Exploded Village House With Hard-Won Façade May Be Gutted
Hana R. Alberts reports for Curbed.
A pretty special townhouse on West 11th Street, which might not be long for this world if permits for a new building are approved, is famous for two things: one incendiary; the other adorable. First came the dynamite. Number 18 was the site of a rather infamous 1970 explosion at the hand of leftist group Weather Underground; one of the homeowner’s daughters was involved in building and accidentally detonating a pipe bomb designed for the Columbia campus that went off too early. It shook the quiet, quaint block and left ruin and rubble behind on the lot. Then architect Hugh Hardy bought the land and designed the unique angular façade we know today. All jagged and modernist, Hardy negotiated his plan past community opposition to approval. But he ultimately decided not to live there—instead requiring the new owners, the Langworthy family, to carry out his plans. Here, the backstory proceeds to the cute phase.
The now-late Norma Langworthy would place a Paddington Bear stuffed animal in the window of her home, changing his costume according to the season and holidays; when she died in early 2012, he donned a black suit in her memory. A fixture of the neighborhood, he disappeared when the house got put on the market and, eventually, sold for $9.25 million.
After all that, Jeremiah’s Vanishing NY learned that the quirky landmark might be at risk. DOB permits have been filed to erect a new four-story, single-family residence on the site. Though permission hasn’t yet been granted, and the owner’s identity is shrouded behind a mysterious LLC, the applicant of record named in the DOB papers is a lesson in continuity: H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture. Their e-mailed statement from this morning, when asked for more details or renderings: “[T]he house does have a new owner. We are still working out scope with him so we aren’t able to share anything at the moment.” More details might be available at the “end of the year.”
Despite the lack of details about the proposed building, a West Village block association is worried about what might result. An e-mail forwarded to Vanishing NY says: “Local and other preservation groups are considering what position they will take on this application to demolish an existing structurally sound townhouse which was twice found to be appropriate for the Landmark District and which has been part of the built environment for almost four decades. The underlying policy questions have significant implications for the landmarking process in general and the Greenwich Village Historic District in particular.”
The story of 18 West 11th Street: from a Gold Coast-style townhouse that was the birthplace of poet James Merrill to a hard-won modernist home once considered an eyesore, then beloved by the neighborhood, to a big question mark.