Friday, August 15, 2014

URGENT: LPC Approves Apthorp Penthouse Addition



LPC Approves Rooftop Penthouse Additions on Apthorp

Landmark West is issuing a call to action to all its members.  It is time to email, snail mail, twitter or phone anyone and every one in City government. Tell them that freezing out the Public is unacceptable.

  • On Tuesday, August 12, 2014, the “11 member” Landmark Preservation Commission appointed by the Mayor voted 6 to Zero to permit the developer to, among other things, permanently deface the rooftop pergolas of the Apthorp Apartments, an architectural gem by Clinton & Russell.
  • When told of this decision of the LPC, Andrew Dolkart, Director of Historic Preservation Program, Columbia University GSAPP, opined: "I continue to feel that this proposal will have a negative impact on a major landmark building. The open pergolas are a major part of the design and their character will be seriously compromised for no other reason than to give the owner additional income.” (August 13, 2014)
  • The Apthorp was designated an individual landmark by a more preservation friendly LPC in 1969, just 4 years after the LPC was established.
  • The pergolas are a key component of this unique structure.  The plan approved by the current LPC would allow the developer to fill in the pergolas and connect them with shed like structures to add additional units thus destroying the open design.  (See image below)

  • This decision of the LPC is particularly shocking in view of the damage that it allows to be done to this architectural gem in the fact of  wide spread opposition from architects, preservation advocates and neighborhood residents and residents of the Apthorp.  It is not the first such decision nor will it be the last to benefit developers while destroying the City's cultural and architectural heritage.
  • The offensive procedural short cut the LPC used to freeze out the public and shut down opposition to the plan that was ultimately approved is part of a systemic attack on the right of the public to have an opportunity to provide effective and timely input on land use decisions that will affect their neighborhoods.  It is time we all stand up and object.  Tell the LPC, the Mayor and the City Council that locking the public out is unacceptable.
  • The protection afforded to landmarks in the City by the Landmark Law can no longer be taken for granted.  It is being eroded by the very agency empowered to provide it.
  • The time to object to this procedure is now, not when it has resulted in the destruction of the integrity of yet another architectural icon.  It is time for you to contact everyone in City government, write the mayor, call your council member, email a member of the LPC or tweet them.  Tell them it is time to stop excluding the public from land use decisions.  It is time to stop treating citizen input as an obstacle.  It is time for our elected and appointed officials to listen to us!  Do it NOW!
Below, take a look at our discussion of this process that puts every landmarked building and historic district at risk:

The decision to issue a Certificate of Appropriateness to the Apthorp developers is substantively wrong and inconsistent with the charge of the LPC. The LPC doesn’t even have its full compliment of 11 members.   Only 8 members are currently serving. Two out of the 8 current members chose not to attend this meeting.  Again shocking but not unusual. Some of the majority who voted for the approval of this inappropriate plan, including the new Chair Meenaksi Srinivasan, hadn't even attended the one and only Public Hearing on the initial plans offered by the applicant. As result, the Chair had not heard any of the input from the public.   But the LPC chose not to hold another Public Hearing on the new plans. 

The procedure used by the LPC to issue the Certificate of Appropriateness to the Apthorp's developers can be summarized as follows.  In this procedure, applicants file their plans with the Commission. The Commission holds a Public Hearing on the initial plans. Those plans are commented upon by the Commission, Community Board, architects, and the public at the initial Public Hearing. After closing the hearing, the Commission discusses the plans and informally declines to grant the Certificate but does not formally reject the plans.  Rather, the Commission directs the applicant to come back with new plans and discuss them with the staff. Once the new plans are received, the Commission sets a Public Meeting. (As you know, a formal rejection would require the applicant to re-file and trigger the scheduling of a Public Hearing on the new plans.) The period between the Public Hearing on the initial plans and the Public Meeting on the new plans can be months or years.   The amendments to the initial plans can be substantial or the new plans presented to the staff can be nothing less than a totally new proposal that bears little resemblance to the initial plans that were the subject of the Public Hearing. There can be multiple redrafts of the plansmultiple private meetings between the applicant and the LPC staff and multiple Public Meetings at which only the applicant and its lawyers, architects and their other representatives speak to the Commission but no more Public Hearings. The public is frozen out.

Our research indicates that there is no rule or statute that provides for this procedure. In an informal conversation with a lawyer for the LPC, it was agreed that there is no such rule.  He observed however that allowing applicants to proceed in this way “moves the process along”. We have no doubt that “moving the process along” may occur; however, the key problem here is that a Public Hearing at which the public may speak has been jettisoned for the purpose of “streamlining” the procedure in favor of the applicant, not for the purpose of Preserving the Landmark Building.

