less despicable characters from the "The Bonfire of the Vanities."
But my enthusiasm for the fight does not cause me to forget that this is an important battle. There are real benefits and costs from blocking this project. On the benefits side, blocking the project will preserve the view from the Carlyle and save neighbors from the curse of too much modernism as they throng to St. James Episcopal Church.
On the costs side, blocking new development ensures that Manhattan will stay unaffordable. New supply is the only way that middle-income people will be able to afford the city. When supply is choked off, people must pay more for housing, and firms in New York must pay higher salaries to their employees. The mayor has courageously fought for and achieved an increase in granting construction permits because he knows that the city's economic vitality depends on its affordability.
The core issue in this battle is respect for private property. Aby Rosen, not the community, owns 980 Madison Ave. The Landmarks Commission's stripping him of the ability to build would represent a great step in state power over private property. It seems odd for members of the normally non-socialist urban haute bourgeoisie to support so enthusiastically such a massive expropriation of private property.
Seen in this light, the Landmarks Preservation Commission is not a bastion of good government, but an appointed agency with a vast amount of relatively unchecked power. Over the past 40 years, the Landmarks Commission has created 85 historic districts and designated almost 23,000 buildings as landmarks, giving it control over vast tracts of the city's most valuable real estate. The power of the commission is certainly one explanation for the decline in granting building permits and the reduction in the height of new buildings. Mr. Kline's oration was not for naught. Twelve floors got lopped off the project he opposed.
The commission is filled with decent people trying to do what they think is right, but the composition of the commission leads them to put too much weight on aesthetics and too little weight on economics. I am sure that the Foster tower atop 980 Madison will be beautiful, but even if it were not, the tower would have economic benefits, and those benefits need to be weighed against any aesthetic costs. The mayor has the skills and incentives to weigh aesthetics and economics. I am less sure about the commission whose 11 members must include three architects, one landscape architect, and a city planner. These professions have a dangerous track record of putting aesthetics ahead of everything else.
The appointed and unsalaried nature of the commission also tilts the battle in favor of the charismatic abutters over the middle-income beneficiaries of new construction. If I were serving as an appointed, unsalaried member of the commission, I would find it hard to withstand the appeals of a great actor or writer. Perhaps, I could remind myself that they were acting in their own self-interest in what objectively is an extreme example of Nimbyism, but their eloquence would surely cause my concerns to wilt.
I am not enthusiastic about a powerful Landmarks Preservation Commission that can impose its aesthetic vision on the city unchecked. We have elected representatives who have their flaws, but they have incentives to take into account the needs of the city beyond the concerns of abutters. If the Landmarks Commission doesn't allow 980 Madison to rise, I hope that the mayor and City Council will rein the commission in.
Mr. Glaeser is the Glimp professor of economics at Harvard, director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Tom Wolfe's full-spread Op-Ed piece in Sunday's New York Times is required reading for anyone who cares about New York City. Period.
"The (Naked) City and the Undead," 11/26/06
A few quotes can hardly do justice to Wolfe's dead-on assessment of the "undead" Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and its downward spiral. But since the post-holiday fog may still be lifting, some excerpts - sure to get your attention - are pasted below.
Strong words must be accompanied by strong deeds. Here's what you can do:
1) Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your response to Wolfe's op-ed;
2) Cc your messages to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (go to http://www.nyc.gov/html/mail/html/mayor.html and paste in your message), LPC Chair Robert B. Tierney (email@example.com), and firstname.lastname@example.org;
3) Email the Citizens Emergency Committee to Preserve Preservation(email@example.com), the landmarks-reform campaign (referred to by Wolfe at the end of his piece) that is now preparing a lawsuit that would reinforce the independence of Landmarks Commissioners by compelling MayorBloomberg to immediately re-appoint or replace the 9 (out of 11) whose terms have lapsed. Lend your name to the list of co-petitioners in the lawsuit and support this initiative to use the "third branch of government to get the first branch to do its job" (in the words of Whitney North Seymour, Jr., attorney and acting secretary of the Emergency Committee)!
And now some quotes...
Referring to Aby Rosen, the prospective developer of 980 Madison Avenue:"Like every major developer in town, he knows that the LandmarksPreservation Commission has been de facto defunct for going on 20 years. Today it is a bureau of the walking dead, tended by one Robert B. Tierney."
Revisiting Mayor Koch's abrupt dismissal of Landmarks Commission Anthony M.Tung in 1987: "Never again could you expect a landmarks commissioner, muchless a chairman, to stand up to a mayor...never again could you expect anyof them to stand up to Big Real Estate, if Big Real Estate had the mayor's backing."
Reviewing Mayor Bloomberg's landmarks track record (including 2 ColumbusCircle and the former Dakota Stable): "Reading the tank-style tread marks of the excavation earth-movers today, one is forced to conclude that Rudy Giuliani and Ed Koch are not the only mayors who would just as soon have ended the charade by mercifully putting the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the walking dead out of their misery...Mayor Michael R.Bloomberg certainly seems to qualify as another."
Do read the entire piece - it's worth it.
(See below or follow this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/opinion/26wolfe.html)
Monday, November 27, 2006
The (Naked) City and the Undead
By Tom Wolfe
CHIN up, tummy out, Aby Rosen, the 46-year-old German developer, owner of the Seagram Building and Lever House, was posing for pictures in front of 980 Madison Avenue barely one month ago when he grew so bold as to boast: “I have zero fear. Fear is not something I have.”
Easy for you to say, braveheart! The courage-crowing tycoon knows very well that in the current battle over 980 Madison, a five-story Art Moderne building stretching from 76th Street to 77th Street, the contest is already completely snookered in his favor.
On top of this block-long low-rise he intends to build one of his Aby Rosen jumbo glass boxes full of commercial space and condominiums, rising straight up a sheer 30 stories. His big problem — or, to be more accurate, “problem” — is that 980 Madison is in the heart of the Upper East Side Historic District, and it would be hard to dream up anything short of a Mobil station more out of place there than a Mondo Condo glass box by Aby Rosen.
The writer Tom Wolfe and other neighbors have taken to lobbing objections in the direction of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the city’s official watchdog for landmarked areas. The commission has already held a hearing and could stop Aby Rosen dead in his tracks at a moment’s notice, just like that.
