Tag Archives: Historic Districts Council

West Park Presbyterian Church Designated Landmark

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On Tuesday, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to designate the West Park Presbyterian Church at 165 West 86th Street on the corner of Amsterdam Avenue as an individual New York City landmark. This move to protect this late 19th-century chapel and church came after decades of activism by concerned neighbors. Originally included in the proposal for the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District, the church was left out of the 1990 district designation after opposition from church representatives. Since then, neighbors have had to stave off development proposals and demolition permits, most recently observing workers last year removing pieces of West-Park’s interior (it was reported that church was cleaning up from a burst pipe).

For more information, read Historic District Council’s statement on the building and visit Landmark West’s website.

Historic Districts Council’s Morning Coffee Talks

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Each Month, the Historic Districts Council hosts a Coffee Talk – a presentation and question and answers session with folk important to local historic preservation. The first Coffee Talk of 2010, on January 11th, will feature representatives of the New York City Department of Design and Construction. The event begins at 8:30 am, in the Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street, Manhattan.

The Department of Design and Construction (DDC), is the lead agency for New York City public construction projects such as street, water and sewer reconstructions, firehouses, libraries, police precincts, courthouses and senior centers. Because the agency is responsible for such a large portfolio (valued at over $6 billion), the Historic Districts Counciil believes it is essential that communities help make sure that each project that DDC undertakes respects and responds to the specific needs of the communities where the projects are located.

Richard Zetterlund, Associate Commissioner for Infrastructure and Sergio Silveira, Assistant Commissioner for Structures will discuss their respective divisions and how neighborhood advocates can provide input on major projects. Our speakers will also showcase some of DDC’s recent successful initiatives and talk about the efforts of DDC’s Historic Preservation Office.

This event is free and open to the public. Reservations are required, as space is limited. For more information about this or other Coffee Talks, contact Frampton Tolbert at (212) 614-9107 or ftolbert@hdc.org.

Photo: Brooklyn Terminal at Brooklyn Bridge c 1903.

NYC Landmarks Commission Rejects Half of a Building

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The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 6-3 on Tuesday to designate the B. F. Goodrich Company Building (1780 Broadway) as a landmark and at the same time reject the B. F. Goodrich Company Building at 225 West 57th Street. Although the buildings face adjacent streets, they are on the same lot and were both developed in 1909 by the same architect, Howard Van Doren Shaw, for the B. F. Goodrich Company. They are Shaw’s only extant buildings in New York.

The Historic Districts Council issued the following Preservation Alert after the vote:

At today’s hearing, all nine commissioners present stated their support for the designation of 1780 Broadway, mentioning its architectural design but stressing its historic connection to Automobile Row. Six commissioners stated that 225 West 57th Street was of lesser significance because it did not have Broadway frontage and was “an accessory building” to the larger Goodrich headquarters. The other three commissioners defended the significance of the building and spoke highly of its architectural merit as well as its history of automobile-related uses.

225 West 57th Street, cureently under scaffolding and construction shroudOf particular interest was LPC Chair Robert Tierney’s statement referring to the City Council’s concerns about this designation. After the public hearing on August 11th, Council Members Daniel Garodnick, Melinda Katz, Jessica Lappin and Christine Quinn sent a joint letter to the Landmarks Preservation Commission opposing the designation of 225 West 57th Street based on “its drab appearance”, that “the company never occupied the building” and that “the designation of 225 West 57th Street could fatally compromise the footprint of the proposed development on this site”. This unprecedented message reframed deliberations about the significance-based worthiness of the buildings into “the argument for preservation against the economic development rationale… [of] allowing for new development on sites where buildings stand today”. Commissioner Tierney went on to state his belief that since there was a likelihood that the City Council would overturn the designation of 225 West 57th Street, the LPC should make a priority of designating 1780 Broadway which everyone agreed should be preserved.

The buildings’ preservation had been supported by HDC, other preservation groups and the local community boards on the basis of their significance to the development of New York City as the center for the nascent American automobile industry, as well as for the importance of the buildings’ architectural design. 225 West 57th Street specifically was a very early and unusual fusion of traditional and Modern design elements, using motifs and techniques from the Chicago and Viennese Secessionist Schools. These points were supported by research in the LPC’s files.

Representatives of the owner, Extell Development, as well as the American Institute of Architects/New York Chapter testified in favor of the designation of 1780 Broadway but opposed to 225 West 57th Street, stating that the buildings were only significant historically as they related to Automobile Row. Since West 57th Street was not on Automobile Row and the building was not occupied by the B. F. Goodrich Company, it was not worthy of being preserved. Additional owner’s representatives also stated that they might pursue a hardship application if 225 West 57th Street was designated (Extell is proposing to build a 60+-story building on the block including this site and has been assembling lots and air-rights to allow for this development for some time.)

