Last week the Landmarks Preservation Commission revealed their draft proposed boundaries for Phase II of our proposed South Village Historic District, and announced that the public “property owner’s” meeting to discuss the proposal would be held next Monday April 15th at 6:30 pm at the NYU Meyer Building, 4 Washington Place (at Broadway), rm. 121.
In light of this, we thought we’d take a closer look at the LPC’s proposed boundaries , and what’s in and what’s out. Today, we’ll examine what’s out.
First, the good news. Within the area of our proposed South Village Historic District the LPC is considering (north of Houston Street, east of Sixth Avenue), they included about 85% of what we proposed for landmark designation (not counting sites which are already landmarked). That’s a lot higher percentage than typical for the LPC, and so we are very pleased by this.
So what did they not include? It’s actually a fairly limited universe, so we can look at each site.
Much of what the LPC excluded is already protected in some other way. For instance, the LPC did not include the parks and playgrounds along Sixth Avenue, including the large Passanante Playground at Sixth Avenue and Houston Street, as well as the 4th Street Courts, and Minetta Triangle, Playground, and Green. However, these are mapped New York City parks, and thus must always remain parks unless an act of the State Legislature allows them to be sold off.
Judson Memorial Church and Hall, one of the South Village’s great historic complexes, is also excluded from the LPC’s proposed boundaries. But it is actually already landmarked — one of the city’s very first individual landmarks, designated in 1966. The LPC also did not include MacDougal Sullivan Gardens in their proposed boundaries, but this charming 22 house complex was actually designated a historic district in 1967. While we would have preferred that that these sites had been included in this district because of their historic connection to the South Village’s development, at least we know they are nevertheless protected.
Some buildings not included in the district are not exactly of any great historic or architectural significance. Two of the other buildings carved out of the district — a high-rise on the corner of LaGuardia Place and West 3rd Street, and NYU’s D’Agostino Hall on 3rd between MacDougal and Sullivan Streets, both built in the 1980’s — are built about as large as one can go under this area’s zoning. The two buildings bordering the Sixth Avenue parks which were not included — the McDonald’s on the south side of West 3rd Street and the two-story pub building just to the east — also do not exactly contain a huge amount of historically significant material on their exteriors.
There are, however, some sites the LPC excluded which we are examining a little more closely. The LPC scrupulously excluded the three “NYU blocks” on the south side of Washington Square Park, all or part of which we had included in our proposed district. The easternmost block contains the Kimmel Student Center and the NYU Academic and Spiritual Center, both of which were built in the last ten years, and thus are not exactly historic. The next block over between Thompson and Sullivan Streets contains the aforementioned already-landmarked Judson Memorial Church and Hall, as well as the enormous new NYU Law School Furman Hall Building, which one would hardly want to preserve.
However, the remainder of this block and the next block over between Sullivan and MacDougal Street do contain more sensitively scaled and artfully designed NYU buildings. The entire western block contains NYU Law School’s Vanderbilt Hall, a low-rise, neo-historicist building which was completed in 1951 and which — in a rare move for both that era and for NYU — attempted to blend in with and relate to its surroundings. Back on the middle block, also excluded by the LPC from the the proposed historic district boundaries is the low-rise, sensitively-designed, modernist Kevorkian Center, built in 1972 to the designs of Philip Johnson. Both Vanderbilt and Kevorkian could be replaced by larger buildings by NYU under the existing zoning. In the case of Vanderbilt Hall, that 4 1/2 story building could be replaced by a truly enormous high-rise.
Finally, just south of MacDougal Sullivan Gardens, the entire blockfront of Houston Street between MacDougal and Sullivan Street and are not included in the LPC’s proposed district. While all of these four story structures have been altered over time, they were also all originally built in 1844 by the Low Family as part of the same development as MacDougal Sullivan Gardens. Additionally, under the existing zoning, new development on these sites could be significantly larger than what is there now — in fact, if several of these lots were amassed, a large and out-of-scale tower could be erected here. Why exactly the LPC shied away from including the remainder of this block — both the already-landmarked MacDougal Sullivan Gardens and the adjacent unprotected Houston Street blockfront — is not clear.
Next Monday’s property owner meeting is open to the public and is a good opportunity to find out more about the proposed designation and the LPC’s choices. All are encouraged to attend.
In an upcoming post, we will look at “what’s in” the LPC’s proposed boundaries.