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To Raze or Not? MoMA Rethinks Plan

Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times
The American Folk Art Museum.
Published: May 9, 2013 134 Comments
AFTER impassioned protests from prominent architects, preservationists and design critics, the Museum of Modern Art said on Thursday that it would reconsider its decision to demolish its next-door neighbor, the former home of the American Folk Art Museum, to make room for an expansion.
Matt Chaban reports for Crain's,   For six decades, a luxury-car showroom with a distinctive swooping ramp stood at the corner of Park Avenue and 56th Street. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it was the first of only three New York projects by the modernist master. In six days late last month, the dealership was destroyed. "The loss of a Frank Lloyd Wright, it's a national tragedy," said Simeon Bankoff, director of the Historic Districts Council. Like so many in New York, he had no idea the space was even gone. The end came suddenly and unexpectedly. On March 22, the Landmarks Preservation Commission called the owners of 430 Park Ave. to tell them the city was considering designating the Wright showroom—until January, the longtime home to Mercedes of Manhattan—as the city's 115th interior landmark. Three days later, the commission followed up with a letter. Both went unanswered. Instead, on March 28, the building's owners, Midwood Investment & Management and Oestreicher Properties, reached out to another city agency, the Department of Buildings, requesting a demolition permit for the Wright showroom. The permit was approved the same day, sealing the showroom's fate.   By the following week, workers had arrived and removed every last trace of a space that some architectural historians say inspired Wright's most celebrated New York work, the Guggenheim Museum. The city has lost an architectural gem, albeit a small and seldom-noticed one. Almost no one saw it go. Even if they had, there is almost nothing that could have been done to stop it. And yet this quiet disappearance also raises the question of whether there was anything worth saving. "I'm surprised, but I'm not," said David Hoffman, an executive managing director at brokerage Cassidy Turley, who arranged Mercedes-Benz's last lease for the space, in 2001. "It was notable solely because it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but it wasn't the Guggenheim; it wasn't monumental." Ironically, it was the Landmarks Commission's good intentions, and a disconnect between it and the Department of Buildings, that doomed the dealership. In August, the commission received a request to consider landmarking the showroom from Docomomo Tri-State, a preservation group focused on modernist buildings, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. The commission decided to wait until Mercedes vacated the space to proceed. Part of the reason was that an interior-landmark designation can be granted only to a public space, and there had been a long-running debate in the preservation community about whether the showroom was actually anything but private property. Also, the commission had little reason to believe Midwood and Oestreicher would take the action they did. The delay proved fatal, but the outcome was likely inevitable. The commission is loath to designate a landmark without the owner's support, because the landlord, not the city, is ultimately the steward of the space. In the case of the auto dealership, the steward simply had other plans. Representatives for both Midwood and Oestreicher declined requests for comment. "Regrettably, the showroom was dismantled before the formal public designation process could begin," a commission spokeswoman said. "It is disappointing that the owners in this case demonstrated a disregard for the process." [gallery] That process, however, is famously cumbersome. The commission cannot "calendar" a property—the first step in the landmarking process, and the point at which the Department of Buildings is notified not to allow work to be done on the potential landmark—until Landmarks has done sufficient research, which typically involves outreach to the owner. In the interim, the landlord is free to request demolition permits, and there is almost nothing either city agency can do to stop them. The Wright showroom is just one of several such cases in recent years. Back when the Madison Square North Historic District was proposed in 2000, the owners of the former ASPCA headquarters at 50 Madison Ave. removed much of the building's Beaux Arts ornamentation, with the Department of Buildings' blessing. The owners had plans for a multistory addition to create a luxury apartment building, and they did not want their work to be subject to the commission's whims. The tactic worked, and the property was left out of the district. Taking a different tack, the Institute of International Education closed a conference center designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto in 2008, thus creating a private space exempt from landmarking. Motivations for doing such end runs around landmarking are clear. "I can't think of too many owners that would be grateful to receive a phone call from the Landmarks Commission when they're about to do work on a building, which could stop their ability to make that investment and increase the value of the building," said Stephen Spinola, president of the powerful Real Estate Board of New York. In the case of the Wright showroom, the architect who worked on the demolition permits corroborates the city's timeline of the destruction coming shortly after the commission had reached out to the landlords. Silviu Zahara, of architecture firm Belea Group, said he had received the job two weeks ago, but he also insists he had no idea the space was crafted by one of the nation's most revered designers. "The drawings I got were from an architect I'd never heard of," he said. "Actually, it wasn't a great-looking space." To be sure, this was one of Wright's lesser works. Mr. Bankoff of the Historic Districts Council said that when he mentioned it to certain in-the-know colleagues, they were shocked to learn there was a Wright hiding in plain sight on Park Avenue. Even the renowned architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable was lukewarm on the showroom. "The spiral ramp motif … which was to be so beautiful an element in the Guggenheim, is employed here, though far less effectively, in part because of the low ceiling and partly because the cramped, abrupt turning motion all too clearly recalls the ramps of multifloor parking garages," she wrote in a 1966 book. "It's outside our scope as an institution, so we don't know what to do about [the demolition], but it's pretty bad," said Richard Armstrong, director of the Guggenheim. Some question whether there was any Wright worth saving, since the space was renovated twice, first in the 1980s and again in 2001. The merits of the space would have been considered at the Landmarks Commission. "That's a debate we should have had, and could have had, but now we can't" because of the demolition, said Vin Cipolla, president of the Municipal Art Society. "That's what the landmarking process is for." Margery Perlmutter, a member of the Landmarks Commission, was shocked to learn about the loss of the showroom. "All it takes is a savvy landlord and a smart tenant to do something special with that space," she said. "How many boutiques can claim to be inside a Frank Lloyd Wright? None that I know of, unless you count the Guggenheim gift shop." Just how much of an asset the space's pedigree could have been to a retailer will now never be known. But Faith Hope Consolo, a retail broker at Douglas Elliman and a self-professed fan of Wright, has her doubts. "It means nothing to a new retailer; they couldn't care less," she said. Instead, she estimates that having a blank slate to work with could add hundreds of dollars per square foot to the value of the lease, especially given the location, a block off busy 57th Street. "Of course, under the law the landlords had the right to do this," Ms. Consolo said. "I just wish they'd had the same respect for Frank Lloyd Wright as they did for their own rights."
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In Detail> Shepard Hall