In the end, it would appear that the developers won. Thanks to their lobbying efforts the City Council leadership was apparently convinced that this landmark designation was detrimental to the City. The Council’s opposition to the designation resulted in the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s rejection of the building. This is not how it should work.

HDC is exceptionally disappointed in the LPC’s yielding to political pressure. If the City Council was going to reject the designation of a worthy building, then the Council should have been put in a position of justifying that action. By ceding the designation of 225 West 25th Street, the LPC has set a terrible example for future designations.

HDC is also extraordinarily disturbed by the Council’s actions in this instance. While it is entirely appropriate for CM Daniel Garodnick to weigh in on a designation within his district, doing so before the community board has a chance to review the project is, at best, precipitous. The joint letter from the four council members, with its not-so-veiled threat, was a direct assault on the independence of the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the integrity of the Landmarks Law.

HDC has contacted these council members about our concerns over their involvement and we will be taking additional steps to make sure that the Landmarks Preservation Commission and their process remain transparent and independent. We look forward to updating you in the coming months.

Photo: 1780 Broadway, NYC

HDC Honors Thomas F. Pike With Landmarks Lion Award

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The Historic Districts Council will honor the many achievements of Rev. Dr. Thomas F. Pike with their 2009 Landmarks Lion award on October 28th, at the Players Club near his home on Gramercy Park. To learn more about the Lion ceremony, visit this site; to see one of the many things Reverend Pike is involved with currently, go to here. The following article is a preview from the upcoming issue of District Lines, the HDC’s newsletter.

Rev. Dr. Thomas F. Pike

Reverend Thomas F. Pike has helped run so many organizations devoted to preserving buildings and landscapes nationwide that when he walks around a place where he has been proactive, people stop him to say thanks. During a recent stroll through Gramercy Park, for which he currently serves as a trustee and archivist, Arlene Harrison, head of the neighborhood’s block association, came through the glossily painted black iron gates and hugged him. “We love this man, he’s very special, he’s the real, real deal,” she said. “He understands what this park means spiritually to this community.”

For four decades, Reverend Pike has served as an Episcopal rector at Manhattan churches while finding countless hours each week to volunteer as a leader at city agencies and nonprofits, including the Landmarks Preservation Commission, The New York Landmarks Conservancy, Partners for Sacred Places, Preservation League of New York State and Partnership for the Homeless. On Oct. 28, he will receive HDC’s Landmarks Lion award at the Players Club near his home on Gramercy Park.

On a balmy afternoon in the park a few weeks ago, he was asked to reflect on his influence and quietly replied, “When I look back, I just wish I’d done more.” He attributes his lifelong interest in performing good works for historic architecture partly to his childhood in progressive intellectual circles. He grew up in Hastings, New York, where his father, Frederick, managed a newspaper and was friendly with African-American scholars including City College sociologist Kenneth Clark and newspaper owner Alger Adams. In the late 1950’s, as an undergraduate at SUNY New Paltz, the future reverend at first studied painting, then switched career tracks as calls for social change swept the United States.

“The fight for civil rights was in full swing and the peace movement was in its early days,” he recalled. Soon after he received his Yale divinity degree in 1963, he was at the frontlines of these causes. “I was arrested five times: that gives you a flavor of my life,” he said. He spent overnights in jail for alleged offenses committed while protesting workplace discrimination, giving antiwar sermons and leading marches demanding emergency housing for black families left homeless by suspicious fires.

In 1971 he was hired as rector for what is now Calvary/St. George’s—the congregation owns two 1840’s churches near Gramercy Park—and until his retirement last year he conducted numerous services there daily. In the 1970’s and ‘80’s, as he patiently dealt with repairs on those structures, fellow clergy kept plaintively telling him about their own buildings’ hefty maintenance bills and how they were occasionally resorting to demolition.

“So I became more and more revved up about preserving religious buildings,” Reverend Pike said. “I began to see the relationship between preservation and social justice.” Old churches and synagogues, he added, “enable a community to tell its story honestly, tangibly, and graphically, in a way that can’t be denied. And the diversity of American religious buildings celebrates the diversity of our whole society. If we erase the buildings, we’re rewriting history.”

Serving in his numerous pro bono posts and grants-giving roles, he has persuaded other religious leaders to adapt structures for outreach projects including food kitchens, alcohol abuse treatment programs and temporary housing for the homeless. He has also advocated for the preservation of secular buildings in struggling neighborhoods, like the humble row of freed slaves’ homes in Bedford-Stuyvesant now called the Weeksville Heritage Center. “Buildings do not have to be beautiful to have powerful storytelling capacity,” the reverend said. “Preservation is not an elitist pursuit, although it’s sometimes thought of as a rich man’s sport.”