But what, him worry? Like every major developer in town, he knows that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has been de facto defunct for going on 20 years. Today it is a bureau of the walking dead, tended by one Robert B. Tierney.
Mr. Tierney and the 10 members of his commission already have a hearty, comrades-in-arms, marching-along-together history with Aby Rosen. The commission was highly instrumental last November in clearing the way for him to build a zone-busting glass box full of condominiums on Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street in return for his guarantee, written into the deed, that the exterior of his Seagram Building, given landmark status in 1989, will be maintained in its original condition in perpetuity.
Mr. Tierney gushed — insofar as one can gush in a press release — that Aby Rosen was not only ensuring “the highest level of protection” for this historic building, he was also being so kind as to favor New York with “a landmark of the future,” namely, his glass box godzilla at Lexington and 53rd.
How generous! How civic-minded! Noblesse oblige! ... until one reminds oneself that Aby Rosen and every other owner of a landmarked building is required by law to maintain it in its original condition.
Aby Rosen is a global success story of the 21st century, a citizen of the world. He should care about New York’s parochial steps to make historic preservation a government responsibility?
That was in another century, the 20th, 1965 to be exact, after a developer had demolished that old solemn-columned classical temple of passenger train travel, Pennsylvania Station, to make way for Madison Square Garden, a coliseum where the rabble could go watch hungover Canadians on ice skates batter one another senseless.
Never again! vowed le tout New York. The thrill of a Goo-Goo crusade thrummed through the gizzard of everyone from, eventually, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and legions of other celebrities and socialites to virtually every prominent politician, from Mayor Robert F. Wagner on down.
Never again! The City Council gave legal muscle to a previously powerless Landmarks Preservation Commission, made up of scholars, city planners, architects, artists, landscapers, designers. This was to be an aesthetic and scholarly elite with virtually absolute discretion in deciding what buildings and historic districts should be preserved forever through landmark designation.
Goo-Goo was an old City Hall term for believers in Good Government, by which the regulars meant idealistic lightweights whose feet seldom touched the ground. But all at once every big shot in New York seemed to have gone Goo-Goo.
So feverish was that born-again bliss that for a decade the commission pretty much had its idealistic way. But when the commission tapped for protection the city’s other great monument to railroad travel, Grand Central Terminal, it wound up in a do-or-die lawsuit that reached the United States Supreme Court in 1978.
Goo-Goo fever now shot up to a peak. Jackie O. herself served as the star passenger on the Landmarks Express, a private train packed with celebrities, socialites and members of the commission who headed to Washington to exhort the court to uphold New York’s landmarks law — and in so doing save the station. Mayor Edward I. Koch gave a Goo-Goo, Never Again send-off speech so moving that cynical, battle-hardened, social-cliff-climbing Manhattan matrons had to dab their eye sockets. Not even the Supreme Court justices, it seemed, could control themselves in a Camelot moment. They upheld the landmarks law faster than you could say Oh, Jackie, ohhhhh ...
Oooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhh yes, went the landmarks commissioners. The chairman received a salary, but the commissioners got no pay for this job. Still, the psychic rewards were turning out to be awesome. You were working for a cause you believed in, and at a high and highly visible level. After all, you were now an official of the 20th century’s capital of the world, New York City, and you kept running into the very rich and very social — who were suddenly giving you aero-kisses, Euro-style, four millimeters away from each side of your face.
The commissioners had made names for themselves professionally as scholars, architects, city planning consultants, but now they were moving up in life in a way they could have never anticipated. One evening a commissioner from the Jackie O. period is at a cocktail party — you were now being invited to an infinitely better class of parties — when a benefactress of the City Beautiful movement approaches him and asks if he would like to go over to Lincoln Center and watch Jerome Robbins rehearsing with Mikhail Baryshnikov for some ballet that’s coming up. The next thing he knows, her driver is taking the two of them over to the theater.
“The place is dark except for the stage,” he recounted, “and there’s Jerome Robbins up there, and Baryshnikov, and Robbins is having Baryshnikov try this and try that — and the only people in the whole audience are this woman and me! Us and some Saudi prince who’s backing the show.”
You would walk into a conference room and people would jump up and shake your hand and take your coat and show you to a seat and smile and beam, beam, beam respect — because you and your commission colleagues wielded a government power over private property second only to confiscating it via the right of eminent domain. When you made someone’s property a landmark, he retained title to it, but you confiscated his ability to exploit it by putting up something new in its place or selling it for development. In a former commissioner’s own words: “One day it dawns on you. You’re pushing around billions of dollars worth of real estate development. You’re telling the biggest developers in the world, ‘Keep moving, Jack! You can’t build there!’ ”
Somehow you had made it inside the Walled City that Theodore Dreiser described in “Sister Carrie.” There was New York the melting pot, the boiling stew, of the eight million ... and there was the Walled City, wherein existed New York’s fabled excitement and glamour and power and blinding wealth and extravagant ease and fine slim people who introduced you to restaurants where you didn’t dare order a beer and wished you hadn’t worn a brown suit and a “colorful” necktie. Thus it came to be that turnover on the commission was exceedingly low.
No fools, New York’s mayors got the picture soon enough. Why on earth allow so much power to remain in the hands of a bunch of arty, sentimental, cerebral, status-addicted Goo-Goos? And the name of the man who first made City Hall’s contempt obvious? Edward I. Koch! The very man who had left them sobbing Goo-Goo tears during the Camelot moment! Not the velvet-gloved sort, Mr. Koch went ballistic in what became the notorious Tung affair.
In 1987, for good and sufficient civic and political reasons, the mayor wanted to turn Bryant Park, the badly rundown open space behind the New York Public Library, into a gloriously landscaped Tuileries Garden for Manhattan crowned with a Lucullan restaurant. But building the restaurant would mean cutting down a stand of towering old trees. The mayor wanted the commission to give this alteration its blessing.
Enter Anthony M. Tung. Mr. Tung was only 37 but had served on the commission for eight years. One and all agreed he was probably the most erudite member the commission had ever had, a city planning consultant, a walking encyclopedia of the history, principles and practices of urban preservation, and a brilliant analyst; in short, a genius in that field.
Mr. Tung argued that the proposed restaurant would be a landmark desecration, butchering not only many magnificent old trees but also the entire rear aspect of the library, which was every bit as innovative and historically important as the more famous Fifth Avenue front with its lions and great staircase. So eloquent was he, so utterly convincing, that the commission, chairman and all, swung around and denied Mayor Koch’s request — unanimously — and made him look like a hairy Visigoth getting ready to sack Rome.
