Designation of 157 buildings as new historic district supported by elected officials and many residents, while some property owners object. On November 29, 2016, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing on the possible designation of the Sullivan Thompson Historic District, composed of approximately 157 properties south of Washington Square Park and east of Seventh Avenue. The proposed district, added to the Commission’s calendar at its November 1 meeting, is characterized by two major waves of development.
The first phase took place in the early 19th century, with the construction of rowhouses throughout the area, generally in the Federal and Greek Revival styles. The second phase occurred between the Civil War and the end of the First World War, as the neighborhood was transformed by an influx of immigrants. The era saw the construction of lofts, tenements and institutional buildings. The history of tenement housing is readily visible in the neighborhood, with its example of pre-law, old-law, new-law, and reform buildings. Institutional buildings in the proposed district include the Church of St. Anthony of Padua and St. Anthony’s School.
The proposed district would adjoin the existing SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District and the Charlton-King-Vandam Historic District at points. Landmarks’ Director of Special Projects and Strategic Planning Lisa Kersavage stated that the defining period of significance for the proposed district was the early 19th century through the start of the Depression. The sporadic structures built outside of this period, with little relationship to the history of immigration in the area, would generally be considered non-contributing in the designation report. Buildings, with historic alterations, such as rowhouses reconfigured into multiple-family dwellings during the period of significance, would be recorded as contributing structures.
Council Member Corey Johnson said that the immigrant experience of the City and country reverberates through the neighborhood’s architecture, and said the unique features of the neighborhood would be lost to development pressure if not protected by landmarking. Johnson noted that the neighborhood had been recognized in the National Register of Historic Places. A representative of Assembly Member Deborah Glick said the community faced an “extreme amount of pressure from development,” and that the neighborhood was of high significance to the City’s history. A representative of Borough President Gale Brewer said the area merited historic district protection for its “unique working-class and immigrant history.”
Tobi Bergman, Chair of Manhattan Community Board 2, said the designation was a high priority for the community. Among the multiple local residents who spoke at the hearing, Anita Isola said the neighborhood was facing a “tsunami of development” and required immediate protection. Judith Stonehill testified that the district held an “unrivaled collection” of early rowhouses and tenements, and possessed a “rich history and irreplaceable character.” Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation Executive Director Andrew Berman said the proposed district was “not only undeniably in deserving of designation, but unquestionably in need of it.”
Joseph Rosenberg, speaking for the Archdiocese of New York, said designation would impose an “onerous burden on religious institutions,” and requested that Landmarks excise St. Anthony of Padua and other parish-owned properties from any designation. One local property owner said designation would bring down property values, and prevent him from renovating his building as he would like. Architect Judith Saltzman, retained by Prince Street Holdings, testified that two buildings owned by her client at 200 Prince Street and 202 Sixth Avenue should be listed as “no-style” and non-contributing in any designation. Another property owner said Landmarks should look at potential individual landmarks in the area, rather than making a blanket district designation. Jennifer Sale said that designation would take away rights from property owners, and was unnecessary as there was already tenement museum dedicated to New York’s immigrant history.
Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan closed the hearing, thanked those who came to speak, and scheduled a vote on designation for December 13.
LPC: Sullivan-Thompson Historic District, Manhattan (LP-2590) (Nov. 29, 2016).
By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law).