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Landmark Bid Pays Off at Former Horse Auction Mart!

c. 1910 (courtesy Museum of the City of New York)

We’re thrilled to announce that last week the Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously voted to confer individual landmark status on one of our favorite East Village buildings: the former Van Tassell & Kearney Horse Auction Mart at 128 East 13th Street! The Commission’s vote marks the finishing touch on GVSHP’s six-year campaign to preserve this remarkable building, which in 2006 was threatened with demolition so that a seven-story condo could be built.

The  c. 1910 photo above was taken just a few years after the building was constructed in 1903-04 to the designs of Jardine, Kent & Jardine. Though it originally served as a horse auction mart that catered to New York’s elite families, the Beaux-Arts style building had a number of fascinating uses over its nearly 110-year history. Let’s take a closer look.

From the rooftops: the gabled roof is masked by the rounded parapet, which was once capped by a flagpole. (GVSHP, 2012)

According to the designation report, which can be found on our Resources page, at the turn of the 20th century there were an estimated 75,000 horses in New York City, indicating their vital role in the pre-World War I period. Of the 4,500 stables that existed at that time, the Van Tassell & Kearney Auction Mart is one of the few remaining in New York City. Some of the country’s most prominent families, such as the Vanderbilts and Delanos, purchased horses here. The designation report states,

“Each Tuesday and Friday, Van Tassell & Kearney held auctions in the new building. Though carriages remained an important part of the business, most advertisements and newspaper stories concerned the sale of horses, particularly high-priced ribbon winners, polo ponies, hunters, and thoroughbreds. Other sales were devoted to breeding stock and coach horses, including a large group of horses co-owned by Alfred W. Vanderbilt and Robert L. Gerry in 1906.” (Matthew A. Postal, page 4)

GVSHP originally submitted a request for evaluation (RFE) for this building in 2006 and called for an emergency hearing after we discovered plans for a new condo development on the site. The Commission held a public hearing and halted demolition plans, but waited six years to designate the building. (If there’s a historic building or neighborhood that you feel is worthy of landmark protection you can also fill out an RFE form on the LPC website.) In 2007, the building was listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places; the report by noted architectural historian Andrew S. Dolkart can be found here.

(left) GVSHP 128 East 13th Street Campaign Logo; (right) Artist Frank Stella in 1964, photo by Ugo Mulas (click photo for source)

As automobiles and other forms of public transit became much more common after World War I, the practical need for horses and stables decreased. The auction mart on 13th Street eventually disappeared, but the building continued to flourish through new uses. GVSHP’s East Village survey research uncovered the fact that 128 East 13th Street served as an assembly-line training center for women during World War II, which is why we used the “Rosie the Riveter” image (pictured above) as our campaign logo. From 1978 to 2005, artist Frank Stella (also pictured above), one of the most respected artists of the post-World War II period, owned the building and used it as his studio. His nearly 30-year stewardship of the building resulted in the facade being cleaned and restored.

128 East 13th Street in 2012. (Source: Christopher D. Brazee, Landmarks Preservation Commission Designation Report.)

For those of you who are as fond of these equestrian-related buildings as we are, you’ll be happy to hear that our advocacy efforts in the South Village resulted in a historic district that contains several former stables, including those at 23 Cornelia Street and 17 Jones Street. The district is just one part of the proposed South Village Historic District that we have long advocated for landmark designation.  This year the South Village was named to the annual Seven to Save list by the Preservation League of New York State (read more in this Off the Grid post).

In other East Village Landmarks news: The scheduled hearing for the proposed East Village/Lower East Side Historic District is almost upon us. The LPC has announced a hearing date of June 26th, though no time has been set. On the Friday before the hearing, the Commission posts hearing times under the Public Calendar side bar on the right-hand side of their homepage, so keep a look out if you’d like to provide testimony for this very worthy proposed historic district!

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