Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Walking tour of Riverside - West End Historic District Extension II

Straus Park, a memorial to Isidor and Ida Straus who died on the Titanic. Unfortunately this park was carved out of the new historic district extension.
After being rained out last week, we had our walking tour yesterday and we couldn't have asked for a more beautiful evening. Professor Andrew Dolkart, author of countless books on New York's historic architecture, led us around the newly designated extension to the Riverside - West End Historic District.

Mansions and apartment buildings line Riverside Drive

The tour began at Straus Park, at 106th and Broadway, and we worked our way through Riverside Park and West End Avenue down to 100th Street. We looked at many beautiful old rowhouses and apartment buildings along the way, all of which now have landmark protection (we focused on what is now protected, rather than the buildings along Broadway that were notoriously excluded from the district).

Andrew Dolkart explains the terra-cotta ornamentation on an apartment house by architects George & Edward Blum
Thank you to everyone to who joined us, and we look forward to more walking tours in the future!




30th Anniversary! Help LW! pass on the torch in 2015!





June 2015

We're known for being obstinate.   
And we're known for being fighters.
This is no time to lose that reputation.

Dear Friends of LANDMARK WEST!:

…And now is no time to let your LW! membership lapse!  We need you more than ever.  If you’ve recently renewed or activated your 2015 membership (please call or email us to confirm), then you probably already understand why your involvement and support are so important.  If you haven’t renewed or become a member yet, please take two minutes and keep reading.

The quote above comes from Upper West Sider Roberta Brandes Gratz (journalist, urban critic, author,* and early LW! board member), who spoke out at a community meeting in 1983, when developers “rediscovered” the neighborhoods from 59th to 110th Street, between Central Park and Riverside Park.  Towers of unprecedented (for then) scale were planned for sites throughout the area.  “Mom & Pop” stores were pushed out.  Century-old buildings were demolished to make way for luxury housing.

Fortunately for the Upper West Side, there were Upper West Siders.  LW! was founded in 1985 and, true to our West-Sider reputation, we stood our ground… we organized… we advocated… and we succeeded in expanding such smart planning policies as zoning with contextual height limits and landmark and historic district protection that recognize the value of preserving existing neighborhood character and scale.

Thirty years ago, under the LW! banner, Upper West Siders reset the balance between preservation and development, public good and private interests, rich past and sustainable future.  Thirty years later, LW! continues to hold the line – day by day, building by building, block by block.

We won the landmark protection of over 3,000 sites, up from only 337 in 1985, securing the character and quality of our neighborhood.  We’ve set up award-winning partnerships with small businesses (our Retail Assistance Program) and schools (Keeping the Past for the Future children’s education program, which since 1999 has reached over 10,000 students and their teachers).  Through our email alerts and social media, we keep West Siders informed about issues and events that affect our lives (visit www.landmarkwest.org to get connected).  We act as the West Side’s “watchdog,” ever ready to spring from vigilance to activism (and often do so).

Those pressures from the 1980s never went away.  Developers have found ways around the laws.  Mayors and city agencies have been complicit.  The Upper West Side has changed, not always for the better. 

Now it’s 2015.  And we’re facing our biggest challenge yet.  HELP!

Just in the past six months:
  • The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC, the mayoral agency charged with identifying and protecting our landmark buildings, interiors, and parks) announced that nearly 100 sites heard by the LPC for landmark designation would be removed from consideration.  Also, after delaying its vote on the proposed Riverside-West End Avenue Historic District Extension II for nearly four years, the LPC drastically reduced the district’s boundaries, eliminating protection for much of the west side of Broadway above 89th Street.  Why?  Ask Mayor de Blasio and his appointed Landmarks Commissioners.
  • City Council members (lobbied by the Real Estate Board of New York) introduced legislation that would severely curtail the LPC’s ability to designate landmarks in the future.
  •  Mayor de Blasio announced sweeping citywide changes to zoning that would increase height limits on new buildings, with no study of how those changes would affect individual neighborhoods (like ours) that have worked for decades to try and protect character and scale.
Potential 80-story development, W. 66th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue
  • Thirteen(!) new “mega-towers” (exceeding 1,000 feet, the equivalent of 100 stories) are underway or in the planning stages – including one on West 66th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue – threatening to blight our skyline and cast shadows that will stretch across Central Park, New York’s great democratic open space, designated a Scenic Landmark in 1974.  Make sure to watch Bill Moyers’ powerful PBS program, “The Long, Dark Shadows of Plutocracy.
  • New breeds of development have emerged that manipulate existing outdated, or unenforced, regulations – for example, a planned building on West 96th Street that will replace low-scale rowhouses and rise head-and-shoulders above its neighbors.
These issues and more are on LW’s Preservation Watch List, proof that there is still much work to be done to save the Upper West Side…by Upper West Siders and for Upper West Siders.