Impudent wretch! The mayor got word to the genius that he was fired so fast — five days later — it made the tail on the Q of Mr. Tung’s sky-high I.Q. curl.
Getting rid of him was easy, or should have been. Landmarks commissioners were appointed for three-year terms, and it turned out that Mr. Tung and six of the other nine unpaid commissioners had never been officially reappointed. They had just kept on serving. Technically, they were expirees. This was probably the result of nothing more than bureaucratic inertia. But it was very handy! All the mayor had to do was have somebody send Mr. Tung a letter saying his term had expired, he wasn’t being reappointed, so long, thanks a million for your service, and kindly go off and be a genius by yourself. In fact, thanks to the rank odor, it took the mayor months to find a both willing and respectable candidate to take his place.
Mr. Tung didn’t take it lying down for a moment, and the Tung affair boiled and stewed in the press for months. Still, no one seemed to realize at the time that the landmarks law, as originally conceived, was now null and void. From the Tung affair on, the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s aesthetic elite was pretty much free to bestow landmark status on any property it saw fit — unless the mayor had designs on it himself.
Barely a peep in Anthony Tung’s behalf was heard from any commissioner or the chairman, even though all of them had so bravely agreed with him at the outset. Well ... let’s face it. One has to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, doesn’t one? But we’ll get to decide on the rest, won’t we? And still be invited to all the parties?
Talk about never again! Never again could you expect a landmarks commissioner, much less a chairman, to stand up to a mayor. And, as a corollary, never again could you expect any of them to stand up to Big Real Estate, if Big Real Estate had the mayor’s backing. As they say at City Hall, they got along by going along. It wasn’t so bad ... talking the talk with one’s fellow walking dead and walking the walking-dead walk to swell parties and events.
As for Anthony Tung: he went off and, a genius by himself, wrote a book titled “Preserving the World’s Great Cities.” Today it is the bible of urban preservationists all over the globe, and from Mexico City to Athens to Istanbul to Kyoto and Singapore, he is one of the world’s most sought-after speakers and consultants on urban planning, most recently in New Orleans.
The undead commission became only undeader under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. When he became mayor in 1994, New York had hit the bottom of a full-blown commercial real estate depression, and he wasn’t about to allow anyone with a weakness for silvery-tongues to become chairman. So he appointed a former campaign strategist, Jennifer J. Raab, who was introduced to the public as a highly experienced land-use lawyer.
Translated, that meant she made her living representing landlords and developers for the big-time, high-billing-and-the-clock-is-running law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. It didn’t take long for her to enunciate the Raab Doctrine. No longer is it Us against Them, she said. From now on everyone, preservationists and developers alike, will recognize their common interest in preservation.
With that, she bade Us lamb chops to lie down with Them lions and bestowed “preservation achievement awards” for preservation-friendly architectural designs upon the Gap — which she teasingly referred to as the “big bad corporation” by way of showing Them lions were really pussycats — and Bernard Mendik, chairman of the Real Estate Board, the lobby for landlords, developers and brokers, by natural selection the evolutionary enemies of landmarks preservation. As for the commission, it remained packed with expirees who would gladly disintegrate, if necessary, to avoid casting so much as a shadow on any of the mayor’s plans.
Reading the tank-style tread marks of the excavation earth-movers today, one is forced to conclude that Rudy Giuliani and Ed Koch are not the only mayors who would just as soon have ended the charade by mercifully putting the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the walking dead out of their misery or at least slipping them into the sleep mode the way you can a computer. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg certainly seems to qualify as another.
Last year, as he had ever since 2003, Mayor Bloomberg made it clear that he wanted a 40-year-old white marble building the city owned at 2 Columbus Circle, designed by Edward Durell Stone for Huntington Hartford’s short-lived Gallery of Modern Art, replaced by a glass box proposed by the Museum of Arts and Design, to fit in with the behemoth glass box of the nearby Time Warner Center.
Back in the 1960s, critics and the art world in general had sniggered, sneered and hooted Mr. Hartford’s gallery into oblivion after only five years. But that was 40 years ago, and art history is chronically revisionist. (Rembrandt once got cold-shouldered for two centuries.)
Now, in 2005, the mayor was confronted by an incredible uprising of scholars, world-renowned architects, deans of art and architecture at the great universities, mega-wattage art worldlings — the greatest massing of cultural luminaries in a single cause since the anti-fascist crusades of the 1930s! — all calling upon the commission to hold a hearing, lest this historic work by a great American architect be destroyed without a second thought.
For any owner of a magnifying glass seeking a closer look at this astral army:
The two most eminent architectural historians in the United States, Vincent Scully and Robert A. M. Stern, dean of Yale’s school of architecture, a famous and prolific architect in his own right, and the definitive historian of New York architecture from the late 19th century to the present, co-author of the magisterial quintet, “New York 1880,” “ New York 1900,” “New York 1930,” “New York 1960,” “New York 2000”; nine deans and graduate program directors of art and architecture, including three from Columbia University, and one of the nation’s best-known urban studies scholars and theorists, Witold Rybczynski of the University of Pennsylvania; the most elite lineup of architects who ever stood shank to flank in a preservation controversy: Richard Meier, Cesar Pelli, Robert Venturi, Laurie Olin, Hugh Hardy and Peter Eisenman, plus Dean Stern, to single out but seven from among a host of them; the current chief architectural critic of The New York Times and two of his predecessors, one of whom called the commission’s year-after-year refusal to call a hearing “a shocking dereliction of public duty”; The Times itself, in an editorial characterizing Stone’s building as “already an architectural monument, the work of a major architect, whether the commission likes it or not” and the refusal as “an enormous mistake, one that seriously erodes [the commission’s] purpose and whatever independence it has managed to attain since it was first created”; the nation’s, New York State’s and New York City’s most highly respected preservation societies, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the World Monuments Fund; Agnes Gund, who had just stepped down as president of the board of the Museum of Modern Art; the artists Frank Stella and Chuck Close, under whose letterhead a petition signed by more than 50 artists went to Mayor Bloomberg; and three former chairmen of the landmarks commission.
