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Conservancy President Featured at Landmark Lecture Series

April 2015

Conservancy President Peg Breen warned of serious threats to preservation, even as the City celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Landmarks Law. Her remarks came in an April 15 speech at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen Library.

She cited a citywide plan that would allow taller and bulkier buildings in contextual districts across the City. Contextual districts protect neighborhood character by regulating the height and bulk of new buildings. Residents often worked for years to gain these protections. Contextual districts often overlap with historic districts, she added. The proposal would put added pressure on the Landmarks Commission to approve buildings they normally wouldn’t.

Another threat is the proposed upzoning of Vanderbilt Avenue, across from Grand Central Terminal. Breen noted that a landmark quality Warren and Wetmore building at the corner of 42nd Street is already being demolished for a building that may rise higher than the Chrysler Building. She added that three other landmark quality buildings on the Avenue could be targeted for development if the upzoning is approved. These are the Yale Club, Roosevelt Hotel and 52 Vanderbilt.

“Do we want a giant wall of buildings across from the Terminal?” she asked

Watch the lecture below, thanks to the General Society.

Breen said the Conservancy is also concerned that development proposals at the South Street Seaport could threaten the oldest buildings in the historic district—-the landmarked, 1830 buildings of Schermerhorn Row. The Seaport Museum occupies several of these buildings and the proposal would put affordable housing in others.

“We’re not against affordable housing in older buildings,” she said, “historic and contextual districts across the City contain affordable housing. But we think that converting these non-fireproof commercial buildings would be very expensive and destroy the original material that has survived centuries.” She added that the proposed developer, the Howard Hughes Corporation, plans additional buildings outside the Seaport District, where affordable units would make more sense.

Breen said preservationists working with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer had offered what they considered a practical way for the City Landmarks Preservation Commission to deal with almost 100 buildings LPC tried to eliminate from landmarks consideration.

“We all believe these buildings deserve a hearing and a vote,” she said.

Finally, Breen expressed concern about proposed changes to the Four Seasons restaurant that would remove original material from the landmarked space.

“The Four Seasons is considered one of the loveliest interior landmarks in the country,” she said. “And the proposal would erode architect Philip Johnson’s carefully detailed masterpiece.”

Breen said individuals demanded the Landmarks Law fifty years ago. Now it is time for today’s residents to protect the economic and quality of life benefits the Landmarks Law has provided.

Click here to see photos of the 1892 General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen building including the General Society Library and the John M. Mossman Lock Museum.