Elemental gives George B. Post's Gothic City College landmark a long-in-coming restoration, gargoyles and all
The Gothic revival Shepard Hall in Hamilton Heights, built in 1907, has new glass fiber-reinforced concrete decorative trim in place of original terra cotta.
Courtesy Elemental
Designed by George B. Post and completed in 1907, City College’s Shepard Hall is in all probability the most faithful specimen of English Perpendicular Gothic revival architecture in the United States. The first structure to inhabit the institution’s Hamilton Heights campus, it was modeled on a cathedral plan, its main entrance within a bell tower on St. Nicolas Terrace that connects two flanking academic wings and a central great hall for assemblies. Like many of its Gothic predecessors, unfortunately, the building also featured certain flaws that, over time, led to severe deterioration in the building’s fabric and the threat of catastrophic structural collapse.
the team replaced some 70.000 pieces of deteriorated terra cotta (left) with the gfrc product (right), which could be used to mass-produce repetitive decorative elements. 
Post constructed the hall primarily from local schist—stone quarried during the excavation of the site—and terra cotta, which makes up the decorative elements. He used the terra cotta, however, structurally, as if it were just another piece of masonry. While terra cotta is very strong under compression, it has almost no tensile properties. As a result, when water infiltrated the walls and as the building swelled and contracted with the changing seasons (it was built without expansion joints), the terra cotta could not handle the stresses as well as the schist, and so it began to crack, break up, and come loose. By 1986, when architecture firm Elemental (then The Stein Partnership) answered an RFP to restore and reconstruct Shepard Hall’s envelope, pieces of terra cotta the size of grapefruits had been falling off the building with regularity for some ten years. Only one third of the original material remained. The rest had been filled in with bricks and stucco. From the outset, the architects decided that in replacing the terra cotta, they would employ a rain screen system with a light, thin-shell material fulfilling the decorative aspects and a separate material taking on the structural role. The material would also need to be mass-produced in order to meet the reconstruction schedule. Some 70,000 pieces of terra cotta needed replacing, 3,000 of which were completely unique sculptures—allegorical representations of academics, gargoyles and grotesques, and vegetative motifs. The team considered terra cotta, but the material was quickly ruled out since it would have taken decades to produce the needed pieces by the two manufacturers in the country who could do it at all. They settled on reinforced concrete (GFRC), basically a Portland cement with significant chemical variations. It uses only fine-grain aggregate, a small amount of polymer, glass, and carefully controlled sand.
the thin-shell replicas were bolted back to a new masonry structure, with soft joints between the new masonry and original schist.  
A sprayed product about 3/4-inch thick, the GFRC offered the possibility of speeding up the fabrication of all of the repetitive pieces and keeping cost down. The sculptural elements took a little more time. Those that remained more or less intact were removed from the building, touched up, and used to form rubber-lined production molds. Those that had vanished were recreated from old photographs or extrapolated from fragments. The GFRC system offered a much higher level of precision than did the original process. To be as faithful as possible to the original, Elemental took care to introduce the imperfections characteristic of terra cotta, including tooling marks, irregularities on flat planes, and slight variations in the “white” color from piece to piece. The team filled in the structural gaps left by the terra cotta with traditional masonry structure, and bolted each thin-film replica back to the new masonry. This allowed the creation of soft joints between each piece and the existing schist. When taken across an entire elevation, these small, soft joints comprise a de facto expansion-joint system capable of accommodating significant building movement. In the course of replacing the terra cotta, the architects uncovered a number of other issues that needed attention. The bell tower was discovered to be in a state of structural failure. Steel supports in the existing masonry had corroded to the point of no longer being there. All that was holding it up was the terra cotta, some rubble stone, and a chicken-wire wrapper placed there to keep the gargoyles from falling onto students below. It was completely rebuilt, the cladding removed, a new precast, post-tensioned concrete structure inserted, and then the new thin-film elements attached. Elemental divided the project into ten contract packages, ordered according to severity of need, and tackled them when the budget became available. The firm is now finishing the ninth package. Although not among the gargoyles, the spirit of George B. Post might well sit smiling, twirling his Edwardian whiskers in hearty approval.
Aaron Seward

