Thursday, August 11, 2011

Design Commission Dismisses Layered Significance at Cherry Hill

As reported by Cristiana P.

Cherry Hill Concourse, following the 1980s renovation.

Thirty years ago, architect Gerald Allen, under the auspices of Peter Gluck & Associates, breathed fresh life into the Cherry Hill Concourse in Central Park.  Inspired by the formality of nearby Bethesda Terrace--and the iconic Campodoglio in Rome--Allen rescued the site from its previous role as a car-park wasteland. 

But a recent vote by the Public Design Commission (PDC) may have put Cherry Hill on the slippery slope back to an automobile's paradise.

This birds-eye view of Cherry Hill (from Bing Maps, 2011) show
the Concourse overtaken by vehicles.  More on this in LW's statement.

Following a May 2011 review, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) issued an Advisory Report to the PDC recommending that the brick paving at Cherry Hill be preserved.  In discussion, Commissioners stated that nothing in the materials presented to them by the Central Park Conservancy (the applicant-financier for this project)--nor from their personal experiences at Cherry Hill--indicated a need for this significant scope of work.  Read our full recap here.

The Campodoglio on the Capitoline Hill, in Rome.
Inspiration for the renovation of Cherry Hill Concourse by Gerald Allen.

After the Landmarks Commission, the next and final city agency with purview over this project is the PDC.  This past Monday, August 8th, the Design Commission met to consider the Central Park Conservancy's proposal, slightly modified from the time of the Landmarks Commission review.  Whereas the LPC's primary concern is landmark stewardship and the impact proposed modifications might have on historic resources, the PDC reviews projects with an eye for the merits of the proposed design.  Their discussion may be informed by the Advisory Report forwarded to them by their sister agency, the Landmarks Commission. 
In the case of Cherry Hill, however, the landmark status and historic significance of the site was entirely missing from the discussion.

Public testimony presented by LANDMARK WEST!, the Historic Districts Council, Defenders of the UES, the Calvert Vaux Preservation Alliance, and individuals, underscored the remarks from the LPC.  Still, the Design Commissioners dismissed the 1980s Gerald Allen-designed layer of Cherry Hill as inferior to the Concourse's original Olmsted & Vaux-designed plan.  As LW! commented to WNYC in their recent coverage of this issue:

“We look at all the layers of history in Central Park ... One really builds on the richness of the next. Central Park was planned in the 1870s by Olmsted [& Vaux] and over the decades has changed to reflect the changing recreational needs of New Yorkers. We view the current Cherry Hill as an important layer in that overall history.”

Hansom carriages allow park visitors to take in the vistas
across the Lake from the Cherry Hill Concourse.

In short, and as we testified before the LPC in May, Central Park is a palimpsest ... it is all about layers!  The 1980s design is a significant marker in Cherry Hill's history--it denotes the start of the rediscovery and rebirth of Central Park into the unique oasis we know it to be today.

It is disappointing that the Public Design Commission did not recognize the value in the Advisory Report issued to them by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.  The LPC is the authority on landmark preservation, and in this instance their expert advice was dismissed by all but one of the members of the PDC.  With the Design Commission's approval, a well-functioning, well-designed and historically relevant layer of Cherry Hill--and Central Park's--evolution will be unnecessarily lost, relegated to the dumpster.  Grossly counter to the city's longterm goals for sustainability.

Stay tuned for updates on this and other park-related issues ...

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