Hotel construction threatens Federal row houses

Disputed ownership of potential landmark property lent twist to hearing. On January 30, 2007, Landmarks held designation hearings on three Federal-style row houses at 94, 94 1/2, and 96 Greenwich Street in lower Manhattan.

Constructed between 1789 and 1799, contractors built the row houses soon after the laying out of Greenwich Street. They are among the few post-Revolutionary upperclass houses left in Manhattan and among the very oldest residences south of Chambers Street. The buildings still maintain original brownstone lintels and Flemish bond brickwork, despite significant alterations over the years.

Sam Chang of McSam Hotel Group purchased 96 Greenwich and the air rights from 94 and 94 1/2 Greenwich to build a downtown hotel along Greenwich Street. Chang intended to demolish 96 Greenwich to include the lot area within the hotel’s footprint. At Landmarks, Chang’s representative, Robert Davis, testified that very little of 96 Greenwich’s fabric was original, and Chang was willing to completely restore the facades of 94.

and 94 1/2 Greenwich if allowed to demolish 96 Greenwich. Architect Jean Kaufman, also retained by Chang, testified that the top floor addition to 96 Greenwich was out-of- character, and the bottom floor, currently occupied by the Pussycat Lounge topless bar, lacked any original fabric. Kaufman also presented plans for the facade restoration of 94 and 94 1/2 Greenwich.

Robert Kremer, owner of the Pussycat, then took the podium, claiming that Chang purchased 96 Greenwich fraudulently, and that he owned the building. Kremer testified that he supported designation for all three buildings, and if litigation ended in his favor, he would completely restore 96 Greenwich. Robert Malamud spoke in support of Kremer, stating that the row houses represented three centuries of the city’s life, they survived September 11th, and it would be “ludicrous” to designate two of the buildings, but not the third.

Roger Lang, of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, testified that the Conservancy had advocated designation of the buildings since 2003. Acknowledging that 96 Greenwich lacked much of its original fabric, Lang pointed to several past designations, like the Battery Maritime Building and the Eldridge Street Synagogue, where the building merited designation despite significant loss of original details. Lang urged Landmarks to postpone any action until the parties settled the ownership dispute. The Municipal Art Society, the Society for the Architecture of the City, the Historic Districts Council, and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation supported designation of all three buildings. Simeon Bankoff, speaking independently, stated that the alterations to 96 Greenwich did not mitigate its significance, and “you don’t throw out Grandma because she’s got new teeth.”

The uncertainty surrounding 96 Greenwich compelled Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz to state that the ownership dispute was not part of Landmarks’ consideration. Commission Chair Robert B. Tierney closed the hearing without further comments.

LPC: 94 Greenwich Street House, 94 Greenwich Street (LP-2218); 94 1/2 Greenwich Street House, 94 1/2 Greenwich Street (LP-2219); 96 Greenwich Street House, 96 Greenwich Street (LP- 2220) (Jan. 30, 2007).

CITYLANDComment: Kremer and Chang’s litigation over ownership of 96 Greenwich is before Justice Edward H. Lehner in the New York County Supreme Court. In his complaint, Kremer claims that the sale to Chang is invalid because he is partial owner of the building and was not made a party to the sale. Kremer also alleges that the Pussycat Lounge lease gives him a right of first refusal to purchase the entire building.

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