Friday, January 20, 2006

Call for website volunteers

LANDMARK WEST! seeks volunteers to help us maintain our website, http://www.landmarkwest.org. The site that brought you the 2 Columbus Circle "Shame Cam" and much more is a vital tool in our efforts to preserve the architectural heritage of Manhattan's Upper West Side and communicate with the public about current issues affecting the shape of our city.

If you have web-design skills to lend to a really good cause, please contact us today (
landmarkwest@landmarkwest.org) A resume and links to any sites you have worked on will be very helpful. Thank you!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Congregation Shearith Israel

Landmarks Commission Close to Final Vote on Congregation Shearith Israel Proposal

Thanks to those of you who attended today's public meeting and/or expressed your concern through letters and emails to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) regarding Congregation Shearith Israel's proposal to construct a 124' tall building (the equivalent of 12 stories) at 8 West 70th Street, adjacent to the Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue and in the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District.

The LPC did not vote today.* However, the commissioners offered detailed feedback on several aspects of the design, including the height of the penthouses set back above the approximately 95' streetwall. While their comments were generally supportive of the overall bulk of the building, more than one commissioner referred to the stacked penthouse levels (which would make the building the tallest building on the mostly brownstone midblock of West 70th Street) as inappropriate "wedding cake" tiers that should be minimized or eliminated. The result would be what equals a 9- to 10-story building, still basically 3 to 4 stories taller than the contextual, low-rise zoning allows on this site.

The Congregation argues that its design is for a "transitional" building (a concept they claim is from the LPC itself). But, there is no transitional provision in either the LPC's 1990 historic district report or the 1984 contextual zoning for the area. In fact, the historic district designation and zoning were created precisely to keep this kind of development from happening. The adjacent 9-story streetwall building at 18 West 70th Street, built in 1927 before zoning and historic district protection (before there was even a Landmarks Law), is an anomaly. Its height would never be allowed today, and it cannot be used to justify any more out-of-scale buildings on the block.

*The record will remain open for a limited time. LPC Chair Robert Tierney committed to distribute to each commissioner copies of community responses to the current proposal. So, please continue to let the LPC know where you stand on this inappropriate "transitional" building. Email:
comments@lpc.nyc.gov; Fax: 212-669-7955; Address: 1 Centre Street, 9th Floor, NYC 10007.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Tierney Confirmation Hearing

Calling all preservationists! Nearly two weeks into his second term, Mayor Bloomberg has made the single most critical decision for the future of our city’s historic neighborhoods. That is to re-appoint Robert B. Tierney as Chair of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). Tierney’s confirmation hearing will take place on Wednesday, January 18, at 11:00 AM before the City Council’s Rules, Privileges & Elections Committee (City Hall, 2nd Floor).

Please plan to attend! Your presence will demonstrate how much preservationists care about who is chosen to lead the agency – the only agency – with the mandate to protect our most beloved landmarks in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. No public testimony will be taken on the 18th, but please contact your local council member and urge them to attend and ask questions (for contact information, go to http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/index.php). If you would like your own questions submitted to committee chair Leroy G. Comrie (Queens), please send them to us at landmarkwest@landmarkwest.org and we will pass them on.

Please underscore your concern about the LPC’s dire need to improve its processes for…

a)
deciding which buildings and neighborhoods do and do not get public designation hearings,

b) collaborating with organizations and individual citizens working to preserve their communities,

c) interacting with the City Council and other city agencies to promote landmark designation and protection,

…as well as addressing the broad range of complaints that many of you raised at an unprecedented three oversight hearings that you attended over the past 18 months. Remember, at the end of 2005, over 60 organizations were so frustrated that they (you!) had endorsed changing the Landmarks Law itself. Those problems have not gone away. The responsibility for those problems rests squarely on Tierney’s shoulders. It’s up to us preservationists to hold him accountable.

See you on the 18th.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

IMPORTANT PUBLIC MEETINGS: New Buildings on the Upper West Side

Important Public Meetings on New Construction in the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District

At least two new buildings are under consideration for construction in Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District. It isn't every day that the community has the exciting opportunity to participate in shaping the physical appearance of our neighborhood on such a scale. So, please, mark your calendars and make your voice heard!

Thursday, January 12, 7:00 PM - Community Board 7 will hold a joint meeting of its Parks & Preservation and Land Use Committees regarding an application to construct a new 172', 15-story building at 120 W. 72nd Street (on the south side of the block between Columbus Avenue and Broadway). Please attend and hear presentations by the architect (BKSK Architects) and development team. Public testimony will be heard so that CB7 can give its recommendations to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. Location: American Bible Society, 1865 Broadway (@61st Street).