Evan Bindelglass reports for New York Yimby: Landmarks Approves 16-story building for 8-10 West 17th Street.

On Tuesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission gave the okay to demolish the existing building at 8-10 West 17th Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues) and construct a new one in its place.

The existing building, designed by Belfatto & Pavarini, is three-stories-tall and home to the Catholic Medical Mission Board, but is no longer adequate for them. The new building is being developed by Sherwood Equities and Arun Bhatia Development, with Richard Southwick of the preservation architecture firm Beyer Blinder Belle as designer. Southwick called his design “contemporary,” yet “sympathetic” to its neighbors. The new as-of-right building will be 16-stories-tall, with the top two floors being a duplex penthouse. The penthouse will be setback 15 feet in the front and zoning requires that it also be set back 10 feet in the rear. It will be 174 feet to the top of the penthouse, but a total of 208 feet to the top of the rooftop mechanical unit. When it came time for the commissioners to decide on the project, a lot of time was spent on the current building. Commissioner Roberta Washington said it was “not as distinctive” as some of the architects’ other work, but it was “not ugly.” Commissioner Diana Chapin echoed that, saying it was “not such a notable example.” Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan called it “fairly plain” and said it was not the type of building the Ladies Mile Historic District was created to protect. Commissioner Michael Goldblum had no problem with the demolition, but said he was happy to see an in-depth discussion of it. In the end, they decided it was fine to demolish the building. When it came time for them to discuss the proposed new building, little time was necessary. Srinivasan called the new building “sedate” and said it will “enrich the district.” Goldblum encouraged future applicants to go above and beyond Tuesday’s proposal, but called it “completely appropriate.” The proposal was approved unanimously. The texture of the screen over the mechanical units will, however, be refined at the LPC staff level.


The Historic Districts Council also approved of the demolition. “8-10 West 17th Street appeared in pallor compared to the examples provided of the fanciful Ladies Mile-quality buildings in the district,” HDC’s Kelly Carroll said. “Further, it is demonstrated that this building is not a colleague among the urbane, Modern buildings completed by architects Belfatto and Pavarini.” Carroll did add that the “design for the new building left something to be desired.”


