Preservation Issues

Conservancy Testifies for Five New Landmark Designations

-El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109

-The Richard Webber Harlem Packing House, photo courtesy of LPC

-Benjamin Franklin High School (now the Manhattan School for Science and Math) photo courtesy of LPC, Barrett Reiter

-The Emmet Building at 95 Madison Avenue, photo courtesy of LPC

-Hotel Seville (now James Hotel), photo courtesy of LPC

February 2018

The Conservancy testified in support of landmark designation of a CBJ Snyder school in East Harlem and two richly ornamented towers in Madison Square North at Landmarks Commission hearings in February. We joined elected officials, local advocates, and our preservation colleagues, speaking out for five new designations in these neighborhoods that are facing development pressure.

East Harlem is one of the communities that the City is looking to rezone. The intention is to encourage larger buildings that combine new market-rate apartments and affordable housing, but there are concerns that historic buildings will be the targets for the new construction. In conjunction with the rezoning, the Landmarks Commission surveyed the area and brought three new designations forward at a February 13 hearing.

El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109 is the former Public School 109, a Gothic Collegiate treasure on East 99th Street. The Conservancy was involved in saving the school in the late 1990s, when the City closed it with plans for demolition and let it deteriorate. We worked with local activists, engaged an engineer who produced a report which found that the building could be reused, and got it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We celebrated the restoration and reuse of the Collegiate Gothic school building, which now offers affordable housing to local artists and has community facilities.

The Richard Webber Harlem Packing House at 207-215 East 119th Street is a grand Romanesque Revival, whose style elevates it above the typical 19th century industrial building. Constructed as a part of a meat-processing complex, the attractive masonry façade features arches, pilasters, and fetching terra-cotta cow head reliefs. While there have been alterations, the building retains its original height, massing, materials, and many intact decorative details.

Rising above the Harlem River at 116th Street, the majestic Benjamin Franklin High School (now the Manhattan School for Science and Math) is a landmark for this community. The brick and limestone Georgian Revival building has a pronounced symmetry, temple fronts on the east and west facades, a central portico with monumental Corinthian columns and pilasters and a towering cupola. The school played a critical role in East Harlem’s mid-century history. It represents the era of the “Community School” movement, which focused on social change and community-based solutions to neighborhood challenges.

In the Madison Square North area, development pressures have been intense, with several landmark-quality buildings lost to demolition, replaced with ever-taller towers. Two buildings from the early 20th century are on the way to receiving protection from the Landmarks Commission following a February 20 hearing. The Emmet Building at 95 Madison Avenue is a limestone and terra cotta confection. The elegant 1912 commercial tower features 16 stories of neo-Gothic verticality and abundant, ornate French Renaissance decoration. It’s named after the builder, Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet, who had the building constructed in his 80s, and then lived in its lavish penthouse, one of the City’s first.

The 1901 Hotel Seville (now James Hotel), across the avenue at 22 East 29th Street, exhibits a robust Beaux-Arts style. The muscular façade features vibrant alternating horizontal bands of brick and limestone at the three-story base, and alternating vertical bays of brick and white terra cotta on the upper stories, crowned with a projecting metal cornice. The Seville recalls the era when this section of Madison Avenue was changing from an affluent residential district to an area of more moderate hotels for residents and visitors.

There was no opposition to the five potential landmarks, and the Commission is expected to schedule votes for all in the next several months.