Designation hearing held on Chelsea rowhouses

Lamartine Place/West 29th Street. Photo: Lacy J. Redwine

Proposed district among the few documented underground railroad stops in New York City. On January 13, 2009, Landmarks heard testimony on the potential designation of Lamartine Place as a historic district. Lamartine Place is comprised of 12 buildings at 333 through 359 West 29th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues in Manhattan. Built in the 1840s, the Greek Revival rowhouses were commissioned by Cyrus Mason, a New York University professor. It is believed that Mason named the development for Alphonse de Lamartine, an anti-slavery French politician.

In 1851, 337 West 29th Street was purchased by James Gibbons, husband of Abigail Hooper Gibbons, a noted abolitionist and prison reformer. Abigail Gibbon’s father, Isaac Gibbons, was known as “a father of the Underground Railroad.” Other residents of Lamartine Place included Samuel Sinclair, editor of the New York Tribune, and Joseph Hodges Choate, a lawyer and diplomat. Though the houses were set on fire during the draft riots of 1863, they remained standing. And despite some alterations, the rowhouses have retained much of their original fabric.

Testimony in favor of designation was unanimous. Representatives of Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried all testified in support, with Stringer’s representative stating that the buildings had survived turbulent times and remained as a symbol of the City’s abolitionist movement. Julie Finch, representing the 13th Street Meeting of the Society of Friends, called the district a poignant reminder of the draft riots and associated lynchings.

The Historic District Council’s Nadezhda Williams stated that since the buildings were near the Moynihan/Penn Station Redevelopment area, “the importance of safeguarding these houses that safeguarded so many others is heightened.” Following public testimony, Chair Robert B. Tierney read into the record a letter from Carl Westmoreland, of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Westmoreland advocated preservation of the buildings as a reminder of the “white, upper-class people” that stood with people of African heritage.

Landmarks has not set a date to vote on designation.

(CIT)LPC: Lamartine Place Historic District, 333-359 W. 29th Street, Manhattan (LP-2324) (Jan. 13, 2009).


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