The latest news on New York architecture.

  • Recent LPC Designation Hearings

    Updates from the HDC blog about recent LPC designation hearings.

    Two long-sought-after historic districts finally got public hearings at the Landmarks Preservation Commission yesterday.   The two districts, both of which community members have been advocating for years for consideration, were originally scheduled for an October hearing at LPC, but that meeting was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy.
      53 Harrison Street Since 1976, the Mud Lane Society for the Renaissance of Stapleton has been campaigning for the protection of their lovely Staten Island neighborhood. HDC has been actively working with the group and Stapleton residents since 2003 to help gain landmark designation for areas in the neighborhood (the St. Paul Avenue – Stapleton Heights HD was designated in 2004), and the Mud Lane Society was recently chosen to be one of 2013’s “Six to Celebrate”, so we were thrilled that this district was finally having a hearing. Hosting a wide range of late 19th-century architectural styles on a single block, the proposed Harrison Street Historic District has a hidden history which is easily overlooked but contributes greatly to its distinct sense of place.  Since its first development in the mid 19th century, the cul-de-sac has had only one teardown on the block.   All the buildings, regardless of cosmetic alterations, are the original structures on their site, a rare occurrence in our city.  Furthermore, the homes on Harrison Street were mostly built by local designers and builders, a fact which opens a window into Staten Island’s architectural and urban design history in an unexpected and unusual way. Twenty-four people testified on the district, twenty in favor of designation.   The vast majority of the supporters were residents or owners of the proposed district and owners of landmarked properties nearby on Staten Island.   The latter spoke of their good experiences owning a landmark and working with LPC. The opposition were largely concerned about the possibility of increased costs for maintenance and the infringement on their property rights. Halsey Street When HDC chose the first class of our “Six to Celebrate” in 2011, placing Bedford-Stuyvesant on that list was an obvious choice, given the architectural quality of the neighborhood, the significance of its history to New York City and the strength of its community. The approximately 800 buildings in the proposed Bedford Historic District are primarily well-preserved rowhouses and small apartment buildings from the last quarter of the 19th century.  Prominent Brooklyn architects such as Montrose Morris and Isaac D. Reynolds designed many of the blocks.  In addition to its late-19th century streetscapes, Bedford-Stuyvesant is noted for being the home to one of the nation’s largest and best-known African-American and Caribbean-American communities throughout most of the 20th century and into today. Stuyvesant Heights was designated in 1971, and an extension to the district was heard in 1993.  Revived interest in landmarking got the extension a second hearing in 2011 and a positive vote on the district is expected soon.  The Bedford community, well informed about landmarking thanks to the tireless work of Bedford-Stuyvesant Society for Historic Preservation, jumped in line to be next. Seeing the crowd who attended the Bedford hearing, LPC commissioner Elizabeth Ryan exclaimed, “Quite the turn out!”. By our count, thirty-six people testified, and twenty-eight of them supported the district, including Councilmember Al Vann, a representative from Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz’s office, Brooklyn Community Board 3, and numerous residents.  Neighborhood residents strongly stated their case for designation, saying it would help protect their community from those who would destroy it through unregulated profit and that a historic district designation would honor the commitment of the longtime residents who stewarded the neighborhood through hard times. Opponents of the designation mostly complained about the process – that the hearing was held in Manhattan during business hours rather than in the neighborhood in the evening and their perceived lack of education and outreach. The latter claim that was strongly disputed by ourselves and others (such as the district manager of Community Board 3), citing  the three community meetings and two informational sessions held by the LPC (to say nothing of the numerous public, community and block association meetings that we have spoken at over the past three years). For more details on the hearing, see today’s article by David Dunlap in The New York Times: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/16/in-effort-to-preserve-bedford-stuyvesant-some-ask-for-whom No decision was made and the record for both of these historic districts was left open for thirty days – please submit statements to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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  • Ada Louise Huxtable

    Ada Louise Huxtable, Doyenne of Architecture Criticism, Dies at 91

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    The legend on her pillow: "Ada Louise Huxtable already doesn't like it" (a caption from a New Yorker cartoon). The world of architecture is in mourning. Ada Louise Huxtable, the Pulitzer Prize-winning, high spirited, fiercely opinionated architecture critic, revered by architecture historians and feared by developers, was the pioneer who brought serious, informed architecture criticism to daily newspapers. Her writing was invariably erudite, lucid and witty. The few times when she graciously conversed with me, in writing or in person, I felt I as though I had been touched by royalty. At the time of her death today at the age of 91, she was architecture critic for the Wall Street Journal. She wrote until the end with the verve, feistiness and exhaustive command of the facts of someone one-third her age. Take her final piece for the WSJ, published early last month, about the New York Public Library's plans to renovate and restructure its flagship 42nd Street facility (or, as she put it, "to undertake its own destruction"). She delivered a detailed analysis of why, in her estimation, the library's stacks should not be demolished---arguing her case not just on historic preservation grounds, but also on engineering grounds:
    What no one seems to have noticed, or mentioned, is that the stacks are the structural support of the reading room. They literally hold it up....Restoration and retrofitting would be easier and cheaper than supporting the reading room with the enormously complex and expensive engineering needed during demolition and reconstruction.
    What's more, she allowed herself the rare luxury of complaining in print (at some length) about the runaround she had gotten after asking library officials to release "schematic studies of how the vacated space would be used....I have been patient and cooperative, but I believe I have waited long enough." What she didn't mention was that her exasperation may have been heightened by a consciousness that her own time was running out. It is probably no coincidence that two weeks after Ada Louise's heated critique, the Library released more information about its construction plans. In her NY Times report on this, Robin Pogrebin tipped her hat to Huxtable by quoting her complaint in the the rival newspaper about the long-time dearth of information. The Library claimed that "the designs were not refined until now," Pogrebin reported. I hope that both the online editions of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times (where Ada Louise wrote with universally admired distinction from 1963 to 1982) will link to highlights from among her many articles, along with an appreciative recap of her many achievements. (The Times has just posted its detailed obituary.) The tributes from the art and architecture critics who are her progeny are already pouring in.
    January 7, 2013 8:29 PM | Permalink | ShareThis

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