The project got the support of Community Board 5 and the Real Estate Board of New York. The New York Landmarks Conservancy also backed the demolition. A resident of 12 West 17th Street complained about the expenses his building has incurred to maintain the lot line windows. The counsel for the LPC said that while buildings in historic districts are required to maintain their lot line windows, there is no expectation that their existence should continue in perpetuity. The project team said people with lot line windows are enjoying them on “borrowed time.”

Evan Bindelglass reports for Curbed: Extell's 16-Story Park Ave. Building Fails to impress Landmarks.

Previously on an extended-length episode of the Adventures of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, a plan was presented to replace the existing rectory and parish hall building next to the Park Avenue Christian Church with a 16-story mixed-use condo building. It took three hours and left us with a cliffhanger. Well, the plan came back and has now lost its first round at the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The plan from developer Gary Barnett's Extell Development Company and architect John Beyer of Beyer Blinder Belle did not pass muster at Tuesday's hearing of the LPC. To quickly recap, the church, along with a rectory to the south, was built in 1911.

The rectory and parish hall were heavily modified, including extensive infill, in 1960. The church says it is in financial hardship and can't afford to perform necessary maintenance and restoration. Enter Barnett, with his 16-story building, as savior. The church fully supports this and would reportedly receive $24.7 million from Extell. This time, attorney Paul Silver picked up the presentation and responded to those who say that, contrary to the Park Avenue Historic District designation report, the annex should be designated as having "style" (shorthand for a definable architectural style). He said what is there now is a "pastiche" and that "features don't make a style." Beyer then picked up the presentation, to respond to the concerns expressed before the hearing was adjourned last time. He started with the height, saying that the proposed height is a mediation between the neighboring buildings, which are both pre-war and post-war. He noted that many houses of worship have apartment building neighbors. He moved on to the northern façade, which was criticized for being too bold.

Though he said he and his team didn't want to, he presented a rendering of a simplified northern façade, to the delight of many at the commissioners' table. Next was the streetwall and existing annex façade. He showed a series of illustrations (which he made clear were not a formal proposal) that showed the existing façade left in place with the apartment building set back 20 feet, which would require more than just the LPC's approval. He addressed the views from the south and noted the windows of the church aren't seen now. The "not a proposal" illustration does reveal slightly more stonework. On the subject of natural light streaming into the church, he said little gets in today anyway. As for the fenestration, he once again used the word "mediation." He pointed out that the pre-war building to the south has about 30 percent glass coverage and the post-war building to the north has about 50 percent glass coverage, whereas the proposed building for 1010 Park Avenue would have about 40 percent glass coverage. His final topic was the new ADA entrance.

The previous proposal was for a new entrance on 85th Street connected to a lift, which would allow people to then make their way to the main entrance and enter the sanctuary with other parishioners. Beyer presented alternatives, including a ramp to the existing 85th Street corner entrance, entry through the rear of the building and entering near the front of the sanctuary, and entry through the new building. Commissioner Michael Goldblum said he preferred the ramp alternative. He said the proposal would irreparably alter the building and pointed to how frequently lifts break down. He said that a ramp wouldn't damage the building and if changes were needed down the road, they would be easy to make.

There was a lot of back and forth among the commissioners about the merits of the existing annex façade. Commissioner Michael Goldblum believed that if the church hadn't cared about at least the feeling of a campus, they wouldn't haveset back the infill in 1960. Others also voiced support for keeping at least the façade of the annex. There was discussion of setbacks and recesses to accomplish this, as well as some retention of the dimensionality of the current buildings' relationships. Most accepted that the idea of a streetwall building is fine and the way Park Avenue is intended, but that it might be possible to accomplish the above within that confine.

Most didn't seem too opposed to the height, but Commissioner Roberta Washington was among those who wanted it reduced. Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron indicated that an even taller building could be allowed if it was set back to accommodate retention of the annex façade. In the end, chair Meenakshi Srinivasan asked that the team explore lowering the height, retaining the existing façade, and keeping some or all of the 3D quality of the relationship of the buildings to each other.

