Governors Island signage and landscaping approved

Proposed welcome walls on Governors Island. Image: Courtesy of West 8.

Portions of Trust for Governors Island’s redevelopment plan falling within historic district needed Landmarks approval. On February 7, 2012, Landmarks issued a binding report approving portions of the Trust for Governors Island’s plan for the recreational redevelopment of the 172-acre Governors Island. Landmarks in July 2011 approved the Trust’s proposal to demolish six non-historic structures and landscape an area near the Yankee Pier public ferry landing within the Governors Island Historic District. The historic district encompasses approximately 92 acres on the northern half of the island. 8 CityLand 109 (Aug. 15, 2011).

At Landmarks’ hearing, Leslie Koch, president of the Trust, presented the plan, including proposed alterations to the portion of the island outside the historic district’s boundaries. Koch said the Trust’s broad goal was to create a world-class public space by expanding public access to and within the island, while also encouraging the reuse of existing historic structures and creating opportunities for appropriate mixed-use development.  

The portions of the Trust’s plan needing Landmarks’ approval consisted of new amenities such as seating and lighting, as well as work at two of the island’s ferry landings: Soissons Landing, serving visitors from Manhattan, and Yankee Pier, serving visitors from Brooklyn. Large-scale metal gates with viewthrough, cut-out lettering, referred to as “welcome walls,” would greet visitors at the both ferry landings. The Trust plans to install similar way-finding signs along pathways throughout the island.

The Trust would need to alter the grades near the landings to make them handicapped- accessible. In an area on the island’s southern edge, known as the South Battery, the Trust would slightly modify the topography and replace an asphalt lot with grass. The Trust intends to incorporate public art throughout the island. One permanent art installation would consist of strategically placed speakers that would play tones from “Taps” at the end of the day, in reference to Governors Island’s military heritage.

At the southern border of the historic district lies the McKim Mead & White-designed Liggett Hall. The Hall features an arched pathway leading to Liggett Terrace and the southeast portion of the island. The Trust plans to redevelop the mostly paved Terrace into a six-acre courtyard with landscaped pathways, seasonal plantings, new lighting, seating, and food options.

Liggett Terrace transitions into what will be known as Hammock Grove, which lies outside the historic district. The seven-acre area will be landscaped and feature a dense planting of trees. Beyond Hammock Grove, the Trust will create the twelve-acre Play Lawn with two new sports fields. According to Koch, the work would be completed by fall 2013.

The Municipal Art Society and Manhattan Community Board 1 submitted letters in support of the Trust’s proposal. The Municipal Art Society praised the Trust for attempting to animate the island while exercising sensitivity towards its historic fabric. Christabel Gough, of the Society for the Architecture of the City’s objected to the landscape design proposed for Liggett Terrace, which she said was arbitrary and disregarded the symmetry and architectural form of Liggett Hall.

The commissioners praised the overall proposal. Commissioner Fred Bland found the project extraordinary, but suggested that the Trust reexamine the geometry of Liggett Terrace’s landscaped paths near Liggett Hall’s archway. Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea called the signage and welcome walls “refreshingly antiquated,” while Commissioners Roberta Washington and Christopher Moore suggested that some of the signs might be confusing to visitors because they would only be readable from one side.

LPC: Governors Island, Manhattan (12- 7224) (Feb. 7, 2012) (Architects: West 8, Mathews Nielsen).

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