The new building would be the first new development in the historic district. On September 17, 2019, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to approve a Certificate of Appropriateness to construct a new five-story school building on a lot at 700 Gerard Avenue, Bronx which is located within the Grand Concourse Historic District. The lot, located on the east side of Gerard Avenue between East 153rd and East 157th Streets, is currently used as a parking lot and is above an existing underground subway tunnel. The new building would house the American Dream Charter School, a sixth to twelfth grade dual language charter school. Partners for Architecture is the architectural firm for the project.
The Grand Concourse Historic District consists of 78 properties located along or adjacent to a one-mile stretch of the Grand Concourse between East 153rd and 167th Streets in the Bronx. The district is primarily residential and there are two parks and several institutional buildings. Two of the institutional buildings are Contemporary style buildings with irregular massing and window arrangements.
The buildings along Gerard Avenue are a mix of revivalist styles such as Tudor, Renaissance, and Colonial Revival, and Art Deco and are mostly five and six-story residential buildings. The two buildings adjacent to the 700 Gerard Avenue lot are Art Deco buildings. The buildings are made from red or beige brick, terra-cotta, and masonry and have decorative elements including elaborate brickwork and decorated entry porticos with stylized piers. There has been no new construction or development in the district since its designation in 2011, making the 700 Gerard Avenue project the first new development within the historic district.
The new building would be a five-story Contemporary-style school building, rising to a height of approximately 125 feet, and would face the west side of Gerard Avenue. The first floor of the building would house the administrative offices, a refuse room, and the bike lockers. The second to fourth floors would house the classrooms and the fifth floor would house the gymnasium. The building would also have a cellar, which is halved to not interfere with the underground subway tunnel.
On April 30, 2019, Landmarks held the first public hearing for the application. Jacqueline Peu-Duvallon, Landmarks’ preservation consultant, and Steven Grasso, architect from Partners for Architecture, presented the application.
Grasso stated that the materials for the building’s façade were red fiber cement panel and beige brick. The fiber cement panel would start at the first floor façade and rise up to the fourth floor façade. The beige brick would be used for the fifth floor façade and vertically down the façade of the left side of the building, which would house the staircase. The square windows on the fiber cement panel façade have an alternating pattern by size, with the larger window at five feet and two inches and the smaller window at three feet and four inches. The square windows on the brick façade are two feet and six inches tall. The windows spanning the fifth floor façade are arranged in an alternating pattern across the façade.
The building’s base was made out of white stucco and is curved to accent the right side of the building which houses the refuse room and bicycle lockers. There would be stairs leading up to the school’s entrance to the right of the curved wall.
The Commissioners generally agreed that a new school building is needed for the neighborhood but stated that the design does not fit in with the rest of the district. They noted that since the new development would be an institutional building, its design does not have to exactly match the surrounding residential buildings; however, the Commissioners felt that the design starkly contrasted its streetscape. They generally stated that the building’s façade was too flat and lacked the articulation and the decorative elements seen in the Art Deco style buildings on the street.
Commissioner Michael Goldblum noted that the base’s curve should accent the entryway and not the refuse room and bicycle locker room. He also noted that the arrangement of windows on the building is “aggressively quirky.” Commissioner Goldblum also believed that the materials and colors are inappropriate for the streetscape, especially the use of white stucco on the entrance base that could potentially invite graffiti.
Commissioner Jeanne Lufty noted that the curved wall and entrance lacks “openness” which should be included for the building to have a welcoming school environment.
The Commissioners closed the hearing and asked the applicants to make modifications on their application.
On September 17, 2019, Landmarks held another public hearing on the application and the applicants came back with a modified application. The applicants made modifications based off the Commissioners’ comments. Jacqueline Peu-Duvallon of Landmarks and Rainer Schrom, architect at Partners for Architecture, presented the application.
Schrom stated that the fiber cement panel will be golden-beige and the brick will be buff-colored. The building’s base is curved at the entryway, will be made of light beige stucco, and the school entryway is more open. The windows spanning the fifth floor are aligned, larger in size, and are divided by decorative lines to give the façade more articulation.
The Commissioners generally agreed that the modifications allow the building to fit in better with the streetscape, especially commending the applicants on the modifications to the windows’ arrangement and the facade’s colors. They stated that the modified design resembles the “varied and eclectic designs of [the District’s] contemporary institutional buildings” and has decorative elements that relate to the features of the Art Deco style of the streetscape.
Upon these findings, the Commission voted to approve the application. The Commissioners noted that because this is the first new development in the Grand Concourse Historic District, their decision on the application will set the precedent for future applications.
By: May Vutrapongvatana (May is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019.)