Tuesday, January 17, morning (exact time tba) - The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) will hold a public meeting regarding the application to construct a new 124', 10-story building at 8 W. 70th Street adjacent to the Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue (Congregation Shearith Israel, an Individual Landmark). The LPC may take action at this point in a decades-long effort to protect the landmark synagogue and its predominantly low-rise context from out-of-scale development that would set a negative precedent for historic neighborhoods throughout the city. Location: LPC Hearing Room, Municipal Building, 1 Centre Street, 9th Floor. No public testimony will be heard on Jan. 17, but a large presence in the hearing room is absolutely vital to ensure the commissioners recognize the concerns shared by historic communities. This may be our last chance to have input on this proposal - please send emails/faxes to LPC Chair Robert B. Tierney today! Email:
comments@lpc.nyc.gov, Fax: 212-669-7955. (Please send copies to us at landmarkwest@landmarkwest.org.)

Remember: A new building in one historic district impacts every historic district. New construction is not a question of "if" but "when", and every project sets the tone for future change. Help make sure that each change is for the better!

Monday, January 9, 2006

2 Columbus Circle: The Secret History and Historical Censorship

Fight Historical Censorship! If you have something to say about 2 Columbus Circle, say it now. It’s not too late to save Edward Durell Stone’s 1964 fa├žade, which behind the scaffolding remains largely intact. Go to the end of this message for action steps. But first...

New inspiration comes from Herbert Muschamp’s not-to-be-missed 3-page (yes, 3 pages!) piece on 2 Columbus Circle in Sunday’s New York Times (“The Secret History of 2 Columbus Circle,” NYT 1/8/06, Arts & Leisure pp. 1, 34-35). The full article is available at
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/08/arts/design/08musc.html?ex=1137474000&en=f0da2e2563a3acc2&ei=5070 Below is a recap (or a sneak preview, in case you laid the story aside to savor later)…

And on the heels of Muschamp’s story is one by New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff in today’s paper (Arts Section, page 1). Both critics tackle the timely issue of historical censorship. Writing about the young activists vying to preserve the endangered 1970s Palace of the Republic in Berlin, Ouroussoff writes, “Like the preservationists struggling to save 2 Columbus Circle in New York or late-Soviet landmarks in Moscow, they are fighting those who insist on pitting history against modernity, people who would seek to smooth over historical contradictions in favor of a more simplistic narrative.” Full article available at
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/09/arts/design/09pala.html.

Excerpts from “The Secret History of 2 Columbus Circle ” by Herbert Muschamp:

“ The city may not know what to make of 2 Columbus Circle, but a generation of gay New Yorkers always did. And our verdict is the one that matters.”

“Henry Geldzahler, lacy underwear, swanky taste, Singapore slings. These are a few of the memories that didn’t get to be recollected at the public hearings that weren’t held to debate the value of 2 Columbus Circle…”

“Two Columbus Circle has been called a queer building many times over the years….No other building more fully embodied the emerging value of queerness in the New York of its day. If the Landmarks Commission could miss this significance, then it is reasonable to conclude that many dots in that chapter of the city’s social history have yet to be connecte
d.”

“A building does not have to be an important work of architecture to become a first-rate landmark. Landmarks are not created by architects. They are fashioned by those who encounter them after they are built. The essential feature of a landmark is not its design, but the place it holds in a city’s memory.”

“The gay audience, excluded by society, has an organic relationship to artifacts that have been rejected by society’s tastemakers.”

“[The Landmarks Commission] has refused to expand the definition of history to include the lives and times of living people, especially still-suspect ones….An agency established to enlarge our awareness of history was now in the business of condoning its erasure.”

“Though it’s often overlooked, artists like Piero della Francesca, Botticelli and Vermeer were lost and forgotten before they were rediscovered as the immortals they are usually taken for today. Their example gives me hope that one day New Yorkers will rediscover the Landmarks Preservation Commission and bring it back from the inconsequence to which the politicians have consigned it.”

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Fight Historical Censorship! Make your voice heard today! (And please make sure to send copies to
landmarkwest@landmarkwest.org.)

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, 212-788-3000 (City Hall “bullpen”), fax: 212-788-2460

Robert B. Tierney, Chair, NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, phone: 212-669-7888, fax: 212-669-7955,
rtierney@lpc.nyc.gov

The New York Times, letters@nytimes.com