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West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers

West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
-Bergdorf Goodman’s, 744 Fifth Avenue
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
-The Crown Building, 730 Fifth Avenue
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
-The Crown Building detail, 730 Fifth Avenue
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
-Tiffany & Co. 727 Fifth Avenue
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
-The Vanderbilt-Bowne House, 35 West 57th Street
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
-The Bainbridge Building, 37 West 57th Street
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
-Calvary Baptist Church, 123-141 West 57th Street
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
-The Medical Arts Building, 57 West 57th Street, corner of Sixth Avenue
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
-Former Chickering & Sons Piano Building, 29 W.57th Street
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
West 57th Street is Under Siege by Developers
-Former 31 W. 57th Street - Rizzoli Bookstore

September 2015

The Conservancy is working to save the remaining historic buildings on West 57th Street, which is a street under enormous redevelopment pressure. Over the past several years the blocks west of Fifth Avenue have lost all but one of the historic mansions that once lined the street and recalled its first wave of development. Most recently, numbers 31 and 33 West 57th Street were demolished. No. 31 was the home of the Rizzoli Bookstore. The distinguished Chickering & Sons Piano Building, 29 W.57th St., designed by Cross and Cross and famous for its colorful Legion of Honor decorations on its roof tower is currently undergoing demolition. However we believe that it is not too late to save some of the street’s other architectural treasures.

Over the summer, Conservancy Chair Lloyd Zuckerberg and Director of Technical Services Alex Herrera, walked the street and surveyed buildings worthy of preservation and protection. There are many of them. Seven of the best were selected and have been formally nominated by the Conservancy to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for individual landmark designation. This process involves researching the history and significance of each of the buildings and setting forth a rationale for why it merits landmark designation. The formal application process is called an “RFE” or Request for Evaluation.

The Conservancy submitted seven RFE’s in hopes of saving the most distinguished surviving historic buildings on the street. The Seven are:

1. Bergdorf Goodman’s, 744 Fifth Avenue
2. The Crown Building, 730 Fifth Avenue
3. Tiffany & Co. 727 Fifth Avenue
4. The Vanderbilt-Bowne House, 35 West 57th Street
5. The Bainbridge Building, 37 West 57th Street
6. Calvary Baptist Church, 123-141 West 57th Street
7. The Medical Arts Building, 57 West 57th Street, corner of Sixth Avenue

In two of the responses the Commission revealed that it is studying 57th Street in conjunction with a larger Study of Midtown. The Conservancy welcomes this news because we have been urging the Commission for over a year to revisit 57th Street. Those letters, dated September 24, 2015 state: “The building remains currently under review by the staff as the Commission continues to evaluate historic resources in the Midtown area and along 57th Street.” The two buildings referred to are the Vanderbilt-Bowne House and Calvary Baptist Church.

The Commission rejected two of our nominations: the Tiffany & Company flagship building on the corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue and the Bainbridge Building designed by the notable firm of Severance & Van Alen. Obviously we disagree and believe that those two structures qualify for landmark status based on their architectural, aesthetic and cultural significance.

The Crown Building by Cross & Cross, and the Medical Arts Building by Warren & Wetmore generated letters stating that while the properties may merit designation, they will not be submitted for consideration at this time based on “our current priorities and could be reconsidered at a later date.”

Bergdorf Goodman is on the Commission’s backlog list of items. It was heard at public hearing in 1970 but due to the owner’s opposition at the time, no action was ever taken. Bergdorf’s will be reheard, along with 21 other backlogged sites, on November 5, 2015.

The Conservancy is on record with the Agency that we believe that these structures are worthy of designation. The Conservancy will continue to pursue these nominations beginning with testimony supporting the designation of Bergdorf Goodman in November.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission should work to identify the remaining landmark eligible sites within the small, defined area of 57th Street. They should then work together with the City Planning Commission to make sure that new developments do not continue to destroy extraordinarily significant historic buildings that New Yorkers value and want to see preserved.