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A Groundbreaking Groundbreaking

On August 12, 1964, ground was broken for the construction of 505 LaGuardia Place (then known as 505 West Broadway), the first of the three towers which, along with the giant Picasso sculpture “Sylvette,” form what was called University Village.

505 LaGuardia Place and Silver Towers under construction, with diagrams of site and building layout.

The entire complex was built by NYU, and two of the towers are owned by the university and house faculty and their families.  But 505 is owned by its residents, originally moderate-income neighborhood residents NYU was required to house as part of the agreement under which they were given this land from the City.  505’s construction was meant to compensate for the low-cost housing which was demolished on the site and the site to the north (now Washington Square Village) as part of a “slum clearance” urban renewal program.  505 LaGuardia is still a moderate-income co-op, and many of its residents are the original occupants of their apartments.

The development was considered groundbreaking for many reasons, and GVSHP has long had a special relationship with the complex and its occupants.

At a 2004 rally organized by GVSHP marking the 40th anniversary of the groundbreaking, 505 LaGuardia residents made their feelings known to NYU about the university’s plans they knew were coming down the pipeline.

In 2008, after a five year campaign in which we worked closely with the residents/owners of 505, we got the entire complex including its landscaping and the Picasso sculpture landmarked.  NYU initially resisted vehemently, but when they saw the handwriting on the wall that the designation would be approved, they feigned support, but promised to come back with a plan to seek approval for building a fourth tower on the complex’s open space in the future.

Rally in 2010 in opposition to NYU’s plan to erect a fourth, 400 ft. tall tower on the complex’s open space.

That’s exactly what NYU did in 2010, introducing a proposal for a 400 ft. tall fourth tower they would have added to the Bleecker Street side of the complex, blocking the view of the Picasso sculpture and towering over the three other 300 ft. tall towers.  This was the first part of NYU’s massive and misguided proposed “2031” expansion plan, which we and our allies (including many NYU faculty) are in court seeking to stop.  Because it was proposed for the landmarked complex, it would have required approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Among the complex’s many valued commodities are the generous sunlight and open views.

But after a massive outpouring of opposition to the fourth tower plan, including from I.M. Pei, NYU dropped the plan, saving the complex and the Village from this awful fate.  Of course NYU still plans — and still got approval from the City, City Councilmembers Chin and Quinn, and Borough President Stringer for — huge new buildings on the site of the supermarket adjacent to the complex at LaGuardia and Bleecker Streets, and the Coles Gym directly east of the complex along Mercer Street; it is this proposed construction, among others, that we are in court seeking to block.

A dramatic interplay of architecture and sculpture.

But 505 LaGuardia and Silver Towers (the two faculty housing buildings) remain special for many reasons.  The modernist design was considered groundbreaking at the time, and still is — the arrangement of the towers preserves the sightlines of the surrounding streets, while the subtle, pinwheel arrangement of the towers and their gridded concrete facades create a dynamic sense of movement in an otherwise calm space.

The design of 505 LaGuardia and Silver Towers were considered so important that not only did the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission designate them, but in 2009 at GVSHP’s request New York State found them eligible for the State and National Registers of Historic Places.  Given that they were less than 50 years old, this meant the State had to find the complex to be of “extraordinary significance” in order to qualify.

In a telling sign, while NYC landmark designation does not require owner approval, listing on the State and National Registers of Historic Places does.  So while NYU mouthed support for landmark designation once they knew they would have no choice in the matter, they have thus far refused to have the complex listed on the State and National Registers.


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