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A Move To Allow New York City To Save Its Landmarks

On April 6, 1965, the New York City Council approved the bill granting the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission the power to designate and preserve New York City’s landmarks. According to contemporary New York Times accounts, 33 out of 35 City Council members voted in favor (but it was noted that two of the members were absent). This was no overnight victory, but rather the end result of a very long fight by preservationists to honor New York’s architectural heritage that was rapidly disappearing. On April 19, 1965, Mayor Wagner signed the bill into law.

To honor the occasion, today I thought that I would look at some of my favorite landmarks from our area, which might not still be here if it were not for that law. Of course, that is like picking your favorite child, but I will do my best.

Firehouse Engine Co. 33, 44 Great Jones Street

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Among the City’s earliest designations was Firehouse Engine Co. 33 at 44 Great Jones Street, designated in 1968 as an individual landmark and also part of the NoHo Historic District Extension. It was designed by Ernest Flagg and W. B. Chambers and built in 1898. The LPC found this building to be a “distinguished example of French Beaux-Arts architecture” and that the building “was considered architecturally daring in its day.” It features a heavily bracketed cornice with cresting at the top and a large inset arch that encompasses its second through fourth floors, lending significantly to its monumentality. Surprising details are in the ironwork, including the number “33,” referencing the fire engine company.

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Fire Engine 33 iron railing

Jaffe Art Theater, 189 Second Avenue

Since 1993, this building has been both an individual landmark and an interior landmark. The theater’s interior restoration was also a Village Award Winner in 2016. In the first few decades of the 20th century, this stretch of Second Avenue was referred to as the Yiddish Rialto, due to the many Yiddish language theaters and businesses located here. In 1925 the developer Louis N. Jaffe hired the theater architect Harrison Wiseman to create the stunning theater at 189 Second Avenue to be devoted to the work of Maurice Schwartz, a Yiddish-speaking actor of great renown, often referred to simply as “Mr. Second Avenue”.

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The interior of the theater, post-restoration

53-61 Gansevoort Street

I’m a sucker for a building that accommodates an awkwardly shaped lot, attesting to both New York’s multi-layered street and development histories. 53-61 Gansevoort is part of the Gansevoort Market Historic District Village Preservation secured designation of in 2003. It was built in 1887 during one of the major phases of development of the area and designed by Joseph M. Dunn. Described in the designation report as vernacular in style, it was built when Gansevoort Street was being widened. The builder-contractor responsible for this structure was Michael Reid, who later formed the M. Reid Co., which constructed the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, one of the Metropolitan Museum of Art additions, and eleven Carnegie libraries.

1895 Map showing 53-61 Gansevoort Street

MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District

Designated in 1967, this historic district which has survived since the mid-19th century had gone through several iterations before its landmark designation. It still retains its garden at the center of the block or “donut,” if you will, a feature that has rapidly disappeared from other blocks. Originally developed as Greek Revival row houses, these houses were later redeveloped during the early 20th century by William Sloane Coffin, the grandson of the founder of the W. & J. Sloane furniture and rug emporium. He updated the interiors, removed their stoops, and added Colonial Revival style elements to the facades. As an afterthought, Coffin decided to make the interior open space of the block into a common garden for use by all of the tenants of the houses.

Sullivan Street, 1920. MCNY

University Village/Silver Towers

University Village/Silver Towers and Sylvette
University Village/Silver Towers and Sylvette

Greenwich Village is home to what is considered by many one of the finest examples in the nation of a mid-century modern residential complex: University Village/Silver Towers. Designed by I.M. Pei & Associates with James I. Freed as lead project architect, the complex was built between 1964 and 1966. Critics from the time of its completion extolled the virtues of the design. Village Preservation proposed and secured New York City landmark designation of the complex in 2008, as well as getting the site determined eligible for the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

The three thirty-story identical towers are asymmetrically sited and ‘pinwheel’ around the site creating a variety of wide and narrow facades. The energy of the design is furthered by the alternating wall surfaces — smooth and then the deep grid of modulated windows. Finally, the concrete sculpture reproduction of Pablo Picasso’s Bust of Sylvette further accentuates the architecture and serves as a transition between the buildings and a more human scale.

Washington Square Park

Okay, I grant you, this was an easy one to pick. Part of the Greenwich Village Historic District designated in 1969, the park was originally a potters field and later became the nexus for the development of the surrounding area. And then there is its iconic Arch. In 1889, a large plaster and wood memorial arch was erected over Fifth Avenue just north of Washington Square Park in honor of the centennial of the inauguration of President George Washington, who took the oath of office at Federal Hall on Wall Street, when New York was the nation’s captial. It was so popular, a permanent structure was almost immediately commissioned, the Tuckahoe marble arch we see today, designed in 1892 by Stanford White.

We still have many buildings which don’t share the privilege of landmarks protections, although they are equally deserving. To learn more about our current advocacy campaigns, click HERE.

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