Technical Assistance

Taking the Lead at Amster Yard

Taking the Lead at Amster Yard
Taking the Lead at Amster Yard

Amster Yard, located at East 49th Street between Second and Third Avenues, was the subject of community outcry last spring after some of its buildings were demolished. The Conservancy holds a preservation easement on the picturesque garden, which is surrounded by 19th-century brick buildings. Alex Herrera, Director of Technical Services, was the first to discover what had happened.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), with Conservancy support, approved a Spanish cultural group, Instituto Cervantes, to make the site its new home. The original proposal included replacing the least significant of the rear buildings with a new, three-story building, while restoring the remaining buildings and garden courtyard to their 1949 appearance.

On a routine visit to the construction site, Herrera found instead that most of the three rear buildings had been demolished. The project engineer had deemed them unsound and unsalvageable, but failed to notify the City or the Conservancy. Herrera immediately notified the LPC, which decided that the structures should be rebuilt in-kind.

Herrera continues to visit the site on a regular basis with representatives of the LPC to monitor the restoration work closely and ensure that the restoration incorporates the ironwork, plaques, light fixtures, and other elements salvaged from the original buildings. In addition, the Conservancy has placed an additional binding agreement to the easement that further ensures the property owner will abide by the approved designs and properly restore the courtyard. The easement, which runs the life of the building and protects against inappropriate alterations, is one of 20 held by the Conservancy.

With those precautions taken, the project was completed in fall of 2003. The Prince of Asturias, Spain presided at the fall, 2003 ceremony to inaugurate the restored and reconstructed Amster Yard. Once again, small brick buildings stand around a verdant courtyard, which now hosts lectures, art exhibits, poetry readings, language classes, and cultural events.