Preservation Issues

Plans to Close Rikers Island Jail Spark Controversy

-A design rendering showing how large the proposed new jail would be under the current plan. (Courtesy Mayor’s Office)

-The Lefkowitz Building at 80 Centre Street, the site of the proposed jail tower (Courtesy Google Maps)

June, 2019
The Conservancy spoke out against the proposed Manhattan jail that is part of the Mayor’s plan to close Rikers Island and build four new jails in the boroughs. The new Manhattan jail would be the tallest building in the area, a 450-foot tower on the site of the Manhattan Detention Center, (124-125 White St., between Centre and Baxter Streets) part of a complex eligible for listing on the State and National Register of Historic Places.

At a June 11 hearing convened by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, we expressed our concern that a portion of a National Register eligible building would be demolished. We also noted that the proposed out-of-scale tower would have a negative impact on the local community and the nearby Chinatown and Little Italy Historic District. Our testimony quoted the judge whose Commission supported a new jail, but questioned the oversized proposal.

City Forced to Reverse Course on Lefkowitz Building
November 2018

The City has dropped plans to gut the Art Deco Lefkowitz Building at 80 Centre Street and build a 40-story tower combining jail cells and affordable housing units. The proposal was part of the plan to close Rikers Island and build new, smaller jail facilities in four boroughs.

The Conservancy joined neighborhood and colleague groups opposing the gutting of the 1928 Lefkowitz Building because it is landmark quality and its loss would wreck the integrity of Manhattan’s Civic Center. Residents objected to the total lack of community input. The City will now explore renovations or a new building at the current “Tombs” jail facility at 125 White Street. The Conservancy will continue its push to landmark the Lefkowitz Building, which is already deemed eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

New York City Alert – Save the Lefkowitz Building!
October 2018

A massive jail tower proposed to replace the Louis J. Lefkowitz Office Building at 80 Centre Street would wreck the integrity of Manhattan’s Civic Center. The historic Art Deco building was designed 90 years ago specifically to complement the nearby courthouses and government buildings.

Here is how you can help…

Tell Mayor de Blasio to find another location that doesn’t sacrifice a significant building.

And ask the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC)* to designate 80 Centre Street as a City landmark. It is already eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The administration says the new jails the Mayor has proposed to replace Rikers Island “would be integrated into the look and feel of the neighborhood.” A 40-story jail at 80 Centre Street would do just the opposite.

The block long building dates to 1928 and was originally named “The New York State Office Building.” It features exquisite Art Deco and classical detailing on all four granite facades. It is crowned by a massive projecting cornice that adds to the building’s monumental gravitas and composition. Architects Sullivan Jones and William Haugaard designed it under a height restriction so it would not overshadow its neighbors.

Governor Alfred E. Smith laid the cornerstone on December 18, 1928 saying “I pray God it may stand here through the ages as a testimonial to the people of this great commonwealth.” The building was re-named in 1994 to honor Louis J. Lefkowitz, the state’s longest serving Attorney General.

Robert Pigott, author of “New York’s Legal Landmarks” had this response to the Mayor’s proposal: “Uplifting civic architecture serves the vital function of inspiring respect for, and confidence in, the institutions of government. The construction of a 40-story tower would deprive New Yorkers of one of Gotham’s rare public spaces commensurate with its standing as one of the great cities of the world.”

Act now and stand up for the preservation of one of our great monumental civic buildings.

*The LPC website is not updated, but your message will go to the new Chair.