If the administration had the subpoena power to summon a jury of the most esteemed architectural and urban planning authorities in the United States to judge the case of 2 Columbus Circle — it would have summoned the very same people who are in that condensed like-a-lump-of-coal type. There are no higher authorities. So how did Robert Tierney respond to them?
He didn’t! Not once! It was as simple as that!
He stayed holed up in his bunker at 1 Centre Street, while Spokesperson said ... and said ...and said ... and said, “Under two administrations and three chairmen, the commission has declined to consider this site for landmark status, and I am aware of no new information that would make it necessary to revisit the matter”...
“Under two administrations and three chairmen, the commission has declined to consider”...
“Under two administrations and three chairmen, the commission”...
“Under two administrations and three”...
But, but, but how could he do that without seeming ... brain dead ... or without taking direct orders? Either way, the chairman’s refusal to call a hearing — a mere hearing, which would commit the commission to nothing — or to so much as discuss a hearing ... was as good as an official proclamation:
Landmarking no longer exists in New York City, not even as a principle — or not above the level of the occasional parish house in Staten Island or rusticated old stone archway in eastern Queens.
By this time last year unionized elves with air hammers had reduced 2 Columbus Circle’s white marble to rubble and set about gutting the interior.
The chairman was marginally less blunt about staying out of the way of Big Real Estate. For two decades preservation groups had been petitioning the commission to give landmark status to the five-story Romanesque Revival-style Dakota Stable on Amsterdam Avenue at 77th Street, the most important remaining relic of late 19th century New York’s palmy days of riding horses and traveling by horse-drawn carriage.
This spring they learned that Big Real Estate, in the form of the Related Companies, developers of the Time Warner Center, had a contract to buy the building with the intention of demolishing it and putting up 14 stories’ worth of condominiums. (Ironically, they picked Robert Stern as the architect.) In July, Mr. Tierney indicated he was going to hold a hearing ... hold a hearing ... hold a hearing ... hold a hearing ... but was somehow delayed until Oct. 17 — and wouldn’t you know it? In September the city had granted permission to alter the Dakota Stable and by Oct. 17 it had been stripped of its architectural details, and all that was left was “a stucco box.”
Those were the chairman’s own words, “a stucco box.” Just the other day he shook his head and declared it was too late to do anything about that.
SO we will never know about Aby Rosen! Maybe the man does have “zero fear.” But he won’t be put to the test this time. In the case of 980 Madison he has one-click approval whenever They feel the time is right.
In case he’s wondering, he should know that the table is set at the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Set beautifully! Never better! Nine of the 10 current commissioners, not counting Mr. Tierney, are expirees — 90 percent! — in imminent danger of getting canned if they don’t do the right thing by Aby Rosen!
Once upon a time, in the legendary age of Camelot, back when Jackie O. could make the entire United States Supreme Court roll over and moan, it was the landlords and developers who used to scream bloody murder at the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Just two weeks ago close to 100 leaders of New York City preservationist groups held a “citizens emergency meeting” at the General Society Library on West 44th Street... and bayed for the blind goddess, Justice, to make Preservation the commission’s middle name. Many of them were young, young enough to envision a landmarking renaissance. Youth! The way they bayed was enough to make the hair stand up on old Aby Rosen’s arm.
Tom Wolfe is the author, most recently, of “I Am Charlotte Simmons.”’
Upper West Side Baptists pray for real-estate guidance while façade-worshipping neighbors fret.
New York Magazine
November 27, 2006
The stranger came uninvited to the First Baptist Church on West 79th Street last spring. He was a real-estate developer, and he had an offer: Let us replace your exuberant 1894 Romanesque edifice and build something more practical. The church would share ownership and space in a new, fourteen-story condo, and get an eight-figure cash payout to boot. Thus began the great temptation of W. Lawrence Joachim, president of the church’s board of trustees. “The proposal’s basic concept was a residential condo building with retail space and the church in between,” says Joachim. He declined. But the developer returned this summer with a revised plan. Six additional real-estate companies have also approached to give advice.
Among other things, Joachim worries about the effect of buckets of cash on a church, which has about 180 members (not enough to fill its 800 pews; a Korean church and Redeemer Presbyterian share the space). “We have plenty of chapel room, but the office and classroom space leave something to be desired,” he says. “And a gym and a soup kitchen might be nice to have.”
“We’ve been praying for months about this,” he says. “We’re emphasizing prayer rather than discussion, because we believe that we need to set aside self-will. We need to follow His will.” His neighbors fear for the loss of yet another piece of their historic paradise. The Citizens Emergency Committee to Preserve Preservation is meeting; its goal is to have the church landmarked, precluding redevelopment. “I’ve received three dozen calls and e-mails just this week” to preserve the church, says Councilwoman Gale Brewer. Last month, three community representatives were caught trying to spy on a private church meeting, upsetting Joachim.
First Baptist is not alone in its real-estate tribulations. Across the city, congregations trapped in the financial purgatory of dwindling memberships and rising costs are deciding that church-condos might fall within the bounds of Christ’s wishes. “Developers are literally going from religious institution to religious institution, asking if they can buy their building as a development site,” says Peg Breen, the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy. And First Baptist is across the street from the Apthorp, which sold last week for over $425 million.
Joachim joined the Baptist congregation in 1976, after graduating from Princeton and law school. “When I joined, the deacons used to grill you a bit. They’d say, ‘Can you recite a Scripture that lets you know that you have eternal life?’ It’s a little easier now.” He’s married to a Jewish woman. (“Not a good idea,” he deadpans.) “Landmarking, it seems to me, is a disaster,” he says. It becomes more expensive and cumbersome to repair the building, much less replace it. Nonetheless, last week the commission rushed the church into emergency landmark review. Joachim is unmoved. “For us, the building is a vehicle for ministry, not an end unto itself. And it may happen that we would change our use of the property.”
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
The landmark quality of any building is not always immediately or easily visible. If the presence of elaborate ornamentation is clear, recognition is easy. In some cases, however, a more nuanced judgment is appropriate. I believe this to be the case in the matter of the Dakota stable. I consider designation a matter of great urgency for reasons that I will explain that go beyond its inherent worthiness as an important architectural, historical, cultural AND social landmark. Sadly, this is one more example of the Landmarks Commission being tested as to how firm we will defend our city’s landmarks.
