Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Landmark West! on the Landmarks Crisis

Landmarks Crisis: The following letter is in response to those of you who have reached out to us recently about imminent threats to historic buildings on the Upper West Side. If reading this makes you as frustrated as we are, please mark your calendars for Monday, November 13, at 6:00 PM, when a "Preservation Summit" will be held at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, 20 W. 44th Street. The Summit is sponsored by the Citizens Emergency Committee to Preserve Preservation, a grassroots campaign to address New York's landmarks crisis. RSVP to

Dear Neighbor:

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

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.


The Former Dakota Stable, 348-354 Amsterdam Avenue (at West 77th Street)
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.

The Former Colonial Club, 200 West 72nd Street (at Broadway)
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).

First Baptist Church, 265 West 79th Street (at Broadway)
Architect: George Keister. Built 1890-93.
Future unknown.

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