That leaves us where "Back to the Future, Part II" left movie audiences: to be concluded… For more images click here.  

Christopher Gray reports for The New York Times: The Courthouse That Escaped the Gavel. The Preservation of Greenwich Village’s Jefferson Market Courthouse.

The 1877 Jefferson Market Courthouse, as it appeared in 1906. Once considered dispensable, it is today a public library. 

Preservationists of the 1950s who sought to save the Jefferson Market Courthouse of 1877 had no landmarks law to back them up. They labored on the romantic Victorian’s behalf for almost 10 years, inventing strategy and recruiting allies as they went along.

The delicate, multicolored tower at the Avenue of the Americas and 10th Street is hard to look at now with fresh eyes, but for those just discovering New York’s history in the mid-20th century, it was manna — a wild, competing series of masses, materials and colors, one loud “Look at me!” statement.

The super-High Victorian Gothic courthouse, designed by Frederick Clarke Withers, escaped demolition in 1910 when the planner Charles R.Lamb suggested clearing out the cobweb of streets in the West Village to create a new court center. Like many grand visionary ideas, this one sank like a stone.

The courthouse was next to a public market and a jail, both demolished in the 1920s for the Art Deco Women’s House of Detention, which by the ’50s was known for the inmates shouting out the windows at husbands, boyfriends and passers-by. For people who lived within half a block, this didn’t disturb the peace; it destroyed it. Neighbors clamored for its destruction.

The taint of the House of Detention, a crisp although hardly surpassing structure, clung to the courthouse, even though by the 1950s it was a civil defense office. So in 1956, when the architect Vito P. Battistaestimated the cost of converting the House of Detention into something else, he also included the price tag for redoing the courthouse — astronomical, he said. In that year the stars began to align in favor of the courthouse’s demolition. Its proximity to the House of Detention, and the lack of a plan for its reuse, would seem a death knell for any preservation project.

But the same year The New Yorker seemed to chime in for saving it, calling the courthouse “a dingy, invincibly romantic confection” and lamenting that “this is a city notoriously careless of what it possesses.” But the magazine acknowledged the typical mid-20th-century point of view that the building was “a comic blunder.”

Into this fray came Edgar T. Hussey, the president of the West Side Savings Bank, who proposed in 1958 clear-cutting the site for an apartment house, a 500-seat theater and a community center. The Village Independent Democrats were on a similar page, proposing an art center with a large plaza in 1959.

Evan Bindelglass reports for Curbed: Opponents Lambast Plan To Replace Parts of Park Ave. Church.

The word "epic" definitely applied to yesterday's meeting of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The case at hand: prolific developer Extell's plan to replace the Park Avenue Christian Church's rectory and parish hall with a 16-story mixed-use apartment building, using some money from the development to fund an endowment to restore the church's sanctuary. (How on trend of them, converting a site from religious to residential.)

The hearing over the proposal took three hours because a whopping 38 people delivered public testimony, mostly against the design. By the time everyone finished airing opinions, it was so late that the commissioners' discussion and any subsequent decision had to be tabled for a future session.

The Park Avenue Christian Church (then known as the South Church or South Reformed Dutch Church) was designed by Bertram Goodhue of Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson and completed at the southwest corner of Park Avenue and East 85th Street, along with a rectory and parish hall to the south along the avenue, in 1911. In 1963, the rectory and parish hall were heavily modified and in-filled, leaving only a small portion of the original rectory façade in place.

Now the church, which boasts a lovely sanctuary inspired by Saint-Chapelle in Paris along with an attic festooned with Guastavino tile, needs some TLC, but says it doesn't have the money for it. So, they entered into a deal with Gary Barnett's Extell Development Company to demolish the parish hall and rectory, replacing them with the aforementioned 16-story building, which would have several floors devoted to the church and the rest as apartments (probably condos). The site is located in the Park Avenue Historic District, which was designated in April of this year, and that is why this proposal has to pass muster before the LPC. When the district was designated, the buildings in question were determined to have no architectural style.

Whatever people think of the current design, courtesy of historically sensitive superstars Beyer Blinder Belle, everyone has to admit that it's far, far better than a previous iteration, which was much larger and showed a glassy, angular structure cantilevering over a significant portion of the church.

