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2020 Village Preservation Year in Review: Landmarks Applications

This has certainly been a challenging year, to say the least. In spite of that, Village Preservation, the Community Boards, and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) have continued to review and process permit applications for the landmarked properties in our neighborhoods. Interestingly, in the virtual environment that we have been operating in, there is in many ways a more democratic process. Landmarks Preservation Commission’s public hearings and meetings, held during business hours, are now live-streamed via YouTube with Zoom access for public testimony during the public hearings. The Community Board hearings are accessed now virtually as well which in previous times could be difficult for the public to attend when they were in person and during inclement weather.

Today we thought that we would look at a few of this year’s more interesting Landmarks applications. While we all look forward to in-person meeting again, we hope that virtual access to the Landmark public review process will be maintained, and that will be one of the silver linings in the cloud of 2020.

44-54 Ninth Avenue/351-355 West 14th Street

This was probably one of the more controversial applications of the year. Located at the northeast corner of the Gansevoort Market Historic District, this site has two distinct rows of mid-19th century row houses, one fronting Ninth Avenue and the other West 14th Street. The original proposal called for a large tower at the back of the houses, partially within the landmarked site, and the restoration of the front facades of the 19th-century row houses (with the exception of the storefronts). It also called for the demolition of much of the interior of the row houses including their rear facades.

Original proposal 44-54 Ninth Avenue/351-355 West 14th Street

Community Board 4’s Chelsea Land Use Committee conducted two meetings to review this application, the second of which was in April and virtual; it lasted over four hours. Their resolution called for the reduction of the tower by three stories, reducing the glass parapet at the top of the tower to 42″, and the retention of more of the historic fabric of the row houses.

The LPC hearing was held in June and Village Preservation, along with others including our elected officials, objected to the height of the proposed tower and the loss of the historic material of the row houses. Additionally, we felt that the plan for the storefront needed to be very much re-thought. The commissioners unanimously had issues with the positioning, materiality, and scale of the proposed addition. They also felt that the restoration of the 1840s row houses should include the retention of significantly more historic material than proposed, including the rear and party walls, and that the storefront plan needed to be re-thought to create more articulation between the buildings. The applicants were instructed to revise the plan according to the commissioners’ comments and return for a public meeting.

Revised application 44-54 Ninth Avenue/351-355 West 14th Street

By August, the applicant presented a revised application to the LPC. Village Preservation submitted testimony acknowledging the improvement of the design but called out several issues that remained. We felt that the tower’s placement was still intrusive to the 19th-century row houses, that the applicant did not adequately address our and the commission’s concerns regarding the loss of interior walls between the row houses, and that the brick piers on the storefront on the Ninth Avenue façade which demarcate the individual row houses should be continued to the West 14th Street façade, to help maintain the individuality of these houses and their storefronts. 

At the LPC public meeting, the revised application was approved with modifications. On the new building, the applicant was instructed to extend the balcony at the top floor on the Ninth Avenue façade around to the 14th Street façade; work with the LPC staff to reset the rhythm and materiality of the storefront to make it less homogenous; limit the solar panels to only the roof of the old building which fronts 14th Street; and work with staff on refining the design for the row house balconies and cornice. Commissioner Goldblum and Commissioner Gustafsson voted against this approval. If you would like to learn more about this application, click HERE.

65 Horatio Street

65 Horatio Street

This charming Greek Revival row house was built in 1845 for a fishmonger named Wait Wells who had a stall at the nearby Washington Market. It is on the northwestern edge of the Greenwich Village Historic District. It also is on an unusual lot with no rear yard, but a side yard. The polygonal bay window at the side facade was a later addition and during the early 20th century, the side yard was made into a garage, as seen in this undated photo.

