Preservation Issues

Commission Denies Illegal Rooftop Addition to Hopper Gibbons House

- Hopper-Gibbons House - 339 West 29th Street (at 9th Ave)

May 2017

A living remnant of abolitionist history in Chelsea will be preserved, following a Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) vote on May 23.  The LPC voted 8-0 to deny a request by the owner of 339 West 29th Street to modify and retain an illegal rooftop addition at the Hopper-Gibbons House in the Lamartine Place Historic District, a site associated with the Underground Railroad. 

The original height and volume of the House are critical to its significance. The family of the early owners, James and Abby Hopper Gibbons, prominent abolitionists, crossed the roof of #339 and neighboring houses to escape the 1863 Draft Riots. That history is manifest in the Lamartine Place row houses and their original, continuous roofline.  Allowing any addition to remain would have destroyed the connection with that history. The Conservancy was among numerous preservation and community advocates and elected officials who spoke out against the proposal. 

This victory caps a decade-long fight through multiple city agencies and the courts, spearheaded by the Fern Luskin and Julie Finch of the Friends of the Hopper-Gibbons House Underground Railroad Site.  It began in 2007 when the owner started installing an addition that the NYC Buildings Department ruled was undertaken with an invalid permit.  During the period when construction was stalled, the LPC designated the Historic District. The Board of Standards and Appeals denied the owner’s request to reverse DOB’s decision; and the New York State Appellate Court denied the owner’s petition to annul the BSA ruling. 

When the owner came to the LPC last September with a request to legalize the addition, we spoke out against it, and this month, when he returned in a bid to modify the addition, reducing its size, but still encroaching on the building’s history, the Conservancy joined the coalition asking the LPC to exercise its power and require that the addition be removed.  We welcome the Commission’s decision and applaud the local advocates for their unflagging resolve to recognize and honor the history of the Hopper Gibbons House.