Following the counsel for the church and Pastor Alvin Jackson, architect John Beyer made his presentation about the design side of the project. The new tower would be limestone with a granite base and terra cotta cladding on the upper floors. The rear would be brick. There would also be a terrace on the rear of the building, which is a space currently occupied by the expanded parish hall. Beyer said a light well, built using fragments of the remaining rectory façade, will allow some light into the sanctuary, along with some artificial light.

He noted his design's "strong verticality" and said the stepping and setbacks complement the church. He said he was using a "neutral palette" and that a streetwall building was, in his mind, "mandatory." He also said that leaving the rectory façade fragment in place and integrating it into the building was not practical. In addition, a new ADA-compliant entrance would be constructed along the 85th Street side of the church.

Most of those who spoke in support of the project, a numerical minority, had a direct connection to the church, including Rabbi Ari Fridkis, whose Temple of Universal Judaism (Congregation Da'at Elohim) shares the sanctuary with the church. He gave it his "spiritual" and "ethical" blessing. Rick Bell, AIANY's executive director, praised the new building, the construction of new housing, and the streetwall design. Two Upper East Siders with no apparent direct connection to the church spoke of the project's "quality materials that will complement the stone of the church," said the church needs the development, questioned the need to preserve the church's supplementary buildings, and praised the new ADA entrance.

For many, preserving the parish hall was important. "While the damage has already been done as far as the building's designation is concerned, HDC would urge the LPC that this site's future begins with the preservation of the building which is already there," the Historic Districts Council's Kelly Carroll said. Tara Kelly, executive director of the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, wants the "no style" designation of the parish hall re-evaluated and the district designation report amended, saying the hall and the church "together form a monumental complex." The church was recognized by the LPC as "Gothic Revival," and Kelly wants the same recognition for the parish hall—and wants it integrated into any new construction.

Preservation architect Robert Bates of Walter B. Melvin Architects also said the parish hall should be deemed to have a style. A spokesperson delivering a joint statement from State Senator Liz Krueger and City Councilman Daniel Garodnick said the parish hall alterations were "rather sensitive" and neither of them were "able to discern any change when shown before and after pictures." One speaker opposed to the demolition said "our history is our future," and another said demolition would be "contrary to every principle of landmark preservation." One Upper East Side resident said the proposal asks the community to "split the baby."

For some, the size of the new building was the issue that loomed the largest; they called for a lower height and reduced massing overall. Latha Thompson, district manager for Community Board 8, delivered their 36-8 vote against the project. She said it was too big and diminished the church. A speaker named Mark Goldstein, who really talked down to the commissioners, called for a smaller building, but did so as a direct dig at Extell's Barnett, saying he would have no sympathy for him if he made a little less money off of this development.

Still on the size issue, HDC's Carroll called for at least a 12-foot separation between the church and the new building and the removal of the penthouse, which would allow more light in. Another issue was design. Some felt it was appropriate, and played nicely with the church's. Others were less enamored. HDC's Carroll found "the design creative and the materials laudable, but assembled in a peculiar style recognized by our committee as 'Gotham Gothic,' a cartoonist version of Art Deco skyscrapers best suited to animation, not the real world of Park Avenue." Friends of the Upper East Side's Kelly echoed that, calling the design "too angular and vertical in style" and adding that the crown was more evocative of an Art Deco office tower than the site's Revivalist neighbors. She pointed out that the district has only one Art Deco building, at 944 Park Avenue.


Not all of the commissioners made it through the three-hour-long hearing. It's worth noting that, with the exception of chair Meenakshi Srinivasan, all of the commissioners are unpaid for their public service. So, at about 5:45 p.m., Srinivasan realized that no decision could be made. She tasked the project's team to come back, ready to pick up with responses to the testimony and the following issues: incorporating a fragment of the remaining original rectory façade, the building's height, its setbacks, light issues, windows, and the way the views of the church would be affected.

Her request doesn't necessitate a re-design as the discussion will basically pick up where it left off. That means that after the project team provides some answers (or rebuttals), the commissioners will deliberate and decide whether to approve the project. Srinivasan said the written record will remain open for two weeks. If anyone wants to submit something, contact the LPC.