First, why is this urgent? It is clear today that when property owners recognize the landmark potential of their building, they go for a permit to strip. It is ipso facto recognition of something they seek to destroy before designation occurs. To deny the obvious is to be naïve. As one person testified, “this is simultaneous acknowledgment and rejection of design significance.”
We saw this with P.S. 64, with Lapidus’ Paterson Silk or Crawford Clothes building on 14th St., Cinema I & II on Third Avenue and currently, The Colonial Club on W 72nd and, potentially, City and Suburban Houses. Only designation of the Dakota Stable can send a signal that the Commission will no longer let this strategy work as a designation-ducking device.
Second, cultural vandalism, in the past, has not always been purposeful. Sometimes, it was plain stupidity or misguided economics. But even a defaced landmark does not totally lose its inherent quality. I have argued repeatedly of late that a critical element of our internal standard of deciding whether to consider calendaring a building is erroneous – that is, the degree to which it has been compromised. As Christopher Gray noted in 1987, the LPC ignored pleas for designation of the Dakota stable because its ground floor had been “’severely compromised’ – although a designated landmark a block away, the Belleclaire Hotel, has no original ground floor left.” Misguided interventions, as we see and deal with on a weekly basis, are reversible. In fact, what we do more than anything else each week is approve plans that reverse misguided interventions.
It would be fascinating to survey how many once severely compromised buildings designated as landmarks have since been restored to, if not precise original glory, close to it. These are landmarks in an earlier time we might have lost.
Third. We have heard that the building is too far gone to designate. That is not the case. I don’t know how much original fabric is left of the Dakota Stable and I’m not suggesting we could enforce total recreation. But, if a designated landmark, any new project on the site must come before us. And, indeed, we can require something be incorporated in the design that reflects the architectural, historical, cultural and social importance of the lost landmark. It may be a few elements, the two-tone brick, some arched windows but whatever it is, the memory will not have been erased. The building is not yet stuccoed nor totally effaced. We will face this very challenge with PS 64 and what we do here will affect what we can do there, no matter how much we like to think there are no precedents.
Fourth. I have saved the architectural qualities of this landmark for last because you heard considerable testimony in this regard at the hearing. I have read most of the testimony and was struck by how many people pointed out that the understated nature of the design was a signature of the architect, Bradford Gilbert. “Visionary simplicity,” one witness noted. “The warm orange walls are set off by rich, salmon-colored trim at the windows and cornice…Its simplicity gives it a fresh, even modern, character despite its age,” noted Christopher Gray. “It is not only representative of an important and increasingly rare 19th century building type but a major work of architecture in its own right,” observed Andrew Dolkart. And of its minimal ornamentation, another observed, “the building is a work of color and line rather than applied ornament, in contrast to most buildings of the period, which were often overloaded with ornamentation.” This makes it all the more possible to retain enough of the architecture to be a significant remnant of what once proudly stood.
And fifth. We should not assume these stables were omitted from the historic district designation because of the lack of worthiness. We all know too well how many important buildings were purposely left out of districts all over the city because they were potential big development sites. Together these two stables on what was importantly known as “stable row,” represent a rare remnant of the commercial livery stables so important to the middle class.
Together they help tell the story of the West Side’s development in a way that one alone does not. It is not enough to designate the one and think we have done enough. Preservation is not, and should not, be about the last, the best, the only, etc. The field is way past that kind of thinking.
I wish we would worry about the preservation community’s concerns about the undermining of the landmarks law as we worry about “owner support for historic preservation.” We did the right thing by calendaring this important building. Now let’s do the right thing and designate it an official landmark.
"The choicest function of government is to protect the weak from the unrighteous acts of those who are strong..." Chief Justice Smyth(1922)
Here is my take on what occurred at the Public Meeting on the landmarking of the Dakota Stables on November 14, 2006. First, the result was unfortunate. By a 3 to 6 vote, by voice not by a roll call, the property was taken “off the calendar”. I assume that the phraseology of the vote is what we call in the law a “term of art”. By voting in this fashion none of the commissioners has to vote against landmarking a building.
The decision in the Dakota Stables matter was telegraphed in the discussion regarding the successful landmarking of the New York Cab Company Stable. In that discussion the commissioners referred often to the fact that the New York Cab Company building was “intact”. Beautiful and Intact. Important and Intact. It was hard to miss the message. However, the discussion of the Dakota Stables was interesting for two reasons. 1. Lots of hand wringing and sadness on the part of commissioners who feigned impotence. 2. The passion, even in the face of opposition, of a few for taking a stand and not allowing the owner and developer to win.
The commissioners recognized that what had been done to the Dakota Stables was despicable and an end run around the landmarking process. Though “legal”, it was described by one as a shameful act.
Perhaps the best overall presentation of what had happened and what would continue to happen unless the Commission took a stand came from Commissioner Roberta Gratz. She called on the Commission to landmark the building to maintain control over the site and to send a message to owners and developers that the process followed by the owner would not be countenanced or rewarded by the Commission. Gratz called on the Chairman and the commission to set up a procedure to stop this kind of end run. She listed as other members did the other landmark quality buildings that had been demolished and destroyed in this manner. She urged the commission to draw a line in the sand and send a message. She predicted that a flurry of these “demolitions by repair” permit actions would be taken by owners who thought that their buildings might be of landmark quality. She also opined that the actions of the owner was proof positive or at least evidence that the building was landmark quality and that the “demolition” was done to avoid and preempt the landmarking process. She opined that the Commission should have done more, could have done more and should in the future do more. Tierney, although he initially said he was interested in setting up some kind of procedure with the building department, argued that it was so complicated and that there could be so many unintended consequences that it would be a long and difficult process to set up such a procedure. When pressed he said—we’re looking into it. The implication in his tone was: “Now shut up about it.” Commissioner Tierney also said that he was still continuing to discuss the matter with the owners and hoped that they would incorporate some of the unique elements of the building in their development.
The Commissioners did engage in a discussion of the need for a new procedure that establishes a presumption that a building that is a certain number of years old is within the jurisdiction of the LPC to the extent that if a permit for demolition or refurbishment of the type that was issued with regard to the Dakota Stables is requested/applied for no permit would be issued without clearing it with the LPC. Some of the Commissioners spoke of it in terms of red flags that would trigger notice to the LPC of such a request. Such notice would give the LPC an opportunity to take some action to protect the building. This was an encouraging discussion but I did not really sense any real enthusiasm from the Chair—rhetorical enthusiasm yes—but no real enthusiasm.