By the time of designation of the Greenwich Village Historic District in 1969, the garage had been removed as evident in the designation photo:

65 Horatio Street c. 1969

The original proposal called for the restoration of the front facade of the row house (good) and prominent additions to the rooftop and the side facade (bad). The applicant designed the side yard addition to supposedly reference the prior garage addition, which would have obscured and hidden the beautiful side yard and bay window.

65 Horatio Street original proposal rendering
65 Horatio Street, original proposal front view

Village Preservation spoke out vehemently against this proposal. The LPC largely supported the side addition that referenced the garage. They did, however, feel that the rooftop addition did not belong. The applicant was instructed to revise the application and return to re-present at a future public meeting.

Rendering of revised proposal for 65 Horatio Street

In the revised application the side addition was very slightly lowered. The rooftop addition, on the other hand, was in fact radically changed, although to our minds not in a good way. While certainly the new rooftop addition referenced Greenwich Village studio windows, it still completely overwhelms the house particularly given its eastern exposure. Unfortunately, the LPC did not agree. They concluded that the addition was appropriate and merely asked the applicant to reconsider the materiality of the side of the rooftop addition and work with staff to that end as part of the approval. For more information on this application, click HERE.

827-831 Broadway

827-831 Broadway

It’s baaaack! This second go-around of this application is actually still in play and is awaiting further action by the LPC. Village Preservation proposed and fought hard for the landmark designation of this pair of 1866 cast iron-masonry buildings as well as their sister building at 47 East 12th Street. In 2017 we were able to secure landmark status for the Broadway buildings based both on their artistic history (Willem de Kooning as well as other members of the 20th century New York City school of artists lived and worked here) and their architectural significance in 2017. Unfortunately, the LPC did not include the East 12th Street building in the landmark designation, though it was built at the same time and is connected to the Broadway buildings.

Original proposal for 827-831 Broadway

The original proposal for an addition to the buildings, filed immediately following the designation, called for a four-story multi-faceted glass addition to these Broadway gems. Needless to say, Village Preservation, elected officials, the community, and other preservation groups pushed back hard on this very inappropriate and upstaging addition. The LPC agreed and asked the applicant to revise the application to one which was more deferential to the 1866 buildings.

827-831 Broadway

The applicant revised the application to include a three-story “slumped-glass” addition, the fenestration of which responds better to the rhythm of the Broadway buildings below (although it was still visible) and very unfortunately, a seven-story tower atop the four-story building on East 12th Street. A corner piece of that proposed tower falls within the landmarked area of the site and we asked the LPC to consider its appropriateness on this basis. Unfortunately, in 2018 it was approved at an LPC public meeting. At an LPC public meeting, as opposed to an LPC public hearing, the public may submit comments on an application but may not offer public testimony.

However, a lawsuit was brought by neighbors and the court ruled that because the first application was different enough from the second, it warranted its own LPC public hearing, which then took place on December 15, 2020.

828-831 Broadway and 47 East 12th Street. Red dashes indicate area of designation

LPC received 250 letters asking for the rejection of this proposal. Village Preservation reiterated its objections to this application and reminded the Commission that because a portion of the proposed tower on top of 47 East 12th Street is on the landmarked site, LPC had jurisdiction to review its appropriateness. And here is a little good news for the end of this challenging year. Some of the commissioners felt that the addition atop of the Broadway buildings as well as the tower were too tall. Some were also concerned with the loss of the historic material behind the facades that the applicant made plain was not going to be kept intact. Finally, one commissioner called for the consideration by the commission of an historic district South of Union Square which, of course, we have been campaigning for for years. While we don’t know what the LPC will decide at the future public meeting (date to be determined), Village Preservation will stay on top of this application and continue to push for the landmark designation of this area which is architecturally and culturally so significant. For more information on this application, click HERE.

There are more important applications to come before the LPC in 2021, such as 27 East 4th Street (a new building proposed next to the Merchants House Museum) and 310 Spring Street (an individual landmark in the Hudson Square area), both of which have been reviewed already at Community Board 2. Click HERE to see more upcoming applications.

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