That’s where you come in.  It is only because of individual donors LIKE YOU that LW! is able to continue holding the line.  For thirty years, our work has produced a better neighborhood – a better city – but all of that could be erased in short order.  We need you to keep us strong.  Please renew your LW! (tax-deductible) membership today for as little as $25 (a mid-year special!). 

Thank you, as always, for your generosity and activism.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,


Arlene Simon                                              Kate Wood
Founder & President (1985-2015)                 President
Chair


P.S.      Membership has its benefits, such as discounts on walking tours, lectures and workshops.  Please make sure we have your email address to notify you about upcoming events!

*Roberta Brandes Gratz is the award-winning author of many books, including The Battle For Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs and most recently WE'RE STILL HERE YA BASTARDS: How the People of New Orleans Rebuilt Their City.



Monday, June 29, 2015

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty...and landmarks preservation too!

Bruce Willis once said "You can't undo the past...but you can certainly not repeat it"  

At LANDMARK WEST! we strive to protect the built environment and sometimes that means incorporating intel from the ground.  

Back in 2008, a neighbor spotted a suspiciously inappropriate rooftop addition to 12-14 West 68th Street (in the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District, immediately north of the Hotel des Artistes at 1 West 67th Street and adjacent to the First Church of Christ, Scientist, CPW at 68th Street).  

LANDMARK WEST! sprang into action, reported the structure to the Landmarks Preservation commission (LPC) and they in turn, confirmed a full fifth floor addition had been constructed without LPC approval!  A long saga ensued (see timeline below) involving court dates, changes of ownership, and lots of neighbor's letters, hearings and testimony at the LPC.  

But for LW's vigilance, and our community's active support (thank you!) this illegal addition to our Historic District might have slipped through the cracks.  And if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.  


12-14 West 68th Street with illegal rooftop addition
FINALLY, GOOD NEWS! The illegal rooftop addition is coming down and begin replaced with a smaller, more appropriate structure.  
RED denotes former massing bulk at #12 W. 68th Street.  Sloped roof below shows maximum build out of replacement rooftop addition, compliant with LPC guidelines.


TIMELINE


1925 Studio Building at 12 W. 68th Street is built behind 14 W. 68th Street (1895, Architect Louis Thouvard) 

1990 LPC designates Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District with over 2,000 buildings, encompassing 12-14 W. 68th Street, along with the Hotel des Artists and First Church of Christ, Scientist. See our MAP

2007 Architect Lester E. Tour files application with Department of Buildings to construct rooftop addition at 12 W. 68th Street, but fails to apply to LPC as required. 
2008  Department of Buildings approves permits for "illegal" rooftop addition.  LW! reports illegal construction to LPC. 

2009  12 W. 68th Street owners ask LPC to "legalize" the rooftop addition; LPC declines.  Owners spend next two years trying to circumvent the law. 

2012  LPC requires removal of illegal rooftop addition and approves new design. 

2015  Illegal 2008 addition is finally removed.  Construction begins on LPC approved plan (see axon above)

Demolition of illegal tower begins, 2015

NYT Features District Exclusions

The Broadway Fashion Building, long a Landmark West! Wishlist Candidate
was designated in the last expansion of the district and is now protected. 
Today's online and tomorrow's print edition of the New York Times features a piece which examines the actions taken by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) last Tuesday morning.  Their designation of the Riverside-West End Historic District omitted 33 buildings from the original boundary, 21 of them on Broadway alone.  Journalist Matt Chaban examines the rationale behind this decision after five years of study, and suggests that this is an omen of "how the de Blasio administration views its responsibility for the city's historic buildings".

Historically, the LPC votes on 94% of the Historic Districts which come before them within two years (and 80% of the individual landmarks that come before them within one year).  With more than double the time allotted to this Historic District study, the quantity and quality of the "carve outs" is unprecedented.  Buildings which have long been on the Landmark West! Wish List that fell within the original boundary but were carved out, include the Cornwall.  A building "on the north side of that corner [Broadway and 90th St], is a quintessential prewar building, a 12-story layer cake of luscious red bricks and terra cotta icing with two bays of apartments, filigreed corners and balconies.  At its base are a diner, a liquor store, a dry cleaner and a locksmith, all diminutive and neon-lit"...and none are protected.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Candle Bar Now Closed!