To see more images of the project click here.

Evan Bindelglass reports for Curbed: Landmarked UWS Hotel Is Getting a 13-Story Condo Neighbor.

With a scaled down proposal, the team representing Anbau Enterprises won approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday to build a condominium neighbor beside the landmark Lucerne Hotel on the Upper West Side. The new 13-story building will bear the address 207 West 79th Street and replace the existing five-story rowhouse located at 203-209 West 79th Street.

When the previous proposal went before the LPC on July 23, there was anoverflow crowd of objectors. This time, not so much. The presentation was given by Elise Quasebarth of the presentation firm Higgins Quasebarth & Partners and architect Morris Adjmi. The new building is over 30 feet shorter than before and has no penthouse. It will be 18 feet shorter than the Lucerne. The terraces on the western corner (one of the bigger points of contention last time) were removed from the design and the building went from asymmetrical tosymmetrical, with the entrance moved to the center. There are now more windows on the western face (the eastern face will block the Lucerne's existing windows), which will be less visible from the surrounding area. The building itself will feature a mix of brick, limestone, and terra cotta.

LPC chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said she was "pleased" with the reduction in height and the removal of the terraces and the building-topping penthouse. Commissioner Michael Goldblum said demolition of the existing building was appropriate and called the new design "typical." Srinivasan noted the written objections of both City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who said the new building would "irreparably harm the character of the district," and of State Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, but the building was approved unanimously. Now for a little lesson in how the LPC works. When you first propose a new building or changes to a building in a historic district (or to change or replace an existing individual landmark), you have to go before a public hearing at the LPC.

At that hearing, any member of the community may address the commissioners with his or her feelings about the proposal and the commissioners are supposed to take that into account. If they decide not to approve the proposal, the applicant is told what was wrong with it and may try again. However, when the applicant comes back, it is usually for a public meeting, where no comment is accepted. The idea is that the commissioners already heard from the public and should be taking their sentiments into consideration in their decision. Well, at this meeting, a man named Samuel Leff, a past president of the West 79th Street Block Association, decided to, after the approval and closing of the hearing (and end of the day's LPC session), get up and scold the commissioners for what they had done. This is highly unusual and several attendees seemed quite surprised. He nearly had to be escorted from the room. Outside, he said he will investigate suing the commission for their decision.

David W. Dunlap reports for The New York Times: Promise Made for Harlem Watchtower’s Restoration, but Not in Ink.

Manhattan is about to lose its last antebellum watchtower.

The watchtower in 1986, left, and this month, right. The parks department is concerned it could collapse if its cast-iron elements continue to deteriorate.

Neighbors and preservationists are afraid it will never come back.

Before another word about the current controversy, however, let me assure a couple of astonished readers that, yes, a 19th-century watchtower still stands in Manhattan, complete with a five-ton bell, though it has not tolled a fire alarm for 136 years.

“The watchtower is an organic and visible part of Harlem,” CouncilwomanInez E. Dickens said last month, “but more than that, it is an irreplaceable New York City icon.”

In an era without alarm boxes or telephones, watchmen scanned the city from lookout towers for any sign of smoke or flame, letting fire companies know where to go by the number of bell tolls. In 1857, a 47-foot, cast-iron tower, designed by Julius B. Kroehl, was constructed atop the 70-foot Snake Hill, an otherwise unnavigable outcropping roughly where Fifth Avenue would have intersected with 122nd Street.

“The entire upper end of Manhattan Island was guarded by this tower,” The New York Times recalled in 1896. Three bells meant the fire was in Yorkville; four bells meant Bloomingdale, to the southwest; five bells meant Harlem; six bells meant Carmansville, to the northwest.

The watchtower in 1986. It was decommissioned in 1878.

The tower was decommissioned in 1878 after the advent of fire alarms. Snake Hill’s steep terrain defied development. It became Mount Morris Park, which was renamed Marcus Garvey Park in 1973. The tower was designated a landmark in 1967.

Like an octagonal cast-iron skeleton, the watchtower still rises over Harlem rooftops from a landscaped plateau called the Acropolis. It was once used as a jungle gym by neighborhood children, including Ms. Dickens, but is now fenced off.

