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The Beauty of the University Place & Broadway Corridors

Last week’s community meeting about the need to better preserve and protect the Village’s University Place and Broadway corridors was a great success.  Well attended, participants at the meeting were extremely engaged and enthusiastic, and there appeared to be a very strong consensus about the need to change the current state of affairs which allows buildings — even historic ones — to be demolished without any public review, and to be replaced by new construction which can take the form of towers 300 feet in height or greater (the meeting was prompted by the filing of plans to build a 308 ft. tall tower on the Bowlmor Lanes site at University Place and 12th Street, a project which, under existing zoning and lack of landmark protections for the area, is likely perfectly legal and requires no public review).

GVSHP is following up by soliciting further feedback from area residents and other stakeholders about the possibility of pursuing contextual zoning and landmark protections for the area, as well as expanding our discussions with the local community board and elected officials.  If you haven’t already, please fill out our survey to let us know your thoughts about these potential measures, and watch the video of the meeting and view the PowerPoint presentation if you wish to learn more about what was presented.

Intersection of University Place and 11th Street, via google maps

Meanwhile, we thought we’d share with you some images of and information about some of the striking buildings in the University Place/Broadway Corridors, which a lack of contextual zoning or landmark protections make either vulnerable to demolition and alteration, or to out-of-scale new development on-site or nearby.

The former Albert Hotel, which occupies four buildings on the east side of University Place between 10th and 11th Street, and on 10th and 11th Streets, carries some amazing architectural as well as cultural history.  Part of the complex, the building at the corner of University Place and 11th Street, was designed in 1887 by great New York apartment house architect Henry Hardenbergh — architect of the Dakota Apartments and the Plaza Hotel, among many other treasured New York landmarks.

The Albert’s Hardenbergh-designed building, via goolge maps

But it’s a testament to the Albert’s amazing social history that this architectural pedigree is often eclipsed.  Over the years, the Albert hosted many of the most prominent names in American arts, literature, music, and radical politics.  This includes writers Robert Louis Stevenson, Hart Crane, Thomas Wolfe, Richard Wright, Leroi Jones/Amiri  Baraka, Diane di Prima, Horton Foote, Anais Nin, Mark Twain, and Walt Whitman.  Jackson Pollock attended dinners at the Albert in the 1940’s.  John Thomas Scopes stayed at the Albert in 1925 while searching for supporters for his upcoming monkey trial in Tennessee.

But for many, the Albert is most strongly associated with the 1960’s.  Even though this was a period when the hotel fell on hard times, it attracted some of the most prominent names in folk and rock music as a place to both stay and practice.  It was at the Albert that the Mama’s and the Papa’s wrote “California Dreamin'” and the Loving Spoonful wrote “Do You Believe In Magic?” Other musicians who spent time at the Albert include Jim Morrison, the Mothers of Invention, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Jonathan Richman.  So prominent was the Albert as a touchstone for musicians of this era that, according to The Rock Encyclopedia, “The basement became a shrine…no musician feels he’s a musician unless he’s stayed at the Albert and rehearsed among the pools of water and cockroaches.”  In 2012 the Hotel Albert was listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places (read the report on GVSHP’s website here), which is an important recognition of its significance, but which does not prohibit alteration or demolition.  The Albert is now a residential building, well cared for by its residents and owners.

Two other prominent former hotels in this area are the former Brittany Hotel (now NYU Brittany Hall dorms) at 55 East 10th Street (at Broadway) and the former St. Denis Hotel, one block to the north at 11th Street and Broadway.

The Brittany, before NYU gutted the windows

The Brittany dates to 1929, and was built as an apartment hotel.  It was consciously and respectfully built in the Gothic Revival style in deference to the magnificent Grace Church across the street — one of New York’s great Gothic landmarks designed by one of America’s most prominent architect’s, James Renwick.  (Unfortunately in 2012 the building’s gothic revival casement windows were quite consciously and disrespectfully destroyed by NYU and replaced with blank, single pane windows).

The St. Denis, via google maps

The St. Denis, also facing Grace Church one block north, was built in 1853, just a few years after the completion of the church in 1847, by the same great architect, James Renwick.  When built, the St. Denis was at the center of what was New York’s most fashionable shopping district, and the hotel attracted as guests everyone from Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, to P.T. Barnum, Mark Twain, Buffalo Bill, and Sarah Bernhardt.  The St. Denis was also the site of Alexander Graham Bell’s first public demonstration of the telephone in New York.  Read more about the St. Denis here.

By the early 20th century this section of Broadway was not only no longer the center of New York’s most fashionable shopping district, but it had become a rather unfashionable loft and manufacturing district.  The hotel was converted into offices and eventually stripped of much of its distinctive decorative ornamentation.

39 East 10th Street via google maps

39 East 10th Street was built in 1887, also to the designs of Renwick’s firm, Renwick, Aspinwall, and Tucker.  This beautiful brick and terra cotta structure is an early example of an apartment building built for middle class residents, at a time when those of means lived almost exclusively in houses, while multi-family housing was usually reserved for the poor and working-class. Unlike the St. Denis, it retains its original decorative facade detail.

Devonshire House

The Devonshire House at 28 East 10th Street was built in 1928 to the designs of New York’s great apartment house architect Emery Roth.  The Devonshire House design includes an eclectic mix of Beaux Arts and Romanesque Revival details, not unlike the mixtures seen in the detailing on other of Roth’s great apartment house works, such as the Beresford and the San Remo on Central Park West.

43 East 10th Street via google maps

The beautiful Romanesque Revival loft building at 43 East 10th Street was built in 1891 and housed a succession of manufacturing firms over the years.  In 1974 it was converted to residences.

42 East 12th Street via google maps

42 East 12th Street was built in 1894 as a manufacturing/loft building.  Like many of its contemporaries, it was built in a Romanesque Revival style, with prominently detailed iron and braided masonry columns.

817 Broadway

817 Broadway was built in 1895 and designed by prominent architect George Post, known for creating many of New York’s earliest skyscrapers in Lower Manhattan. The building’s thick projecting columns give the illusion of  a solid wall when viewed from an angle; face on, they reveal deep and unusually large windows.

36 East 12th Street via google maps

36 East 12th Street was built in 1894 and features vividly detailed ironwork on the first and second floors.

35 East 12th Street via google maps

35 East 12th Street was built in 1897 by Albert Wagner, also the architect of the Puck Building.  Like many of the manufacturing and loft buildings on this block, it has richly-detailed ironwork and brickwork.

37 East 12th Street

37 East 12th Street was also built in 1897.  The lacy ironwork covering the first and second floors is quite striking, and highly unusual.

If you’d like to  support contextual zoning and landmark protections for this area by sending letters to city officials, click here and here.

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