Candle Bar - the Upper West Side’s oldest gay bar - closed permanently earlier this week. According to a West Side Rag article, it had been in its location on Amsterdam Avenue between 74th and 75th streets since 1958.
  
The building that Candle Bar occupied was originally part of an eclectic row of speculative houses that turned the 74th street corner, built with stoops and American basements. The architects were Lamb & Rich, who designed many Upper West Side rowhouses, but perhaps their most notable commission was the Barnard College campus in Morningside Heights, the first buildings of which were completed in 1897. 

As the surrounding neighborhood shifted to more commercial purposes, the row at 74th and Amsterdam had stoops and embellishments removed, basement light wells filled in, and storefronts installed. But the whole row, which is nonetheless still largely intact, achieved landmark status in 1990 as part of the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District.
 
The row at the northeast corner of Amsterdam and 74th Street, as originally designed by Lamb & Rich
Whoever the new tenants are, we at LandmarkWest! hope their new storefront will be respectful of the Lamb & Rich design, and even restore some of the building’s original features. The sketch we found of the row in its original state may be an aid to restoration work.

The Closing of Candle Bar is a sad way to kick off New York’s Pride Week, but in brighter news, the Landmarks Preservation Commission just yesterday designated Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village as an individual landmark. It is the first building to achieve such designation solely for its relevance to LGBT history, and we owe a debt of gratitude to Andrew Dolkart for writing the designation report and to the many others who helped advance the process. 

Riverside-West End Historic District Map Available!

While the City Council has 120 days to amend or disprove the Historic District Extension, the LPC has made the map of the revised boundaries available.  See above. Landmark West! will keep you posted with any news!

To see other Media coverage, read West Side Rag and DNAinfo

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Can you see the differences in these two images?

Left: District Map from 2010, Right: District Map post-de Blasio Diet on June 23, 2015
Image by Landmark West!
This morning, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public meeting to consider designation of the third, and as they emphasize, "final" segment of the Riverside-West End Avenue Historic District.  Originally calendared on November 16, 2010, the District extension under review today showed the slimming effects of The de Blasio Diet- weighing in at an original 377 buildings in 2011, today this "study area" was reduced to a trim 344 (a number even Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels would be astonished at).  

LPC staff Lisa Kersavage and MaryAnne Percival present the
the slimmed-down RSD-WEA EXT II Historic District today. 
What exactly was excised? Predominantly, the Broadway border- in its entirety, and various carve outs for playgrounds, tenements and row houses-- block "fragments" which "did not sufficiently contribute to the sense of place".  A scant few images displayed examples of the cut outs but by no means represented all of the 33 missing sites- sites Commissioner Michael Devonshire unsuccessfully lobbied for the Commission to visit prior to voting.  In a concession, formerly omitted P.S. 75 was drawn back into the map as of this morning, but one branded as a "no-style" building which is a debased designation.  Everyone cheats on a diet a little, right? 


In addition to Broadway, the revised boundaries were nipped and tucked both north and south.  The new district was cut from 89th Street, to begin all the way up at 92nd Street and similarly, it was shaved down a block to 108th Street as its modified northern most border. 

Members of the public, unable to testify held up maps of the
original district boundaries to protest "Government in the Dark"
The LPC defended their all inboard-of-Broadway diet restrictions by deferring to legal counsel who cited previously designated Historic Districts (Gansevoort, Ridgewood, East Village etc.) that had cut-outs identified at time of designation.  What makes this unique is not only how a commission adamant about not adhering to precedent is suddenly leaning on precedent when convenient (now) but the unprecedented scale of reduction.  This District is in fact, the Biggest Loser to date! 

Dissent among the commissioners logically questioned why buildings by established pedigrees (Neville and Bagge; George and Edward Blum), recognized elsewhere within the Community District were forsaken here.   The response was that Broadway would not contribute to the cohesion of the district.  Commissioner Fred Bland lamented that it took 43 years to vote on this District which was clearly deserving and he hoped "the notion of Broadway" would not take as long to evaluate.  Commissioners Adi Shamir Baron, and John Gustafson also echoed the need to put attention towards better understanding Broadway's identity, and to recognize its cultural landscape. 