In discussions with experienced preservation advocates, we have determined that this procedure just seemed to appear out of nowhere and that it is now being used with virtually every set of plans about which the Commission has any concerns. In short, the Commission rarely rejects any plan outright. It is our opinion that this procedure has been structured to allow applications to avoid public scrutiny and to quote from Andrew Dolkart's comment on the Apthorp decision "for no other reason that to give the owner additional income."  In our opinion, this "streamlined" procedure is in direct conflict with the language and the spirit of the LPC rules, the legislation that established the LPC as well as the Open Meeting Law.  Its continued use by the LPC puts each and every landmarked building and historic district at risk. The time to object to this procedure is now, not when it has resulted in the destruction of the integrity of yet another architectural icon. It is time for you to contact everyone you know in City government, write the mayor, call your council member, email a member of the LPC or tweet them.   Tell them it is time to stop excluding the Public from land use decisions. It is time to stop treating citizen input as an obstacle. It is time for our elected and appointed officials to listen to us!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Best of the West

By Christian Rowe 

During my summer internship at LANDMARK WEST! I set out on many journeys to explore what has now become a familiar neighborhood to me – the Upper West Side. I have explored from 110th Street to Columbus Circle and from Central Park to Riverside Park. In between these boundaries I have seen many historic districts and landmarked buildings.
Everyone at LW! made my internship very enjoyable. Over the past six weeks, I assisted in preparing a survey of 184 buildings between 96th Street, 110th Street, Central Park West, and Riverside Drive for review by the LPC for landmark consideration; I helped prepare for next school year’s Keeping the Past for the Future education program by cutting out paper stoops and bay windows for brownstone collages; and I cataloged books recently donated to the LW! library – among many other tasks. The staff helped me when I asked and taught me what I did not know. I will walk away from this internship with a whole arsenal of skills I didn't have when I started in June. I am now able to type faster. I have become very computer literate. But the best thing I learned here is to slow down and observe. Sometimes you move too fast and you miss beautiful buildings and landscapes.
            My favorite experience was being given the task of exploring the Upper West Side for different architectural sites and then writing blog posts about what I found. The adventure I enjoyed the most was my first assignment when I was told to observe, study, and photograph the bridges in Central Park. I already had a personal connection to Central Park because my dad took me there as a child and I can remember running over the bridges there. Also, my first assignment in architecture class at the Williamsburg High School of Architecture and Design (where I go to school) was to design my own bridge. And so, on my journey I used my knowledge of bridges to identify key elements that help bridges stay together and also observed how historic features of the Central Park bridges have been preserved over time – as I saw on the Balcony Bridge.
This was my first job, and I’m very happy I had this experience at LANDMARK WEST!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Religious Buildings of the Upper West Side

by Christian Rowe

This past week I’ve been exploring the religious buildings of the Upper West Side and comparing them to my church, Pilgrim Father Church under Archbishop Roy E. Brown in Brooklyn, which was built in 1961. I noticed that my church has a big tower pointing toward the sky like I’ve seen on many Catholic churches. This didn't surprise me since I already knew that the Catholic Church has helped to define architectural traditions in Christianity for a very long time. However, different faiths have different building traditions. Islamic buildings, for example, often have a dome on the top of a polygon building. Buddhist buildings often have more than one roof stacked on top of each other. On my journey through the Upper West Side, I tried to visit places of worship for several different faiths.

I started my journey at St. Michael’s Church on West 99th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. This building has been around since 1890 – over a century! Since then this church has been known on the Upper West Side for its beautiful Tiffany stained glass windows. When I entered the chapel it was dark inside, but with the sun popping through the Tiffany windows I was stunned in amazement. I just stood still and stared at them.

After this visit I moved on to the Islamic culture to study one of their buildings. I chose to visit the Masjid Malcolm Shabazz Mosque on the corner of 166th Street and Lennox Avenue. This building is known for the big green dome on top. Formerly the Lennox Casino, this building was turned into a mosque for the nation of Islam and was known as Temple 7.  Famously, this is the mosque where Malcolm X preached to his people. 

Even before its use as a religious center, the building featured commercial store fronts for small businesses in the neighborhood. Today, these businesses include a pharmacy, a shoe repair, and a barber shop. The businesses continued to be a part of the building through its conversion to a mosque for the reason being that during this time Malcolm encouraged his congregation of black Muslims to stick together in one tight community. After his assassination this building was renamed Masjid Malcolm Shabazz Mosque in his honor. Today the building is still being used as a mosque and for commercial businesses.
These journeys have widened my perspective of buildings in New York as I’ve learned how to see how each building (religious or not) has its own architectural identity. The Upper West Side has a bunch of hidden jewel buildings and thanks to LANDMARK WEST! I've discovered the religious jewels.
Pictures (from top to bottom)
1. Pilgrim Father Church, Bushwick, Brooklyn
2. St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, Detroit, Michigan
3. Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel
4.T┼Źdai-ji, Nara, Japan
5. St Michael's Church, Upper West Side, Manhattan
7. Malcolm X
8. Masjid Malcolm Shabazz Mosque, Harlem, Manhattan