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Friday, December 23, 2005
'Landmark' Status Sought, For This?

Neighborhood activists recently rallied to preserve this two-story brick garage at Thompson and Broome Streets that was built in 1922 in anticipation of the Holland Tunnel opening nearby. The building's owner, the Donald Zucker Co., reportedly wants to knock down the garage and build an eight-story mixed-use building on the site.

For a garage, I guess it's not horrible. But that doesn't say much. The city's historic preservation process has resulted in a number of wonderful buildings being saved from demolition or alteration. For example, the Plaza and the Dakota are landmarks, and deservedly so. Somehow, this auto-oriented building doesn't seem to rise to the level of these treasures. Hmm, maybe there's something else going on here.

An article in Downtown Express points to what is perhaps the real issue: "Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P. director, said the garage is not only historically deserving of landmarking, but also important because the area has lost so much parking in recent years."

A-HA! So perhaps this dispute isn't so much about the architectural merits of the structure, but about the desire for area residents to park their cars cheaply. If parking is worth that much to the neighborhood residents, they could pay the building's owner as much as he would make from the proposed apartment and retail building (which unfortunately would have 117 parking spaces of its own). That would be enormously expensive though, so one can see why they've suddenly become nostalgic for this mediocre building.

The city is swamped with automobile traffic at all hours of day and night. The Broome and Watts Street approach to the Holland Tunnel is particularly choking. The city should do what it can to promote the pedestrian lifestyle that makes New York unique in the United States. The most effective way to reduce traffic is to decrease the supply of parking spaces. The city needs fewer parking spaces, not more. And with housing costs here among the highest in the nation, New York City suffers from a shortage of housing for people of every income level that is slightly alleviated every time a new apartment building goes up. From a citywide land use perspective, this garage should be torn down and replaced by a large apartment building. Housing prices would come down, traffic congestion would be reduced, and the city's unique pedestrian oriented lifestyle would receive a boost.

A special Starts & Fits e-mail correspondent wrote in recently to complain about two highly publicized historic preservation decisions: 1) the Landmarks Preservation Commission's decision in July that prevented Apple from building a new store that frankly would have improved a nondescript and forgettable two-story rowhouse at 136 Fifth Avenue that had once been a four-story rowhouse before the upper two stories burned down in 1960. 2) The City Council's decision a few weeks ago to not landmark Cass Gilbert's full-block warehouse at 184 Kent Street in Williamsburg, which the Municipal Arts Society is infuriated about.

Our frustrated correspondent writes, of the preservation process: "It landmarks things that it shouldn't, and then doesn't landmark things that it should!" Let's hope that Landmarks gets it right at the Tunnel Garage. Community Board 2's Zoning Committee's decision to allow the apartment building to rise is the right one.

- Development Sweeps Through Broome St. [The Real Estate]
- Preservationists dig in for fight on Tunnel Garage [Downtown Express]
- It's Time to Park Your Motorcoach Elsewhere [Curbed]
- Apple battling community over design of third Manhattan store [AppleInsider]
- UPDATED: Build Different [The Real Estate]
- Post-Apple Flatiron Update: This Space For Rent [Curbed]
- City Council Tells LPC to Shove It on 184 Kent [Curbed]
- Austin Nichols Warehouse: City Council Fails Preservation Test [MAS]
- Posted at 6:38 AM | Permalink | Comments: 7 | Post a Comment |  

Completely agree about the landmarks and parking issues. As a former resident of Astoria where a large apartment building was going up on 21st Street and 24th Ave, I was pretty scared of how scarce parking would get once the building was complete. After thinking about the issue for some time, I ultimately concluded that the issue wasn't parking, it was transportation. To increase the number of residents and decrease the amount of parking in an area not served well by mass transit is like driving down a one way dead end. Instead of seeking preservation status and clinging to the past, they should be agitating for increased bus, subway service and other transportation improvements to service the growing population.

By peakguy, at 12/24/2005 10:32 AM  

Absolutely Peakguy. It's a cycle that feeds upon itself: Less parking leads to less auto dependency, which leads to better transit usage, which leads to better transit service, which leads to better transit usage, which leads to less auto dependency, which leads to less demand for parking. Your recent post on the subway's rebounding ridership after decades of decline is welcome news. The rebound is a result, in part, of new construction going up in the city that fosters density, like the building in question here.