Those of us who believe in preservation need to press the LPC to actually set up such a process. We should call upon Councilman Avella to help us with this issue and provide support to those Commissioners who really are interested in putting this type of process in place between the LPC and the Building Department.
Perhaps one of the most startling assumptions that the commissioners made about the “renovation” plans of the owner was that he was actually going to go through with them. They talked a lot about a “stucco box”. Mr. Tierney offered at the beginning of the meeting a new and improved description of the permits that had been granted by the building department to the owner. As you may recall the permit was described as a permit to remove the cornice and repair the windows. According to Mr. Tierney it had been granted to remove all of the exterior decorations, install new windows and stucco the entire structure. Commissioners worried about “landmarking” a stucco box. They just couldn’t do it they said. Tierney said that there was no reason to believe that the owner would not go forward with his “plans”. Either he is naïve or he is so conflicted he has lost his grasp on reality.
One other Tierneyism that I would like to share. He stated that he was so glad that the community was able to see how open this process had been. He suggested that the attendance at the hearing a few weeks ago was evidence of the “openness” of the process. I guess the fact that you did not find out about the hearing until a lawyer called and that we could not see any of the materials offered to the Commission in opposition, secret meetings with the owner and developer and the fact that the Commission refused to take any action and stop the demolition to protect their jurisdiction are all evidence of the “transparency” of the commission and the openness of the process. I felt like I was watching a sketch on the “Daily Show”.
One of the Commissioners cautioned that neither the owner nor the developer should see this as a win. What a stupid thing to say. After the vote, the representatives of Stern’s office and the developer “high fived” each other. Throwing caution to the wind, I am sure they saw this as a win and as a way to go in other projects.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
The votes are in. And the Landmarks Preservation Commission would like us to start with the good news. The bad news is that there really is no good news.
At a public meeting yesterday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) unanimously approved the designation of the former New York Cab Company stable, an 1888-90 Romanesque Revival building designed by C. Abbott French & Company, at the northwest corner of Amsterdam Avenue and 75th Street. The Cab Company - on LANDMARK WEST's designation "wish list" since 1985 - is now the 2,707th landmark on the Upper West Side.
As much as the Cab Company deserves to be a landmark, this victory is soured by the LPC's nearly simultaneous vote to take the former Dakota Stable, another "Stable Row" survivor at Amsterdam and 77th Street, "off the calendar". The measure passed 8-2, despite impassioned pleas from Commissioners Roberta Brandes Gratz and Christopher Moore to make the Dakota Stable a landmark.
What does this mean, to take a building "off the calendar"? Our understanding is that it is a mechanism, devised by the LPC's legal counsel, for withdrawing the Dakota Stable's "calendared" status, which the LPC confers on properties as a preamble to a public designation hearing. Calendaring is supposed to prevent the Department of Buildings (DOB) from issuing alteration or demolition permits on a building while the LPC holds a hearing and considers the building's merits for designation. This only works if the LPC actually calendars the building prior to DOB's issuing permits.
In the case of the Dakota Stable, the LPC waited - for what? permission from the developer? a nod from City Hall? - until late September to calendar the building, over a month after DOB issued the permits that allowed destructive work to the facade. Workers promptly began dismantling the building. Nearly another month went by before the LPC held a public hearing (on October 17). Now, yet another month later, with the building and the public's faith in the integrity of the landmarks process lain in waste, the LPC decides to "take backsies", pretend it never happened, take half a loaf, and move on.
Preservationists in communities across the city are already calling for legislation to give the LPC more power in situations like this (which are all too frequent - this is by no means an isolated incident). If the LPC were empowered to move as quickly and effectively as developers do, perhaps buildings like the Dakota Stables would stand a fighting chance. Yet, in response to past community-driven legislative initiatives, the LPC has complained that such power would be too onorous and impose too heavy a burden on its overextended staff. Apparently, Mayor Bloomberg and his appointed Chair Robert B. Tierney prefer to keep the LPC one step behind the wrecking ball rather than in front of it.
For another first-hand account of yesterday's public meeting, visit the Historic Districts Council's Preservation Perspectives blog at http://hdcvoice.blogspot.com/
Monday, November 13, 2006
We have just learned that, tomorrow, Tuesday, November 14, at 12:30 PM, the Landmarks Preservation Commission will take its vote on whether or not the former Dakota Stable and New York Cab Company Stable, survivors of Amsterdam Avenue's 19th-century "Stable Row", deserve to be designated as official NYC Individual Landmarks.
We wish we could have let you know earlier, but this item did not appear on the Commission's official agenda circulated late last week. An email from the Commission, with the 12:30 PM time, arrived this afternoon. The vote will occur at a "public meeting", which means that the public is not permitted to testify, but may witness the Commission's discussion and decision. Your attendance at this meeting is vital. After months of waiting and watching as a demolition crew seemed to seal the fate of the Dakota Stable, we as a community have one last opportunity to show the Commission how strongly we support the preservation of these buildings. Given the late notice, many of you may find it impossible to attend. But if you can adjust your schedule, please join us in urging the Commission to take the action only it can take - to make these de facto landmarks de juro landmarks!
The Landmarks Preservation Commission is located at 1 Centre Street (the Municipal Building), 9th Floor. Remember to bring your photo ID to gain admission.
Wednesday, November 1, 2006
The former Dakota Stables on West 77th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. The former Colonial Club on West 72nd Street and Broadway. The First Baptist Church on West 79th Street and Broadway.
This reads like a list of the finest preserved landmarks on the Upper West Side. It is - in fact - just the opposite. These buildings are among the most “at-risk” sites in our neighborhood today. Many of you have contacted Landmark West! to find out what can be done to save them. The news is not good.
None of these buildings has official landmark status protecting them from alteration or demolition. In fact, Department of Buildings permits have been issued to change the facades of both the Dakota Stable and the Colonial Club beyond recognition. Plans are in the works to replace both buildings with new structures. And we are saddened to learn that, after decades of attentive stewardship, the First Baptist Church congregation may be weighing the possibility of selling its building for demolition and redevelopment.
