Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Adler & Sullivan phoenix!

A destroyed Adler & Sullivan building has plans to rise from the ashes!

In one of my earlier posts about the sad state of Louis Sullivan's buildings, I mentioned the fire that destroyed the fabulous Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago back in winter 2006.

Pilgrim Baptist Church ablaze, courtesy Quinn Evans Architects

Well, it turns out that a plan is in the works to rebuild the church! Quinn Evans Architects is teaming up with Johnson & Lee Architects to do the reconstruction. There are no details as to how strictly they will stick to Adler and Sullivan's original design, but given the companies track records, I'm sure it will be quality.

Here's a couple of pictures of the building pre-fire (courtesy of Lynn Becker's website; look here for more images):

I'm back...what did I miss?

OK, so I didn't go anywhere. Just been busy and slacked off on the blog. I'm still busy, but can't help myself.
Also, finally got a digital camera which will make blogging just that much easier.

Anyway, there have been a number of LPC designations since I last posted.

Let's see:

There was the somewhat controversial re-designation of the City and Suburban Homes on the UES.

70 Lefferts Place was designated (and recently approved by the City Council).

Two churches in Harlem, St. Aloysius Roman Catholic and The Church of All Saints, were designated. The former is the first Catholic church to be designated in 25 years.

The (former) Horn and Hardardt Automat on the UWS was designated.

The Sohmer & Co. Piano Factory in Queens was designated.

Three buildings in far west Greenwich Village were designated. The Keller Hotel at 150 Barrow St., a house at 354 West 11th St., and a house at 159 Charles St.

And just today (or now yesterday I suppose), the LPC designated 3 buildings:

In Tribeca, 23 and 25 Park Place, the former HQ of the Daily News back in the 1920s, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Labratory Administration Building.

Twelve designations in three months. Two in Brooklyn, one in Queens, and nine in Manhattan. No love for the Bronx or Staten Island, though there were seven 19th century buildings in Staten Island calendared for public hearings for designation.

And in Queens, the LPC calendared the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District just last week. This has sparked a heated battle (debate is not a strong enough word) within the neighborhood. The HDC's blog has covered the back and forth fairly well.

Speaking of the HDC, they held their annual conference this past weekend. It was quite interesting. The highlight was the keynote speech by Donovan Rypkema (of PlaceEconomics), arguing that historic preservation is sustainable (by definition) and a major facet of "Smart Growth."

A panel on "The Greening of Preservation" was also very good and featured two architects who focus on preservation and sustainable design: Carl Elefante (Quinn Evans Architects) and Stephen Tilly. Also on the panel was Stephen Goldsmith, a sculptor and planner from Utah. The most interesting part of his presentation was the Katrina Furniture Project that he recently helped found. The idea is to take the wood from demolished homes and refashion it into furniture providing jobs to the region, as well as a pride of reclamation, and the recycling of often very good quality "historic" wood. Pretty cool idea.

Much more has come and gone in the past few months but if you're reading this blog, you probably already know it all. If not, check the HDC's blog, Curbed, Gowanus Lounge, or other local preservation/RE/development blogs.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Stables landmarked? Well, yes and no...

Today the LPC finally voted on designation for two UWS stables.

Well, there was good news and bad news.

The good news: they voted to designate the New-York Cab Company Stable.
The bad news: they voted not to designate the Mason aka Dakota Stable.

Getting the news out quick and with excellent commissioner coverage was Simeon Bankoff from the HDC. Please, please check out this post which gives a great breakdown of today's vote:

REPORT: A Tale of Two Stables

Curbed made mention of the Dakota Stable today and linked to Landmark West!'s stables advocacy page. LW! has links to the LPC's statements of significance for both stables. Also very much worth checking out.

Kudos to commissioners Roberta Brandes Gratz and Christopher Moore for attempting to force the LPC to stand up to developers. Since the developer had already begun demolishing the Dakota Stable, most commissioners felt that it was no longer landmarkable (and all except one I think felt that it would have been). Commissioners Gratz and Moore felt that it was time for the LPC to show developers that hasty demolition would not negate a landmark's worth. Or more precisely, if a building still could be returned to its designation worthy condition (and most can if only some of the detail has been removed), then it should still be designated and effort should be made to restore it, or at least be preserved for the possibility of restoration. Now is the time for this type of mindset from the LPC as developers seem to be opting for the removal of architectural detail simply to prevent landmarking.

The most notable of these is the old P.S. 64/CHARAS/El Bohio. The Voice had a pretty good article on this saga back in June: "Love It or Level It". Also check out this article on the memorial march for slain reporter Brad Will that "liberated" the old CHARAS space.

