Tuesday, June 25, 2013

LW! Leads the Way for Grand Army Plaza Victory!

LANDMARK WEST! celebrates a victory in the proposed Grand Army Plaza restoration  that that was heard yesterday, June 24, at the Public Design Commission (PDC). The Central Park Conservancy’s plan to rehabilitate the plaza, an individual scenic landmark and signature work in the canon of the renowned Beaux Arts firm Carrère and Hastings, proposed an incomplete restoration that would amount to a hodgepodge of elements from different periods and represent an overall lack of vision.

Yesterday the Public Design Commission agreed with LW!’s point of view that Grand Army Plaza deserves a complete restoration, and story was covered on the front page of the art section in the New York Times today, June 25.

Although the Times picked up the story today, LANDMARK WEST! has lead advocacy efforts to fully restore the Plaza to the original Carrère and Hastings design since April 16, when the item first appeared before our Certificate of Appropriateness committee. We invited Charles Warren, an architect and Carrère and Hastings scholar and biographer, to that meeting, and it quickly became clear to the Committee that the CPC’s plan was incomplete.

Grand Army Plaza was initially slated for a Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) staff-level review with no opportunity for public input. LW! was informed on April 23, 2013 by the Central Park Conservancy that the LPC “reviewed GAP at staff level because the changes to the existing design we (sic) minimal.” LW! and others successfully advocated for the LPC to hold a public hearing on Grand Army Plaza.

In response to our outcry, LPC held a Public Hearing on May 21 during which testimony from nine individuals and organizations was heard. Although binding jurisdiction for the project was held by the PDC, the LPC advised continued study of the historic character of the plaza.

Upon learning of the calendared PDC hearing for June 24, LW! assembled a coalition of individuals and
organizations concerned with the fate of Grand Army Plaza and collected nearly twenty statements in support of a more complete restoration. This group of activists included Paul Goldberger, former architecture critic of the New York Times who reviewed the Plaza's last major rehabilitation in the 1990s, Samuel G. White, former partner in the Buttrick White & Burtis the firm who completed the 1990s work, Paul Gunther, president of the Institute of Classical Art and Architecture, the Historic Districts Council, as well as numerous neighbors and concerned citizens.

The Commissioners were moved by the testimony, and asked the CPC to come back with a more complete plan. As James Polshek, an architect and member of the commission said, “This is a piddling amount of money — nobody can claim the city is in a slump. We really shouldn’t settle for halfway. If it’s another five or six million, that’s not an adequate excuse.” Curbed agreed, calling the CPC on their "schtick." A definite victory!

Monday, June 17, 2013

NYPL Wows with Francis Morrone as a Guide

NYPL Rose Reading Room (photo by Paul Lowry)
Noted architectural historian Francis Morrone delivered a beautifully illustrated slide lecture on the architecture and decoration of the 42nd Street Library to LANDMARK WEST! guests and fellow advocates for the 42nd Street Library last week. Co-authored with the late great Henry Hope Reed, Francis Morrone's book, The New York Public Library: The Architecture and Decoration of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, presents the fascinating history of the library building and its many exquisitely-detailed architectural ornaments. With lush photography and his characteristically engaging style, Francis drew our attention to the details that make the 42nd Street Library a rich Beaux Arts treasure, of which the sumptuous marble-clad Astor Hall,  the intricately carved wooden ceiling of Gottesman Hall by master carver Maurice Grieve, and the monumental bronze flagpole bases are just a few examples.

A sectional view of the New York Public Library.
A sectional view of the New York Public Library (1911)
via NYPL
A New York City Individual Landmark and widely regarded as a masterpiece designed by the firm Carrère and Hastings in 1911, this careful study of the library's significance is newly relevant in the context of the Central Library Plan. In addition to closing and selling off two branch libraries, a major component of the plan threatens to demolish the historic book stacks and install a new circulating library. The book stacks, which sit directly below the main reading room and provide structural support for the expansive space above, were an innovative feature of the library's original program as conceived by the library's first director, John Shaw Billings. The placement of the stacks below the reading room allowed for the swift delivery of materials to library patrons. 

With the destructive plans to alter the library looming, Francis Morrone's discussion of the library's features made the value of the building's integrity explicitly clear. As Ada Louise Huxtable said in the Wall Street Journal in December 2012, "You don't 'update' a masterpiece." 

For more information on the Central Library Plan and to get involved in efforts to save the library, get in touch with the Committee to Save the New York Public Library and Citizens Defending Libraries. If you'd like a copy of Francis Morrone's book for $10 off the list price, contact the LW! office at 212-496-8110 or landmarkwest@landmarkwest.org.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Blight on the Upper West Side? The Daily News Exposes a Neglected Landmark

 As reported by intern Melissa Doherty
On Sunday, June 9th, the New York Daily News released an article about 118 West 76th street, a historic brownstone that has been vacant and neglected for years by its owner, Board of Elections official Diane Haslett-Rudiano. LANDMARK WEST! alerted the Daily News, whose article exposed the appalling truth about the landmark, although many neighbors and other citizens had already taken notice.

The structure was built in 1890, in the Renaissance Revival style, by the firm Thom and Wilson, and was designated as a NYC landmark in 1990. The property was acquired by Diane Haslett-Rudiano’s late husband, Jean, in 1976 for $5,000. In the article, Haslett-Rudiano stated, “A lot of my husband’s dreams are wrapped up in that building ... but you have to be realistic, and the thing to do is to let someone else enjoy it.” Although it is a tragedy whenever a landmark is neglected or forsaken, it is shocking that such a derelict landowner is in a political position of power.

In January, it was listed as one of the West Side Spirit’s Ugliest Buildings of the Upper West Side, described as an “eyesore from hell.” Despite being officially declared unsafe by the NYC Department of Buildings, the 20 buildings department violations and the $12,000 in back taxes, Haslett-Rudiano has taken no action and has been unresponsive to these viable concerns.

It is such a shame that this building, which possesses 123 years of history and so much potential, has been unappreciated because the owner fails to take responsibility. If the owner has such strong emotional ties to the property, why would she let it deteriorate and descend into disrepair, as it has?