Each of these buildings is historically, architecturally and culturally significant in its own unique way (images and basic details are provided below). LW! has had the Dakota Stable and the First Baptist Church on our landmark "wish list" since 1985; for a variety of reasons, but mainly because the day is only 24 hours long, we didn't include the Colonial Club. What these buildings have in common is that they are all just outside the boundaries of the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District, one of the largest areas of protected landmarks in the city (with over 2,000 buildings, designated in 1990). For a map of designated landmarks between 59th and 110th Streets, Riverside Park to Central Park, please visit http://www.landmarkwest.org/maps_and_data/index.html.
So why are we not more optimistic that the Dakota Stable, Colonial Club or First Baptist Church can be landmarked and preserved today? For the simple reason that the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the only city agency with the authority to designate and regulate a historic property as a landmark, has shown no real interest in protecting these buildings. It's true that the Commission recently held a public hearing to consider landmarking the Dakota Stable, but only after the owner obtained permits and proceeded to destroy the facade. The Commission then claimed that it was powerless to stop the destruction. To date, they have not voted on whether or not this building will become a landmark. On the Colonial Club, even if the Commission showed a glimmer of interest in holding a hearing, we have no reason to believe or hope that their ultimate response would be any different. And we, for one, refuse to spin our wheels on another advocacy campaign that does nothing but legitimize a sham process.
The future of the First Baptist Church remains to be seen. Many other religious structures around the city have been landmarked and continue to pursue their spiritual and charitable missions - so why not this one? The congregation has not obtained permits to alter or demolish their building. But they have historically resisted landmark designation. And, given the fact that the landmarks process is increasingly owner-driven (not public- or community- or citizen-driven), we are not hopeful that the Landmarks Commission will rush to the defense of this building. They didn't for the West-Park Presbyterian Church (86th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, also just outside of the historic district) when development plans for that site re-surfaced several years ago. Or the recently demolished rowhouses on West End Avenue between 85th and 86th Streets.
We don't plan to lie down and play dead. Neither should you. We are still figuring out what a fresh course of action would entail. New lawsuits, legislation and leadership are all on the table. What we do know is this: Together we must fight to protect New York's Landmarks Law, to make the process work the way it was intended to work, and to restore public faith in the city we love.
Thanks, as always, for your support.
Architect: Bradford Lee Gilbert. Built in two phases, 1891-92 and 1893-94
Permit issued by Department of Buildings to "Remove all exterior projections including cornice and roof parapet" on August 16, 2006. Demolition work began on September 20, 2006. Landmarks Commission calendared building for a public designation hearing on September 26, 2006. Demolition work continued in earnest on October 13, 2006. Landmarks Commission public hearing held on October 17, 2006. They have yet to take a vote on landmark designation.
Architect: Henry F. Kilburn. Built 1890-94
Permits issued by Department of Buildings to "Construct new aluminum and glass cladding facade on existing building" (November 9, 2005) and "Remove all exterior projections including cornice and molding" (March 14, 2006).
Architect: George Keister. Built 1890-93.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
The good news is that the room was packed to the gills (and into the hall) for today's public hearings at the Landmarks Preservation Commission on the former Dakota Stable and New York Cab Company Stable. Thanks to everyone who made a special effort (and we know that's everyone) to attend and testify. The quality and passion of your testimony was truly exceptional.
The somewhat anticlimactic news is that the Commissioners neither discussed nor voted on either of the designations. The hearing was closed at the completion of public testimony. According to Landmarks Chair Robert B. Tierney, the Commission will make its decision in a "timely fashion". A neighbor's attempt to obtain a clearer definition of "timely" yielded no more definite response. But, as Tierney made plain in his preamble to the hearing, the Commission confesses that it is powerless to stop the ongoing demolition work at the Dakota Stable. To quote Landmark West's testimony from this morning: "No power + no action = lost buildings." (A copy of our full testimony is copied below.)
To our knowledge, the record remains open. So, if you were not able to attend today's hearing, you can still submit testimony to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will let you know as soon as we have more information to share.
Before the Landmarks Preservation Commission
Former New York Cab Company Stable (318-324 Amsterdam Avenue)
and Former Dakota Stable (348-354 Amsterdam Avenue)
October 17, 2006
LANDMARK WEST! is a not-for-profit community organization committed to the preservation of the architectural heritage of the Upper West Side.
Today’s hearing should be a celebration. Two buildings – the former New York Cab Company and the former Dakota Stable – that have been on preservationists’ radar screen for many years are finally getting their day in court. Twenty years ago, working with such architectural experts as former Landmarks Commissioner Sarah Bradford Landau and Columbia professor Andrew Scott Dolkart, LW! put these buildings on our landmark “wish list,” which we submitted to the Commission in 1986 and repeatedly since. In the past six months, public support has crescendoed as neighbors, elected officials, Community Board 7 and citywide preservation groups called for a hearing for both buildings. As of this morning, nearly 200 individuals have signed an online petition urging designation.
When I was thinking about this testimony last week, I had been prepared to wax poetic about the buildings’ graceful, round-arched windows, creative use of brick as ornament, and the lovely play of light off the richly textured, rose- and earth-colored façades.
But, as we all know from painful experience, in preservation timing is everything. And delay can be deadly. On the evening of September 20, days before the Commission voted to calendar these buildings, workers arrived at the Dakota Stable and removed some of its original, delicately arched, wood windows – a sad but not fatal blow to the façade. More severe damage was inflicted when, just this past Friday, more workers began dismantling the building’s beautiful, corbelled-brick cornice and decorative brick window surrounds. More destruction took place today, although it’s hard to tell where things stand because the building is shrouded in scaffolding, a permit for which was approved by the Department of Buildings four days ago, on October 13.
That both buildings more than meet the standard for landmark designation is, by now, beyond question. Therefore, today’s hearing will result in one of two outcomes:
1. The Commission will decide that it is too late for the Dakota Stable, the elements of the building that made it landmark-worthy have already been destroyed, and that nothing can be done but designate the Cab Company on its own – an excellent building but only part of a much more compelling ensemble;
2. The Commission will designate both the New York Cab Company and the Dakota Stable – and use every power it has to ensure that the architectural elements that have been destroyed on the very eve of designation are restored.
We are assured by counsel that the Commission has no authority to require restoration since the process is applicant – or owner – driven. Nor can the Commission override building permits issued prior to calendaring. Apparently, the Commission cannot even stop the Department of Buildings from issuing a scaffolding permit days before a scheduled public designation hearing.
