City Fails to Protect Public Safety, Landmarks at 14-18 Gay Street/16-20 Christopher Streets

Hundreds joined us for a rally on Gay Street in November 2022 to protest illegal work at 14 Gay Street that led to the building’s demolition. We demanded reform to the City’s oversight system, which has only gotten worse. 

Village Preservation has been battling for years to get the City to take action to protect five fragile, jointly owned, 200-year-old houses at 14-18 Gay Street and 16-20 Christopher Street, and to hold the owner responsible for the conditions and damage done there. The houses (briefly owned by the City itself) have been in deteriorating conditions for years, and in late 2022 illegal work at 14 Gay Street (the former home of writer Ruth McKenna, which inspired and was where she wrote My Sister Eileen, which later became Wonderful Town) led to the building’s destruction and demolition. Village Preservation has demanded that the City reform its system of oversight which led to the destruction of these and so many other historic properties, and that the responsible parties be held to account and a message sent that such actions will be severely penalized and strongly disincentivized.

However, following a recent meeting with the NYC Department of Buildings and the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) arranged by Councilmember Erik Bottcher, we learned just the opposite was happening. The City agencies confirmed that there will be virtually no penalties for any responsible parties for the destruction of the landmarked 14 Gay Street; repairs to adjacent endangered sites at 16 and 18 Gay Street are at best advancing at a snail’s pace, with work in some cases not expected to begin before 2025; and at 18-20 Christopher Street, 200-year-old elements of the building may need to be removed and replaced, thus far without any proof of the necessity of doing so, as opposed to repairing the historic features. The LPC had also previously informed us that in spite of initial indications to the contrary, 14 Gay Street would not be rebuilt using the original materials from the building, because the agency had determined (without any substantiation made public) that the entire building except the original door and surround were “unsalvageable” (Village Preservation had demanded that the owner be required to rebuild 14 Gay using the original material from the house when it was required to be demolished due to structural instability from illegal work, as is common practice for landmarked structures). Read our letter to city officials HERE.

The failure yet again of City agencies to safeguard landmarked, historic buildings in our city, in spite of their hollow claim to have developed a “Vulnerable Buildings Plan,” is deeply troubling and disturbing. Worse, these City agencies are making it clear that owners and developers can destroy or allow dangerous deterioration of their properties with little or no penalty from the city to discourage such actions, encouraging landmarks to be destroyed, homes to be lost, and public safety to be put at risk.  


February 16, 2024