Landmarks approved Tavern on the Green’s renovations

Tavern on the Green’s renovation plan. Image: Swanke Hayden Connell Architects and ARX Solutions Inc.

The City will renovate and restore 1871 building with eye toward casual restaurant. On February 21, 2012, Landmarks approved the City’s renovation plan for the landmarked Tavern on the Green restaurant on the west side of Central Park near West 65th Street. The Victorian Gothic building was built in 1871 as a sheepfold. It was converted into a restaurant in 1934. In 2009, the restaurant’s license holder filed for bankruptcy protection. The restaurant closed and its equipment and furnishings were auctioned. Tavern on the Green has remained vacant except for a temporary gift shop and public restroom. 

At the public hearing, the Parks Department’s Assistant Commissioner Elizabeth Smith explained that the plan would reconfigure the space to make it more “Parkcentric.” Smith said the City was seeking a concessionaire to operate a casual restaurant in the building. Department of Design and Construction Commissioner David Burney noted that the City in 2010 demolished the restaurant’s “Crystal Room,” a glass-enclosed dining area on the park-side of the building built in 1976, and restored the restaurant’s courtyard. Burney said the proposal would reveal the building’s original facade by removing the extraneous additions built over the years. According to Burney, the “wound” left after removing the crystal room would be filled with an all-glass, transparent box facing the terrace. The proposal also included restoring the building’s facades, windows, and dormers to their 1934 conditions.

DDC selected the architectural firm Swanke Hayden Connell to carry out the renovations. Swanke Hayden Connell’s Elizabeth Moss testified that Tavern on the Green’s many additions had more than tripled the building’s original 10,000 sq.ft. footprint. The proposal would scale back the building to 12,450 square feet. Additions completely obscuring the building’s western facade would be removed.

Moss stated that the renovations would return much of the restaurant’s original character and reopen the courtyard to Central Park. The building’s main entrance would be retained, but a new, ADA-compliant entrance would also be created. Moss said the building was in poor condition, and its slate roof and much of the masonry would need to be restored or replaced. According to Moss, the new glass structure with low-iron glass and stainless steel framing would interact with the courtyard and be as transparent and open as possible.

Kate Gilmore, from Landmark West!, supported the City’s decision to remove the building’s post- 1934 additions, but claimed that the building deserved “something far more sympathetic” than the proposed glass box. A representative of the Historic Districts Council agreed, saying that additional restaurant space should be created through additions to the building’s secondary facades.

Chair Robert B. Tierney summarized the positions of Manhattan Community Boards 5, 7, and 8 as broadly supporting the proposal. CB 7, however, strongly recommended that the City ensure the glass addition is integrated with the building’s original architecture and massing.

Tierney supported the proposal, finding that the glass addition would be a more appropriate addition than the crystal room. The other commissioners agreed. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter thanked the applicants for “finding the bones” of the building and appreciated the geometry of the glass addition. Commissioner Libby Ryan said the public should be “eternally grateful” for the proposal.

Landmarks voted unanimously to issue a favorable binding report.

LPC: Central Park, Tavern on the Green, Manhattan (12-8180) (Feb. 21, 2012) (Architect: Swanke Hayden Connell Architects).

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