So, does that leave us only with Option 1 – to designate the New York Cab Company alone and let the Dakota Stable go? We fervently hope not. Because that would serve as the final proof that the process is indeed owner-driven, not community- or public- or citizen-driven. And if an owner wants to avoid landmark designation, all he needs to do is pull a permit as a pre-emptive measure, whether or not he has good reason to use it.
Option 2 leaves us with something still far from ideal. At best, we get the shadow of an 1890s building, needlessly stripped in 2006, restored who knows when. Or perhaps it never gets restored. And that is perhaps the most fitting result of all – a scarred façade to serve as a daily reminder of what we have lost, a Landmarks Commission able to respond quickly and decisively to preserve buildings that clearly merit designation.
No power + no action = lost buildings. It’s as simple as that. So, let us all have the honesty and integrity to admit that the landmarks process is fatally flawed; that the Commission by its deliberate inaction in the face of strong designation evidence and support, has been complicit in the destruction of this landmark. And the Crawford Clothes building. And the Dorothy Day cottages. And P.S. 64. And how many more?
If this Commission, under this Mayor, really wants to salvage anything from the Dakota Stables, it will do one of two things:
Promptly calendar every building that you and your trusted experts reasonably believe warrants serious consideration for designation;
Promote legislation that will prevent owners from obtaining and acting on building permits intended solely to obstruct the landmarks process.
Both options would take valuable time and effort on the part of the Commission and its staff, but time and effort much better spent than on more hearings like today’s.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Brace yourself for ominous sights and sounds if you walk past the Dakota Stable building at 77th Street and Amsterdam today. Workers arrived this morning and, to neighbors' horror, began jackhammering off the building's beautiful, corbelled-brick cornice and decorative elements around the windows, as captured in the photographs below.
Such destruction, only days before the Landmarks Preservation Commission's scheduled public hearing to consider protecting the building as an official landmark, is a direct challenge to the landmarks process. It is all the more important to have an incredible turnout at the Tuesday, October 17, hearing, starting at 9:30 AM! The fate of the Dakota Stable and its neighbor, the former NY Cab Company, is in the Landmarks Commission's hands. They need to hear from you! Please also go to http://www.landmarkwest.org/stables.html and, if you haven't already, sign the online petition to show your support for landmark designation of both the Dakota Stable and the NY Cab Company! Please also express your support and concern to the Landmarks Commission and NYC Council Member Gale Brewer (please cc. email@example.com):
Hon. Robert B. Tierney, Chair
NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission
Hon. Gale A. Brewer, City Council
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
You marked your calendars - and probably bent over backwards - to attend the public hearings at the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) on Tuesday, October 17, 2006. Now, for reasons beyond Landmark West's knowledge or control, and LPC has changed its schedule for that morning (per the email below). PLEASE UPDATE YOUR CALENDARS AS FOLLOWS:
Former Dakota Stable and NY Cab Company buildings - Now scheduled to begin at 9:30 AM (not 11 AM as previously anticipated) on October 17. Location stays the same: Municipal Building, 1 Centre Street, 9th Floor (photo ID required).
Former Horn & Hardart Automat - Postponed! Mark it in for December 12 (using pencil, not ink) and stay tuned for more updates.
Last-minute changes like this put an unfortunate crimp in the public's ability to participate in the landmarks process. We hope you will still make every effort to attend on Tuesday and make your voice heard!
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Countdown to October 17 Landmarks Hearing on Stables and Automat
The big day is fast approaching. On Tuesday, October 17, 2006, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) will hold public hearings on three potential Upper West Side landmarks. The Automat hearing will begin at 9:30 a.m., and the stables hearings will begin at approximately 11 a.m. Please make sure your calendar is marked. In the meantime, here's what you can do to show the LPC your support (and through the wonders of technology, it couldn't be easier)...
Click on the links below to go to Landmark West's website, where you can SIGN ONLINE PETITIONS urging the LPC to approve the designation of:
Please add your signature today!
Tuesday, October 3, 2006
This is your chance! If you feel as though it's been a long time since you've testified at a public hearing on a potential Upper West Side landmark designation, then mark your calendar for Tuesday, October 17, 2006 (time tba). The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has scheduled no less than three designation hearings for that day, all on West Side items (see below). Your voice is needed at each one. Numbers and volume matter - a big turnout speaks for itself, so please attend, even if you don't plan to speak. Letters, faxes and emails count, too. Please show your support by contacting LPC Chair Robert B. Tierney, firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-669-7955 (fax). The hearings will take place at the Commission's headquarters, 1 Centre Street, 9th Floor (near City Hall, and you'll need photo ID). Wasn't it Woody Allen who said 85% of life is showing up?
Up for potential designation...
Former Dakota Stable, West 77th Street and Amsterdam Avenue (Bradford Lee Gilbert, 1894) and Former New York Cab Company Stable, West 75th Street and Amsterdam Avenue (C. Abbott French, 1888-89) - These rare examples of “high-rise” commercial stables played a crucial role in New York’s history. New York's wealthiest residents often erected small, private stables for their horses and carriages. Middle-class people, however, could not afford their own stables. Instead, they boarded their horses in commercial stables. Together, these two striking, Romanesque Revival-style buildings recall a time when the Upper West Side was just starting its transformation from farmland to urban neighborhood. They are anchors of 19th-century beauty that provide visual texture and historical continuity in our community. To see pictures and a sample letter, please go to http://www.landmarkwest.org/advocacy/stables.html.
Former Horn & Hardart Automat, West 104th Street and Broadway (F.P. Platt & Brother, 1930) - This is hearing #2 for one of the last surviving automat structures in New York City. Automats hold a special place in the cultural memory of New Yorkers. This joyous Art-Deco building features a monumental, arched show window and ravishing polychrome terra-cotta ornamentation. To see pictures and a sample letter, please go to http://www.landmarkwest.org/advocacy/automat.html.
It isn't every day that the LPC considers designating landmarks on the Upper West Side. In fact, it's been six years since PS 166, the CBJ Snyder-designed school on West 89th Street, became our neighborhood's 2606th landmark in 2000 (up from a mere 337 in 1985, can you believe it?!). Show your West pride! YOU can help ensure a good showing at the Oct. 17 hearings by circulating the attached flyers to friends and neighbors. Email them around (or send us a list of people you think would want to hear about this issue)! Print these flyers out to post in your building and local businesses! Help get the word out! See you on the 17th!