The latest news on New York architecture.

  • Developer's Fifth Avenue Building Proposal Irks Famous Neighbors

    815 Fifth Avenue is sandwiched between 812 Fifth Avenue and 817 Fifth Avenue On an historic, stately stretch of Fifth Avenue, a proposal by a Brazilian developer for a luxury high-rise is threatening to disrupt the peace. Residents of two Central Park-facing buildings, at 812 and 817 Fifth Avenue, are gearing up to fight a structure planned for 815 Fifth Avenue that they described in a letter to fellow residents as “contemporary” and “incompatible” with the character of the neighborhood, The Real Deal has learned. Paperwork filed with the Department of Buildings calls for a 15-story building with a dozen apartments as well as partial demolition of a six-story building, which records show is the oldest structure on Fifth Avenue between 59th and 110th streets. JHSF Participacoes S.A., based in Brazil, is named on renderings of the project, although the official documents list the developer as Eight Hundred and Fifteen Fifth Avenue, a limited liability company. JHSF has developed more than 19 million square feet of real estate in Sao Paulo. Brazilian banking magnate Sergio Millerman, the former CEO of Safra National Bank of New York and a consultant to the Safra Group, the Brazil-based international banking empire, is named in official documents as an adviser to the project. A spokesperson for Millerman told The Real Deal that the owners of the project are “highly sensitive to the history of the area” and will proceed in a manner that is “consistent with that sensitivity.” While the spokesperson confirmed that Millerman is assisting the developer on the project, he declined to comment on the identity of the developer. The board of managers for 817 Fifth Avenue sent the Feb. 13 letter opposing the project to both residents of both their building and 812 Fifth Avenue. The letter called for the residents to speak out against the development at a community board hearing last night. The developer presented the proposal Feb. 11 to Community Board 8′s Landmarks Committee, an advisory panel. The Landmarks Committee unanimously rejected the building, calling it “incompatible with the character of the block,” the letter said. The project can still move ahead, however, if the Landmarks Preservation Commission signs off on it. The new building would be 200 feet tall, nearly triple the height of the existing 80-foot-tall structure, according to papers filed with the Department of Buildings. The architect, Timothy Greer of Connecticut-based TP Greer Architects, said he has been working closely with the landmarks commission over the last few months to create a building with will be “senstitive to and consistent with the established architectural character and scale of Fifth Avenue.” While a spokesperson for the Landmarks Preservation Commission could not comment directly on the project, which is in an historic district, she said any new building within such a district should be “consistent with the height and shape of the other buildings in the district” in order to obtain necessary approvals from the LPC. “Whether it is a contemporary design or a contextual, more traditional design, the façade composition, scale, materials and details should have some relationship to the buildings in this historic district which can be abstract or literal,” she said. Residents on the upper floors of 812 and 817 Fifth Avenue are concerned the proposed development will block their views, bringing down their property values. At 817 Fifth Avenue, the views are to the south; residents of 812 Fifth Avenue look to the north. Jewelry designer Janet Yaseen, a resident of 812 Fifth Avenue, said residents of her building stood “shoulder to shoulder” with residents of 817 Fifth Avenue in the dispute. The building on the site, designed by Samuel A. Warner, went up in 1871. Once a single-family home owned by hotel owner James Stewart Cushman and wife Verna, the brownstone today houses 12 apartments and two offices. Real estate investor Robert Haskell sold the building to JHSF last year for $32 million, public records show, $7 million over its asking price. Both 812 and 817 Fifth Avenue have been home to celebrities and the city’s biggest power players. Actor Richard Gere, business magnate Steve Wynn and socialite Courtney Sale Ross have lived at 817 Fifth Avenue; New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and his wife, Mary “Tod” Rockefeller, had a home in 812 Fifth Avenue.

    Read more...
  • Movement to Preserve Terminal City

    Last night, Anthony Robins spoke at the Dominican Society about the history of Grand Central and about the importance of preserving the adjacent buildings that make up Terminal City as the city prepares to rezone Midtown East. Below is his post on the subject for M.A.S.

     

    Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a New York Landmark

    GUEST POST: Anthony W. Robins is an historian, writer and lecturer who has led MAS tours for several decades. He teaches the research skills used in writing his new book in an annual MAS seminar, being offered this year in April. To anybody who’s worked in or cared about the historic preservation movement in New York, the very name “Grand Central Terminal” has enormous significance, because it conjures the 1978 Supreme Court decision that put preservation on a solid legal footing. By chance, I started working at the New York Landmarks Commission in January of 1979, just a few months after the Court had handed down the decision. Kent Barwick, who had guided the effort at the Municipal Art Society, had just moved over to be the LPC’s new chairman.

    The general feeling was that historic preservation had passed a critical test – now it was legitimate, accepted, constitutional. The name “Grand Central” became a kind of shorthand for not just a major victory, but an entirely changed environment. What remained was the messy physical and financial reality. The terminal was a mess – dirty, deteriorating, dangerous. The main waiting room – today called Vanderbilt Hall – had become a homeless encampment. Besides being a humanitarian disaster, that encampment discouraged other New Yorkers from coming to the terminal. With a declining rail industry unable to generate the necessary income, the terminal seemed, so to speak, terminal. Nevertheless, after years of effort, complex financing, a reimagining of the terminal as a destination for New Yorkers already in the city – rather than just a destination for travelers to the city – and an expansive restoration, Grand Central has emerged as the jewel it was always meant to be. In many ways, its transition from bankrupt decaying hulk to gloriously restored success story mirrors the evolution of the city and its physical restoration over the past thirty-five years.

    The terminal’s centennial is an occasion to celebrate the survival of a major New York monument which we almost lost. As to the new book, Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a New York Landmark, just published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang (an imprint of Abrams) as a project of the New York Transit Museum: Being asked to write the book celebrating the centennial of Grand Central Terminal was a terrific honor. It was also a major challenge. I’d led some of the famous MAS Wednesday Grand Central tours over the years, but quickly discovered how much there was that I didn’t know. It was an intense research and writing project, supported by the wonderful archivists at the Transit Museum (Carey Stumm and Brett Dion). Perhaps the most surprising thing I learned – though hardly a secret – was the extent of the entire surrounding district, “Terminal City.”

    In the area from Forty-second Street to at least 50th Street, roughly from Madison to Lexington avenues, dozens of buildings rise above Grand Central’s sunken train yard. Terminal City initially developed with elegant masonry buildings designed either by Grand Central’s architects, Warren & Wetmore, or by architects whose proposals required W&W’s approval. The result was a visually cohesive whole – an entirely new section of Manhattan. After the war, Park Avenue redeveloped as a glass and steel International Style office park, so the feeling of visual cohesiveness has largely disappeared.

    The best remaining spot to get a sense of what it looked like is along Vanderbilt Avenue where – with the exception of the refaced Biltmore Hotel – the original Terminal City buildings still stand. These, unfortunately, may be threatened by the recently proposed new zoning for east Midtown. Happily, the MAS once again is stepping into the battle.

    Read more...