Preserving a lighthouse

photo by Pamela Bednarik via Montauk Point Lighthouse

Today's Times has a great article outlining the preservation issues surrounding the Montauk lighthouse: "For Montauk, It's Lighthouse vs. Surf's Up!"

Should the effect on surfers' waves be considered when building a seawall to protect the lighthouse? Sure.

But should they stop the plan to build the seawall when that's the solution that has been determined to protect the lighthouse? No.

In fact, according to Greg Donohue, the erosion control manager for the Montauk Historical Society, "the based on decades of careful study, including wave-tank analysis at the University of Delaware that showed Alamo [the surf break that gives them big waves] would not be seriously affected by the revetment."

Hmm, a 210-year old lighthouse, commissioned by George Washington, that is the oldest in New York State and the fourth-oldest active lighthouse in the country, or waves for surfing.

I'm all for preserving water sports, but come on. Preservation of the lighthouse is a benefit for all. Major surf breaks are a benefit for the relative few who can surf. And since noone really knows how the new revetment will affect the waves, it would be foolish to risk the survival of the lighthouse for the possibility the break will be compromised. The surfers suggest moving the lighthouse but preservationists counter that it's too fragile to move. Moving should probably not even be considered as an option since it loses some of its historical significance if it is moved.

Let's hope the Corps of Engineers is allowed to continue with their plans and the lighthouse is preserved for years to come.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Some tips from the HDC

The Historic Districts Council's Preservation Perspectives blog is a great clearinghouse of preservation news and is where I go to get the latest on NYC preservation.

Today, they have a link to the Fort Greene Courier's article on the 70 Lefferts Place calendaring. Good quotes throughout from the Lefferts Place Civic Association, Councilwoman Letitia James, and Christopher Morris (the owner).

Two things of note:

1) that the LPCA doesn't want to screw over Morris. David Conrad, the secretary of the LPCA, says they are,

“looking into options for the developer that would allow him to come out of this without it being a disaster to him. We don’t want him to get hurt.”

Now, I'm not sure what the LPCA might really be able to do but hopefully something will be worked out. The thing is, real estate wise, there is nothing inherently wrong with the house being landmarked. True, it can't be torn down to build something bigger that would bring in more money. But it is still a valuable, rentable house. Morris says the interior is in poor shape, which may be, but I'm sure it wouldn't take too much work to renovate and make a pretty penny on the house.

2) Morris wishes people would focus on Ratner instead:

“I don’t know why the focus is on me, so much, as if I’m doing something wrong,” Morris went on. “They should focus on Ratner. I don’t know why everyone is focusing on the condos. Condos are going up everywhere. Why focus on this particular property, this particular guy?”

First off, people are focusing on Ratner as if he hadn't noticed. And people are focusing on condos. Many community groups all over Brooklyn are very concerned, or at least wary, about the condo-ization of the borough. But when they knock down one-story taxpayers, or get built on empty lots, or even knock down very decrepit rowhouses, it's not as big a deal. Then, the issue is about context. In this case, the issue is the fact that 70 Lefferts is an unquestionably historic and unique building. That's why the focus is on "this particular property".

It's also interesting that Morris mentions Ratner as someone who should be investigated. When the New York Times did their feature a few weeks back on what various "types" of people in the neighborhood thought of the project, they had Morris as "The Investor" (the full article is in TimesSelect; Atlantic Yards Report has a great, in depth breakdown here) . Here's a quote:

"One I’m turning into condominiums, 24 condos. I wouldn’t have bought that property if it weren’t for the Atlantic Yards. Mr. Ratner has brought a whole change to this neighborhood."

Seems like he's grateful for Ratner's presence. I also wonder how much AY would really impact a condo project on Lefferts between Grand and Classon, over 6 blocks from the eastern edge of the proposed project which, if built as planned, wouldn't be finished for a few years.

Also, from what I've heard thru the blogvine, the picture of Morris in the article shows him standing inside 70 Lefferts Place. Doesn't look too run down to me.


They also link to today's Times article and Friday's NY Sun article on the City and Suburban First Avenue Estate complex on York Ave. between 64th and 65th. This situation highlights the politics of preservation both historically (with the Board of Estimate's meddling) and currently (with Councilwoman Jessica Lappin's involvement).

