How the Landmark Preservation Commission worked to maintain the charm of a Soho building
The preservation of historic New York is something that I have discussed in length in some of my other classes, particularly in a class called “Shaping the Urban Environment”. Before taking this class, I had not realized to what great extent the city goes to preserve buildings and districts that have architectural and historical significance to New York City. The group spearheading this crusade to maintain NYC’s rich past is the Landmark Preservation Commission.
The Landmark Preservation Commission, or the LPC, was established in 1965 in conjunction with the Landmarks Law, which sought to create and protect New York City landmarks. According to the LPC’s website, this law was created “in response to New Yorkers' growing concern that important physical elements of the City's history were being lost despite the fact that these buildings could be reused”. Most note the unfortunate destruction of Old Penn Station as being the catalyst for such a commission to be created. Nowadays, the commission works hard to regulate the alteration of these historic buildings, as well.
Recently, I wrote a paper for another class chronicling the story of a building that was being protected by the Landmark Preservation Commission. The building was located at 74 Grand Street in Soho. In truth, the building itself never had landmark status, nor did it have its own notable, rich history. For years, it had just existed as a high-end cooperative. However, 74 Grand was located within the Soho-Cast Iron Historic District (labeled so by the LPC in 1974) and was therefore heavily guarded by the LPC.
For the past 10 years or so, 74 Grand Street has been served a tumultuous existence. In 2004, a two-week stint of rainfall washed away a considerable amount of dirt from an empty lot adjacent to 74 Grand. Subsequently, the building shifted dramatically, and the “The Leaning Tower of Soho” was created, standing at a 13.5” tilt to the west. It was alarmingly apparent that the building was not structurally sound. Residents were forced to pack up their things and move out for good.
In normal, non-Landmark Preservation Commission regulated circumstances, the building, which eventually tilted to a full 30 inches to the west, would have been swiftly demolished. It was a clear safety hazard, and after some time, the building’s sagging foundation even began to pull adjacent buildings down with it. Because of 74 Grand’s location within a landmarked district, however, there was a lot of red tape involved in altering the building in any such way.
74 Grand Street stood abandoned and dilapidated for a full six years before any sort of decision was made regarding its future. This was not for lack of trying. The building’s owners had met with the LPC time and time again, but the Commission simply refused to have a building with such historic value demolished. It wasn’t until 2010 that the Landmark Preservation Commission agreed to the building’s destruction. However, in order for this to take place, they decreed that the building’s characteristic, cast iron façade would need to be “salvaged, crated, and stored in a secure warehouse accessible by LPC staff”. The facade would then need to be incorporated into the new structure that would eventually be built in the old cooperative’s place. Soon after this decision was made, 74 Grand Street’s lopsided mess of a building was torn down.
It was only months ago that the empty lot was finally purchased. The new owners are now faced with the challenge of creating a new building that somehow incorporates the old facade. Unfortunately, due to new building and fire codes, the original structure, which was a neo-greco design made of brick with its cast-iron façade, could not be replicated, as it did not comply with the new regulations. Therefore, an entirely new structure was designed, which incorporated the old façade in a peculiar way. The proposed design involves building the new condos roughly eight feet behind the restored façade. The original façade would stand independent of the new building, only attached to the modern construction by steel armatures. The area in between the façade and the new building would be filled entirely with green space, as well as apartment balconies for the condominium residents.
On March 19 of this year, the proposed building’s architect took the design to the Landmark Preservation Commission. However, the strict commission rejected the plans, noting that the new building did not “respect the spirit of the original building”. So, it is back to the drawing board, and 74 Grand will continue to remain a vacant lot for the foreseeable future.
It is instances like these that show just how seriously landmark and historic preservation is to the city of New York. After seeing an atrocity occur like the destruction of a once beautiful Penn Station, then replaced by a dysfunctional eyesore, it is understandable why the LPC has created such intense protocol for historically significant buildings. It is only with tough standards like these that the old charm of New York will remain.