More than 75 years have passed since it was last rehabilitated. Restoration was promised in 1986. Steel bracing was added in 1991. This fall, the parks department plans to dismantle the structure and store the components atFort Totten in Bayside, Queens. Eventually, the pieces are to be restored and returned to the park.

“The continued deterioration of its cast-iron elements and connections raises concerns that the structure is likely to be further destabilized and could collapse, especially with recent increases in major storm activities,” said Phil Abramson, a spokesman for the parks department.

It’s the storage part that has neighbors and preservationists worried, because the agency has a $2.483 million dismantling contract but has not yet signed a restoration contract.

“I am afraid that once the watchtower is dismantled, there will be no urgency to restore it,” Ms. Dickens said in an Aug. 19 letter to the parks commissioner. “Without the watchtower, the Acropolis will become more isolated from the rest of the park and a haven for more criminal activities.

The watchtower rises over Harlem on a plateau called the Acropolis. The tower was once used as a jungle gym by neighborhood children but is now fenced off.

(When my colleague Ozier Muhammad and I were visiting the Acropolis on Sept. 4, a police officer shot and wounded a man during a confrontation about 100 yards from where we stood.)

Angel Ayón, a Manhattan architect and longtime advocate of the watchtower, said that when the city announced last year that $4 million had been allocated for disassembling, testing, restoring and replacing structural elements, no mention was made of storage. Storage, he said, will deplete the funds available for restoration.

Mr. Ayón also recalled the brazen theft in 1974 of the panels from an 1848 building by James Bogardus, an inventor and designer who is widely credited with popularizing cast-iron architecture. (Mr. Bogardus designed watchtowers, too, and sued the city in 1858 for using his methods at Snake Hill without pay.) Looking for scrap to sell, thieves made off with the disassembled cast-iron panels from a vacant lot downtown in which they were being stored. Reporters were alerted when Beverly Moss Spatt, then the chairwoman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, ran into City Hall and shouted, “Someone has stolen one of my buildings!”

But Mr. Abramson of the parks agency said the watchtower would be safe. “The storage bunkers are in a very secure part of Fort Totten and are dry, well-ventilated and outside of any potential flood areas,” he said. Because it is on city property, he said, there will be no storage bill.

Dismantling and storage will be handled by Nicholson & Galloway, a “leading preservation contracting firm,” Mr. Abramson said, and Allen Architectural Metals. Their work will be reviewed by the engineering firmThornton Tomasetti, he said, “to ensure that all precautions are taken to minimize damage.”

As for restoration, Mr. Abramson said, “we plan to discuss the proposed design with community groups and the Landmarks Preservation Commission in the summer of 2015, to be followed by putting the capital project out to bid to secure a contractor, and having the restoration work begin immediately thereafter.”

Mr. Abramson said the agency was “fully committed to ensuring that any additional funds required for the restoration are allocated.”

Peg Breen, the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, would like to see that commitment in writing. She noted that landmarks in Harlem were often neglected by the city. “Promises up there,” she said, “have had a hard time being kept.”

Nikolai Fedak reports for NY YIMBY: New Look: 403 Greenwich Street. YIMBY has a new set of renderings for the long-stalled project at 403 Greenwich Street, in Tribeca, where Morris Adjmi has designed an 8-story building. A tipster also notes that development of the site is finally about to begin, and the project has been sitting dormant since it went through the Landmarks Preservation Commission, back in 2011. The building is characterized by large casement windows and a black metal façade, and the overall look will be contextual within the project’s historic surrounds, offering a restrained exercise in refined simplicity. Permits indicate the structure will span 16,723 square feet, and the entirety will be residential, split between five units. While the building is relatively small, the (likely) condominiums will most assuredly be very large, with a triplex capping the project. 403 Greenwich was initially the site of a proposal for an all-glass-brick building, which would have been the first of its kind. While innovative, the scheme proved controversial as it traversed Landmarks, and the site’s eventuality will be a better fit. No completion date has been formally announced, but as mentioned, construction is likely around the corner. Permits list the developer as Anthony Coll of 403 Greenwich Street Realty LLC.