I think it's great that Lappin is taking such an interest in these buildings. As Landmarks chair of the City Council, she has been a marked contrast with the previous chair, Simcha Felder. Felder, along with Yassky, derailed the landmarking of the Austin, Nicholls, & Co. Warehouse last fall (well covered by Curbed) and was generally not very supportive of landmarking. In fact, it was quite similar to the old ways of the BOE as described in the Times article. It begs the question, why have a panel of experts overruled by a panel of non-experts? That's an argument for another day...

Friday, November 10, 2006

A designation! And a demolition?

Great news from the LPC: they've designated the George B. and Susan Elkins House in Crown Heights! As their press release states:

"House Is the Only Known Freestanding, Mid-19th Century Wooden Country House Remaining in the Northwestern Section of the Brooklyn Neighborhood"

George B. and Susan Elkins House

This bodes well for the Crown Heights North Historic District and maybe for 70 Lefferts Place as well. I don't know if it's the only wooden house in that part of Clinton Hill, but I assume it's one of the few. (The press release is from 10/24 but I don't think this was posted until this week or the end of last week)

Now about that demolition.

On the LPC's agenda for 11/21, they will be hearing an application to demolish the house at 173 St. James Place in Clinton Hill. According to the LPC, 173 St. James Pl. is: "A wood frame house built circa 1852." They plan to replace it with a 3 story building (better than 9 stories of condos!). Now I don't actually know this building and hope to check it out soon. But an 1852 wood frame building? I assume it's not in the greatest shape if the owners think the LPC will approve a demolition. I wonder what the Society for Clinton Hill's take is.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

"A lot of buildings deserve to be landmarks."

The Colonial Club, a non-landmarked landmark at the corner of 72nd and Broadway is losing its skin.

In "Colonial Club: A Landmark in all but Name", the Times highlights a common issue in NYC, and country-wide, preservation: when a building is not "landmarkable" by the usual standards, but is a landmark nonetheless. We see them all the time: the Old Dutch Mustard building, the Rivington St. Synagogue, McGuirk's Suicide Hall, even just the smokestacks from the Penn RR Power House.

McGuirk's from Ain't No Joke's Flickr photo stream

These buildings were never landmarked by the LPC and one could argue they didn't deserve to be (I cannot understand why the Rivington St. Synagogue was never landmarked. I am partly biased since my great-grandfather worshipped there, but still, it had significance architecturally and culturally. And, if it had been landmarked, the shul might have been able to get some help for renovations.). But they're the buildings (or parts of buildings) that when they're gone you feel a void. You think, "Man, I always loved that building." But once they're gone (or stripped of their detail a la the Colonial Club), they're gone. And years from now, will people know they were ever there?

Now the Colonial Club is not being torn down, but it is losing its character. Its uniqueness. But noone is fighting for it. This brings up two issues.

One, the LPC had already twice denied it landmark status. So most assume "Not worth it." This is a perfectly reasonable argument to take since they will likely refuse to hear it again. But the LPC should be pushed now and then to take another look at some of these buildings. Tastes change (a la Two Columbus Circle). Commissioners change. Now in the Club's case, there had been a fair amount of alterations to the building. Perhaps that automatically eliminated it from the chance of landmarking. But again, perhaps the LPC should push the limits now and then. Some buildings (not necessarily the Club) may still have enough original detail remaining, or detail that is very unique, that they should be preserved. Also, once landmarked, a building may be eligible for some restoration funds.

Two, preservation advocacy groups have limited time and resources (the LPC does too for that matter). This post's title comes from Kate Wood, the indefatigable executive director of Landmark West! The full quote (from the Times article):

“Since there are only 24 hours in a day, we have to have some system for prioritizing. It breaks my heart to say anything negative about the Colonial Club, because there’s no reason it shouldn’t be a landmark, but in the scheme of things, a lot of buildings deserve to be landmarks. It’s out of the landmarks realm right now much as I hate to say it.”

Sadly, change and development sometimes moves too fast for preservationists to keep up. Or there are just too many buildings that need help. Preservation skeptics often like to argue (often in the comments at Brownstoner or Curbed): "If this building is so special, why haven't preservationists fought for it before?" The lack of resources is often why. Or, as in the Colonial Club's case (and Officer's Row to some extent), it's a combination of lack of resources and a certain amount of resignation that the LPC won't change their mind.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Designation reports ONLINE!!!

The Neighborhood Preservation Center and the LPC have done a wonderful thing. They have begun scanning and posting online ALL of the City's landmark designation reports. This is a wonderful new research resource. Now when someone says, "Why is that thing landmarked? What's so special about it?" you can reply (after looking it up) "Well, the LPC said..."

