Preservation Issues

United Palace Landmarked: End of LPC Backlog

-United Palace/ Loew’s 175th Street Theater

-Landmarks Conservancy Public Policy Director Andrea Goldwyn spoke at the event. Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, on the far left, announced his support for the landmark designation.

-Bowne Street Community Church, 38-01 Bowne Street, Queens

-Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) Building, Harlem Branch (now Jackie Robinson YMCA Youth Center), 181 West 135th Street, Manhattan

-Lakeman House, 2286 Richmond Road, Staten Island

March, 2017

LPC Backlog Initiative Concludes with Three More Landmarks and One Rejection. Landmarking of the United Palace and two other “backlog” buildings is now complete, while a Staten Island designation has been overturned. The City Council’s Land Use Committee voted to affirm designation of the United Palace / Loew’s 175th Street Theater, Bowne Street Community Church, and the Harlem YMCA this week, but rejected the Lakeman-Cortelyou-Taylor House on Staten Island. The United Palace vote was in doubt after local Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez’s comments on the impact of designation at an earlier hearing on the historic theater, but following multiple meetings between the Councilmember, the congregation, Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) staff, and the Conservancy, Mr. Rodriguez decided to support the designation. These votes come at the end of the lengthy “backlog” process, in which the LPC heard some 95 sites that had been on its calendar for over five years, some for decades.

Councilmember Rodriguez announced his support for the landmark designation of the United Palace at a March 22 press conference in the grand lobby of Upper Manhattan’s “wonder theater.” The Conservancy applauds Councilmember Rodriguez. This is a magnificent building that speaks to the history and culture of his district and Washington Heights, showing how terrific historic structures can be reused. We also commend the United Palace congregation for their care and stewardship of the property and we look forward to working with them.

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For the United Palace, this has been the last step in a series of events that began when the Landmarks Commission put the building on its calendar 47 years ago. After decades of limbo, the theater was part of the backlog review; the Conservancy testified in support in 2015 and again at the Council last month. At that hearing, Rodriguez raised questions about how designation would affect the historic theater, which has been the home of the United Palace congregation for over 40 years. Representatives of the church and the resident theater company opposed the designation. Conservancy staff worked to meet with church and theater board members as well as Rodriguez’s staff to discuss the benefits and responsibilities of landmarking. In the end, we joined Rodriguez, LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan, and members of the community to celebrate the decision to designate.

The Conservancy testified on each of the backlog sites at LPC hearings in 2015. We also spoke in support of many of the 27 buildings that the Landmarks Commission designated when it was time for their hearings at the City Council. The last group included the Harlem YMCA and Bowne Street Community Church. Recently elected Councilmember Bill Perkins agreed with the vote to designate the “Y” and Councilmember Peter Koo, who chairs the Council’s Landmarks Subcommittee, voted to support landmarking of the Bowne Street Church.

Only one of the backlog buildings, the Lakeman House on Staten Island, did not receive affirmation. Both the owner of the 18th century house and local Councilmember Steven Matteo spoke against the designation at an earlier Council hearing, and Matteo indicated that he would not support the LPC’s decision. The owner has vowed to maintain the property to a high standard, but it will not receive the same level of protection and guidance from the Landmarks Commission as the other backlog landmarks. As one of the oldest houses on Staten Island and the City as a whole, this rejection is something of a sour note at the end of proceedings that yielded 26 new designations.