Artwork on Landmarked Building Stays

Owner of 599 Broadway applied to Landmarks for permission to remove three-dimensional structure on wall. In 1973, a three-dimensional structure created by artist Forrest Myers was bolted to outside support braces on the northern wall of 599 Broadway at the intersection of Houston and Broadway, within the newly designated SoHo-Cast Iron Historical District, at the intersection of Houston and Broadway. In 1997, after an engineer recommended that the northern wall’s braces, upon which the artwork was bolted, be internalized, the owner applied to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for a certificate of appropriateness to remove the artwork permanently.

In October 2000, following public testimony from the owner, the owner’s engineer, Forrest Myers, the Director of the Museum of Modern Art PS1, and the art critic Eleanor Hartley, Landmarks unanimously denied the application. Landmarks found that the structure was a highly acclaimed work of art regarded as the gateway to SoHo, and that its removal would adversely change the District’s historic character. The decision noted that Forrest Myers was one of the pioneer artists that had transformed SoHo into a recognized center of contemporary art.

The owner of 599 Broadway then sued the City in federal court, raising several State and Federal constitutional claims. Judge Deborah A. Batts upheld Landmarks’ determination, ordering 599 Broadway to restore the artwork to the northern wall. The court dismissed the First Amendment claims, finding that Landmarks’ determination was not an infringement on free speech because it was content neutral, the City’s interest in aesthetics was unrelated to speech, and Landmarks’ methods were not unnecessarily burdensome. The court also dismissed the equal protection claim, finding that, although there were three murals in the historic district, Landmarks had detailed several reasons for treating the Forrest Myers three-dimensional structure differently from the murals.

The court did not dismiss the Fifth Amendment takings claim because there was still a question about who owned the artwork. This action is still pending.

Bd. of Managers of SoHo Int’l Arts Condo. v. City of New York, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17807, 2004 WL 1982520 (S.D.N.Y Sept. 8, 2004) (Batts, J.) (Attorneys: Jeffrey L. Braun, for owners; Michael A. Cardozo, Gabriel Taussig, Virginia Waters, for NYC).

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