Here's a link to the report for the Old U.S. Naval Hospital in the Navy Yard: U.S. Naval Hospital.

So far, they've only posted files from 1965:

"Currently, printable pdf files of all reports for Landmarks designated in 1965 (the year the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission was established) are available on this database. Eventually the entire collection of designation reports will be available, with those from 1966 and 1967 expected to be posted in November 2006. Please check back often as we update our database."

I'm looking forward to their posting of some of Brooklyn's Historic Districts.

Also, while we're on the subject of designation reports, there's another great resource from the NY SHPO. They have all the National Register nomination forms online. These nominations are also much more in depth with information on nearly every building in historic districts. These include photos from the time these buildings and districts were designated (a great chance to see how things were). Here's pics of 293-299 Cumberland St. from 1980 and "The Roanoke" at 69-71 S. Oxford St. from 1979:

Here's where you go:

New York's State and National Registers of Historic Places Document Imaging Project

Another great thing about this: you can look up National Register historic districts, like Prospect Heights or DUMBO, that the City has so far failed to recognize.

The Old Dutch Mustard is no more

Robert over at The Gowanus Lounge (a must read) has done a great job of covering the demolition of the Old Dutch Mustard building.

These photos are from a Curbed post he wrote on the de-Dutch-ing of the building during demolition. But here's the "money shot" as he calls it: Dutch Demolition Porn. It's a short video of the demolition over time. Another piece of Williamsburg's industrial heritage bites the dust.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Louis Sullivan's rough year continues

Sadly, Chicago has lost another Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler building.

courtesy Preservation Chicago

It was reported by the AP today that a fire has destroyed an historic wood frame house in Chicago designed by Adler & Sullivan in 1888. It's the third Adler & Sullivan building to be destroyed by fire this year. It also happens to be Sullivan's 150th birthday year. As Preservation Chicago says on their website "UNHAPPY BIRTHDAY, DEAR LOUIS..."

Just a week and a half ago, the Wirt Dexter building (1887) was destroyed by fire and had to be demolished.

courtesy Preservation Chicago

And in January, Pilgrim Baptist Church was gutted by fire.

courtesy Repeat

Pilgrim Baptist Church and the Dexter building were both set ablaze by construction crews using acetylene-oxygen torches (the former working on the distinctive roof, the latter removing an old boiler). No specific cause has been given yet for today's blaze.

However, unlike the others, the Harvey house's demolition was planned at one point. This great article by Lynn Becker of the Chicago Reader tells the story of the house as of July 2006: "A Legacy Destroyed."

"according to advocacy group Preservation Chicago, owner Natalie Frank recently told Alderman Helen Shiller she was about to apply for a demolition permit.

It’s a hot area for development. Just down the street—Stratford is only one block long—another vintage home on a similar lot was recently torn down to make way for a 23-story residential high-rise—one unit per floor, starting at $1.3 million. The Harvey House parcel is in a more restrictive zone, RM5, but that would still allow it to be replaced with a building up to five stories high with up to ten units."

Hmm...tearing down an old wood-frame houe to build condos...sounds familiar...

Luckily, or so it seemed, the owner had an apparent change of heart. The Chicago Tribune reported at the end of July that the owner had decided not to demolish the house. Maybe so, but given the owner's initial plans, it makes one wonder if today's fire was truly an accident.

Ms. Becker's article also outlines part of Chicago's problem: a weak landmarks law.

"The Harvey House is in danger because it isn’t an official Chicago landmark. On the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, a listing of more than 17,000 distinctive properties completed in 1995, it has an orange rating, the secondhighest category. In the highest are 300 “red” rated buildings, defined by the survey as “potentially significant in the broader context of the City of Chicago.”

The broader orange rating covers 9,600 structures that are “potentially significant in the context of the surrounding community.” By law, if someone applies for a demolition permit for an orange rated building, a 90-day hold is automatically placed on it while the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, a body appointed by the mayor, reviews the application and decides whether the building deserves to be saved.

But the city has a record of letting orange rated buildings slip through the cracks, issuing permits before 90 days are up and allowing buildings to be damaged or even razed before the commission can review the application."

Many in NYC like to bitch and moan about how strict the landmarks law is and what a hindrance it is to property owners. But at least we don't have this multi-tiered, relatively toothless set-up. You'd think that a city like Chicago, that's lost so much of its historic architecture (especially Sullivan's) would do everything in its power to preserve what they have left. I realize that "accidental" fires are not the fault of the landmarks law, but even without the fire, the Harvey house was nearly lost.

Chicago, your NYC preservation brethren feel for ya.