A proposal to knock down the 11-story (12 on the back side) apartment building at 807 Park Avenue (between 74th and 75th streets) and replace it with a new 12-story building was unable to be approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday. Even if all five commissioners at the table had wanted to approve the new building, they couldn’t have, because a quorum was not met.
807 Park Avenue was originally five stories tall and completed by the firm Neville & Bagge in 1899, when elevated trains ran along what was called Fourth Avenue. In 1981 and 1982, its height was more than doubled and changes were made to the original façade. Further changes were made in 2005, after it was purchased from Puff Daddy for $14.3 million (he bought it in 1999 for $12 million). In the end, all that remained of that original building was the façade and some of the curtain wall.
Now it’s in the hands of developer Aion Partners, who (after several previous attempts to do something) hired Charles Platt of PBDW Architects, along with the firm’s Scott Duenow, to design a taller 12-story-building to replace it. What’s wrong with the building that’s there now? Aion says it’s too short. Most of the ceiling heights are below eight feet.
The project was presented primarily by Platt, along with Duenow and Bill Higgins, of the preservation firm Higgins Quasebarth & Partners. Platt called the project an “alteration.” Duenow pointed out that the lot is 25 feet by 75 feet, smaller than usual. Higgins pointed
out that there are plenty of breaks in the scale of Park Avenue buildings. Platt said, “[Nobody] has been able to make a working building out of this,” He added that only a “sliver” of the original is extant.
For the commissioners still in the room after the item got bumped to last on the agenda, the design of the new building was liked. Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said the “design fits.” Commissioner Frederick Bland loved it. Commissioner Michael Golblum found it appropriate.
If it was a vacant lot, it would probably have been simple. But it isn’t a vacant lot, so it’s not that simple. The problem is the remnant of the original façade and the commissioners, particularly Adi Shamir-Baron, were not ready to get rid of it. Goldlbum said we have to put perspective on the age of our buildings. “We’re not in England,” he said of the 1899 date, saying it would seem pretty new over there. But even Goldblum wasn’t ready to let what’s left of the original façade be town down. So, the commissioners asked the design team to look at retaining the façade for their presentation when they return and hopefully get a vote on the project.
Among over 25 community members present who delivered testimony, many of them residents of 799 Park Avenue and 815 Park Avenue, none were supporters.
“The demolition of a building in a historic district is a serious undertaking, and not to be taken lightly,” Michael Hall of Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts said. “The merit of the applicant’s proposed design is not a matter of consideration; the question is whether the existing building should be torn down. Friends feels strongly that the answer is a resounding ‘no.’” He added that demolition of this building would set a “terrible precedent.”
Kelly Carroll, Director of Preservation and Outreach for the Historic Districts Council, said her organization asked “that the applicant consider designing a 13th floor rooftop addition to attain their desired bulk, as opposed to demolishing one of the oldest contributing buildings in a historic district.”
Neale Albert of 815 Park Avenue said what the owner is asking for is like a child killing his parents and then saying, “Help me. I’m an orphan.” Elizabeth Ashby of the Defenders of the Historic Upper East Side said she remembered hearing of a time when the area wasn’t so nice and “bad girls walked good dogs.” Referring to the plan, phrases such as “senseless,” “too much glass,” “[no] compelling reason,” and “wanton destruction” were used. Of the existing building, they said “precious,” “hidden treasure,” “rare relic,” and “historic artifact.” Harvey Silverman of 799 Park Avenue said “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
What happens now? The applicant will return to the LPC with a revised presentation, and hopefully present when there is a quorum and they can get a vote.
For any questions, comments, or feedback, email [email protected]