Con Ed opposes designating West Side powerhouse


Former Interborough Rapid Transit Powerhouse. Image: LPC.

Landmarks considered designating building for the third time. On July 14, 2009, Landmarks heard testimony on the possible designation of the former Interborough Rapid Transit Powerhouse at West 58th Street and Eleventh Avenue. Designed by Stanford White, the Beaux-Arts style powerhouse is an example of the City Beautiful architectural movement influenced by the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Landmarks considered designating the powerhouse in 1979 and 1990, but never called for a vote on the matter.

The Interborough Rapid Transit Company built the electric powerhouse to run the City’s first subway system in 1904. Con Edison purchased the powerhouse in 1959 and uses the facility to provide steam for numerous private customers. Although much of the original structure has been retained, five of the six original chimneys have been removed, with a much larger chimney added to the southeast corner. The building’s upper cornice and original terra-cotta roof tiles have also been removed.

Con Ed opposed designation. Con Ed senior architect Michael Corcoran argued that the building is not architecturally significant, emphasizing its lack of original fabric, particularly the chimneys and cornice. He also claimed that Stanford White only served as a consultant on the structure’s design and had little impact on the finished building. The powerhouse’s plant manager testified that the building was critical to Con Ed’s steam system. He said the facility needed to continue unencumbered, and expressed concerns that landmarking would prove burdensome and expensive.

Elected officials and preservation groups supported designation, including Jimmy Finn, of the Hudson River Powerhouse Group, who testified that designation would not hinder Con Ed’s ability to continue operations, and that Con Ed’s objections hinged on the potential negative effect landmarking would have on the property’s value.

Landmarks did not set a date to vote on designation.

LPC: IRT Powerhouse, 850 Twelfth Ave., Manhattan (LP-2374) (July 14, 2009).

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