Commissioner John Gustafson spoke the voice of reason, questioning why significant buildings by noted architects were being ignored.  As the staff responded in defense of the cohesion of the historic district, Commissioner Gustafson also questioned the cohesion of the blocks within this district and how they will be affected if these significant structures are altered. 
The reality is, with the buildings omitted, Broadway becomes the excess skin for the developers to re-shape, and even the work of the best plastic surgeon looks familiar but out of place. 

The Commissioners in conversation with their legal and research staff
That these decisions were made behind closed doors is unsettling- that the final map was not made available to those experts voting on it until the flash of a slide in a power-point is unconscionable. After a self congratulatory victory lap, pronouncing the process and resultant district as respectful, thoughtful, rigorous, fair and mindful of initial requests, Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan called for a vote of designation.  With the only alternative of denying designation, the modified district passed unanimously, becoming the twelfth Historic District within the Community Board.  Up next, lucky 13...




Friday, June 19, 2015

DEFEND the proposed Riverside-West End Avenue Historic District Extension II


This Tuesday, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission will vote on 
Riverside-West End Historic District Extension II 

Please join us at 9:30 am the Commission, 1 Centre St, 9th Fl. to DEFEND the boundaries as-set in 2011 
(please allow time for security check as there are often lines during the morning rush)

Your voice is vital in defending the integrity of this proposed historic district extension from
developer-friendly carve-outs that may include the entire West Side of Broadway, 109th Street and a whole city block from 95th to 96th Street, Riverside Drive to West End Avenue (see map below - the LPC has not released an official map of the reduced boundaries).  The LPC vote is scheduled to take place this Tuesday, June 23, at a public meeting - NOT a public hearing, so no public testimony will be taken.  We must SPEAK UP by SHOWING UP!
Image created by Historic Districts Council

If you cannot attend, please write to the LPC (comments@lpc.nyc.gov, cc.landmarkwest@landmarkwest.org). Tell LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan that you support the designation of the Riverside-West End Historic District Extension II in its entirety, as presented at the public hearing held in October 2011.  If the LPC believes boundary changes are necessary - on the merits - then a new public hearing should be scheduled! 

The LPC's failure to hold a public hearing on these substantial changes to the originally proposed district extension is challenged in a letter submitted by LANDMARK WEST! (see below) and letters from our colleagues at the Historic Districts Council and West End Preservation Society.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and NYS Assembly Member Daniel J. O'Donnell have also voiced their support for preserving the originally proposed boundaries. 

Please SCROLL DOWN for LW! letter to Chair Srinivasan on this matter.     
   
           BREAKING NEWS!  
"New York City Moves to Ease Landmark Backlog"

Even as LPC Chair Srinivasan plans to eliminate buildings from the proposed Riverside-West End Historic District Extension II, she has backed off another misguided initiative to "de-calendar" proposed landmarks en masse.  The Wall Street Journal reports, "The new chairwoman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission proposed six months ago to summarily wipe out a backlog of 95 pending landmark designations."  But, in the face of united opposition from preservationists and elected officials, "Public hearings are now to be held this fall, and final decisions on most of the historic properties are due by the end of next year."

The proposed Riverside-West End Historic District Extension II deserves the same level of transparency and due process!




June 19, 2015

Hon. Meenakshi Srinivasan
Chair
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
1 Centre Street, 9th Floor
New York, NY  10007

RE:  Riverside-West End Avenue Historic District Extension II

Dear Chair Srinivasan:

It is our understanding that, on Tuesday, June 23, 2015, the Landmarks Preservation Commission will hold a public meeting and vote on the designation of the Riverside-West End Historic District Extension II (heard on October 25, 2011).  It is also our understanding, however, that the district boundaries to be voted on will be substantially different from those considered at the October 2011 public hearing.  Specifically (although a map of the changes has not been publicly distributed) we understand that the boundaries of the new district extension will exclude buildings along the west side of Broadway, West 109th Street, and the entire block from 95th to 96th Street, between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue (the site of P.S. 75 and its playground). 

We question the basis of this decision on the merits since, for example, a number of the buildings along Broadway were designed by the same architects - Neville & Bagge, George & Edward Blum, etc. - in the same era as many of the buildings elsewhere in the rest of the proposed district extension.  They are "of a piece" and contribute to the character and historical narrative of the area.