By AD, at 12/27/2005 9:47 PM  

This building is worthy of historic preservation - but should be outfitted to a new use. It is a landmark moment in the Automobiling of New York, a regrettably sad thing, but historic none the less Think about it, 1922? This is perhaps one of the first parking garages ever. I'm not saying we should keep the parking, with the hideous billboard on the front, but architecturally & historically, its a pretty neat building. I wholly agree, with Less parking, and the slow suffocation of this city from vehicular traffic, but there are plenty of sites that should be demo'd (or built upon) b4 this little gem. Fuck the GV and their parking needs. This is about history, architecture, and what could be a beautifully renovated site in the Holland Hell of that area.

See my post on this building, before I was aware it was up from demo.


By Dave, at 12/28/2005 11:04 AM  

Dave, good point. Part of what makes this complicated is the aesthetics/architecture element and the land use element. Given recent architectural trends, I have a feeling the old garage is more appealing visually than the new mixed-use building would be. And oddly enough for a garage it feels nice to be around. It's warm, it's solid, it hugs the street wall and makes you feel at ease as you walk by. I'm impressed by your photos - a far more sensitive treatment than I gave it.

But successful neighborhoods with lively street life need density, by day and evening. From a land use perspective, the 8- to 10-story mixed use building, with apartments above and stores at ground level, would be preferable to a garage. The advocates I was complaining about would like to see preservation of land use as well as aesthetics.

If it's all or nothing, I'd rather see Zucker move forward with the plans as they are than a preservation of the garage as is. But in the ideal world, it wouldn't be all or nothing. How would you feel about a proposal that would develop an 8- to 10-story mixed-use building that preserves the garage's exterior?

By AD, at 12/28/2005 6:31 PM  

Starts & Fits' special e-mail correspondent, the one who complained about the landmarks process in the post above, wrote in to say this: so you're suggesting that andrew berman, head of GVSHP, is part of a
greater conspiracy to preserve parking. unlikely. i would find it more plausible if berman were using the parking argument to boost the chances for the preservation of this industrial structure. as we saw with the austin nichols warehouse, industrial buildings have a tougher
time passing muster in the landmark's commission. and underneath all the signage and graffiti, this is a fine building worthy of landmark status. beyond its historic merits, however, this building is worth preserving because, like many industrial buildings, it is eminently
adaptable and likely to yield a much more interesting development than the pile of cardboard that i'm sure your pal zucker had in mind. industrial buildings have been adapted into successful and attractive retail, office, and institutional uses. by contrast, most new buildings in the city, regardless of their use, tend to look like shit. it is new york's great fortune that despite its lack of first class
contemporary architecture, its preeminence during the past century has resulted in a building stock that still contains elegant historic buildings-- a building stock that occasionally surprises and engages pedestrians in its heterogeneity.
new construction, obviously, will
gradually erode the older portions of our building stock. therefore,
until we can figure out how to induce new construction of better
quality, i would favor encouraging the rehab of existing buildings
whenever financially feasible. if the ever-inept landmarks commission
is the only body charged with overseeing privately-financed rehabs of historic buildings, then our choices are to either have better people appointed to the commission or to create another agency. on a more positive note, i was discussing this situation with an architect friend, and she told me not to despair, new buildings are built so cheaply that they'll be lucky to last fifty years.

By AD, at 12/30/2005 9:35 AM  

Actually, what was completely missed by this report is that the ONLY reason why we raised the issue of the parking is becuase the proposed residential building for which the Tunnel Garage would be demolished is not legal under the current zoning for the site. In order to get permission to build the propsoed building the developer has to go to the Board of Standards and Appeals and PROVE that he cannot make a profit on the site under the current zoning, which allows parking, stores, a hotel, etc. We wanted to make it clear to the developer that even if he did demolish the building, he could be defeated in his quest to build the proposed replacement here. I am actually very pro-pedestrian and anti-car, and have worked hard with Transportation Alternatives and a variety of community groups to re-claim our streets for people not vehicles. It's too bad this report was so off the mark in that respect.

By the way, while I know it's not necessarily to everyone's taste, please take a look at what the building looks like now that the billboards have been removed at http://www.gvshp.org/SVblock489.htm -- a stunning early Art Deco work that really was a glimpse of the future in 1922. Sadly, the billboards were only finally removed by the owner in preparation for demolition, which has now begun.

Andrew Berman, Executive Director
Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

By Andrew Berman, at 3/11/2006 11:06 AM  

How can you say that the housing problem is alleviated a little when a new apartment goes up? The large share of housing today is well out of the reach of even the middle class-to say nothing of those making less.

In this city (I'm here for all of my 48 years) you have to be either welfare poor-or Donald Trump-to even hope to get a place.

By Greenpointer, at 8/28/2006 11:06 PM  

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