Gratitude for his organizations’ support, he added, has come from surprising sources. “I’ve been out to a Congregationalist church in Brooklyn where a young mother living across the street in an apartment building with every window broken came up to me and said, ‘Looking out every day and seeing that steeple repaired now—it gives us a sense of peace and a lot of hope.’ I’m absolutely convinced that architecture can change lives. I like to quote the philosopher Ernst Bloch, who said that architecture is an embodiment of hope. You only fix the roof of a place when you believe your community will be there for a long, long time. Every repair is a gesture of commitment to the future.”

The reverend’s retirement last year has allowed him and his wife Lys, a former director of the city’s Council on the Environment, more time to focus on their own landmark: a clapboarded 1790 farmhouse near Camden, Maine. They spend half the year there when not visiting their three children: Jean, an architect in New York; Nicholas, an assets manager in Boston; and Thomas Jr., an Army lieutenant-colonel about to be deployed on his second stint in Afghanistan.

Receiving a Lion award, Reverend Pike said, “feels comfortable, but I feel a little unworthy, too, since I know and admire so many past Lions. But I like being identified as a lion, a kind of radical preservationist. That brings together many threads of my life.”

Waterfront Preservation Programs Announced

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New York City’s Historic Districts Council, the citywide advocate for New York’s historic neighborhoods, will be presenting “On the Waterfront in New York,” a series of films, lectures, and discussions exploring the history and preservation of NYC’s historic waterfront neighborhoods – much of which is proposed for redevelopment. Topics will include the preservation of South Street, the commercial and industry history of the waterfront, and a waterfront tour of the South Street seaport.

Film Screening and Discussion: Street of Ships
Thursday, October 1, 2009, 6:30pm
Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue at East 2nd Street, Manhattan
Fee: $15/$10 for Friends of HDC, seniors & students.

“Street of Ships” is a 1982 documentary by Charles Richards that chronicles the efforts by Peter Stanford and the early Friends of South Street to save from destruction and preserve some of the city’s oldest and most historically significant buildings. It concludes with the controversy surrounding the goals of 1980s commercial developers versus those wishing to maintain the area’s historical authenticity. The film features archival footage of the Seaport that evokes its past uses as a port and commercial district, along with interviews with area stakeholders and policy experts. The film will be followed by a presentation by Robert LaValva, founder and director of New Amsterdam Market, about the role of waterfront markets. The program will conclude with a discussion—reflecting new opportunities for the future of the Seaport District—with participants from the film including Peter Stanford, a founder and past president of South Street Seaport Museum and Terry Walton, a founder of the Seaport Museum and vice chair of the Working Harbor Committee.

On the Waterfront: A Lecture
Wednesday, October 14, 2009, 6:30pm
The Seamen’s Church Institute, 241 Water Street, Manhattan
Fee: $15/$10 for Friends, seniors & students.

This panel will examine the history and future of the waterfront through different lenses, from the commercial past of its wharves and docks to the adaptive reuse of structures still lining its edges. Richard A. Greenwald, professor of history and dean of graduate studies at Drew University will discuss the commercial aspects of New York City’s waterfront development from the mid-19th century up to 1950 as depicted in the film, “On the Waterfront.” Roland Lewis, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, will examine the reuse of industrial structures along the City’s waterfront. The third speaker, Kevin Bone, an architect and editor of several books on the waterfront, will address the history and development of Manhattan’s historic seawall, a gargantuan structure which encircles the whole island and has literally shaped how the city has grown.

From the Ferries to the Fish Market: A Walking Tour of the South street Seaport

Sunday, October 18, 2009, 11:00am
Location to be announced upon registration.
Fee: October 18: $35/$25 for Friends, seniors & students.

The series will conclude with an in-depth tour of the South Street Seaport, examining such noted landmarks as the South Street Seaport Museum, the WPA-era New Market Building, and historic local businesses. Tour attendees will hear about the South Street Seaport’s diverse past from its beginnings up to the current day as a commercial, retail and residential district. Mr. LaValva will also discuss the role of public markets in shaping the East River waterfront. More recent history and plans for the future, including the massive redevelopment proposal by General Growth Properties will also be addressed by special guest Madeline Rogers. Due in part to this proposed development, in 2009 the Historic Districts Council successfully nominated the Seaport to the Preservation League of New York State’s “Seven to Save” listing of places to preserve in New York State. The tour will end at Acqua, a noted Seaport establishment for a complimentary drink. The exact location for the tour will be announced upon registration.

The complete series of all three events is $60/$40 for Friends, seniors & students. Advance reservations are required. Tickets can be ordered by visiting or contacting www.hdc.org, 212-614-9107 or hdc@hdc.org.