We also challenge the Commission's process - namely, its failure to provide the public with a detailed map of the changes it proposes and the lack of a public hearing on those changes. The execution of such extensive changes without a public hearing is at odds with NYC Administrative Code §25-303 ("Establishment of landmarks, landmark sites, interior landmarks, scenic landmarks and historic districts"), which states:

For the purpose of effecting and furthering the protection, preservation, enhancement, perpetuation and use of landmarks, interior landmarks, scenic landmarks and historic districts, the commission shall have power, after a public hearing...(4) to designate historic districts and the location and boundaries thereof, and...to designate changes in such locations and boundaries... [emphasis added]

The district extension to be designated on June 23, 2015 will be significantly different from the district extension heard on October 25, 2011, and therefore requires a new public hearing.  Holding a public hearing on the revised historic district extension with redrawn boundaries imposes minimal burden on the Commission while providing a forum for the community input required before the Commission is authorized to designate the revised extension.  We strongly object to this decision to change the configuration of the proposed historic district being made by the LPC at a "public meeting" where the public will not be heard. 

Furthermore, for the Commission to assume the general authority to redraw proposed historic districts after they are heard without first following rulemaking procedures would violate the City Administrative Procedures Act and recent Court of Appeals precedent.  See Matter of Council of the City of N.Y. v. Dep't of Homeless Services of the City of N.Y., 22 N.Y. 3d 150, 153-54 (2013); City Charter §§ 1041 et seq.

Together with elected officials, colleague preservation organizations, and many property owners, neighbors and other stakeholders in this area, we reiterate our strong support for the Riverside-West End Historic District Extension II as originally proposed on October 25, 2011, and urge the Commission to designate it in its entirety.  Now that the Commission intends to vote on a revised extension with changed boundaries, we are entitled by law to register that support and voice our opposition in the strongest of terms to the exclusion of significant buildings from the district on the record at a public hearing.


Sincerely,

 
Kate Wood
President

 
cc:   Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer
        City Council Member Helen Rosenthal
        New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat
        New York Assembly Member Daniel J. O'Donnell
        Executive Director Robert J. Freeman, NYS Committee on Open Government,
                        Department of State

Monday, June 15, 2015

Time Lapse of 2 Columbus Circle's Destruction

Back in 2005-2006, we set up a "shame cam" to capture and live-stream the facade destruction of 2 Columbus Circle. Now, ten years later, we created a time lapse of the process as Edward Durell Stone's quirky piece of modernism was scaffolded, cocooned, and sliced up during its conversion to the new Museum of Arts and Design. 

Unfortunately, we do not get to see the final product in this video because the construction of 15 Central Park West blocks the view, but it is still worth the watch. You can also see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade roll by around the 00:52 mark. 


Thursday, June 11, 2015

50 Sites for 50 Years of NYC Landmarks

Photograph: Andrew Kaplan

Landmark West! Celebrates on Google Field Trip App

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the passing of New York City’s Landmark Preservation Law (1965-2015) and also Landmark West’s own 30th Anniversary (1985-2015).  Back then, our founders faced a new building boom of unprecedented scale (sound familiar?) and launched a campaign to increase the number of protected landmarks on the Upper West Side (between 59th and 110th Streets, Central Park to Riverside Park) from a mere 337 to over 3,000 today.


If these walls could talk…



Like Dr. Seuss’s Lorax, LW! is here to speak for the buildings, parks and streetscapes that can’t exactly speak for themselves.  And so, with the help of our terrific intern, Upper West Side native Silvia Callegari (who is off to study historic preservation at the University of Pennsylvania this fall) and Google’s Field Trip smartphone app (for Android and iPhone),* we have gathered and published “biographies” of 50 Upper West Side landmarks - free and at your fingertips!  







Thanks to the wonder of GPS, Google’s Field Trip app (available for download here) finds your location and displays a map with nearby sites of interest.  Click on a site (or search for a specific site, on Android, - such as The Dakota Apartments designated an official Landmark in 1969) for information such as original architect, date of construction, architectural style, then-and-now images and more. 



50 sites for 50 years is just the beginning of an ongoing project. LW! will continue to build this resource - UP NEXT:  landmark designation priorities for the future (our “Wish List”)

TIP:  Field Trip posts include local restaurants, museums, shops, etc. to fuel your journey through the Upper West Side.  (You can also filter your trip by just choosing “Architecture.”)  Try turning on your notifications so that the app can alert you when something interesting is nearby. 

Most of all, have fun!

P.S. If there is a building or monument on the Upper West Side you would like to know about and see added to the App, please e-mail the address to landmarkwest@landmarkwest.org. 

*Click here to download Google’s Field Trip smartphone app.