Landmarks approves school’s expansion on Upper West Side

Stephen Gaynor School plans to expand and connect the Claremont Stables building on West 89th Street to its facility on West 90th Street. On March 20, 2012, Landmarks approved the Stephen Gaynor School’s proposal to build a rooftop addition on the individually landmarked Claremont Stables building at 175 West 89th Street.

Image: Mary Gillen

The four-story, 1892 Romanesque Revival Claremont Stables building is on the north side of West 89th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The Stephen Gaynor School, located behind the stables building on West 90th Street, is a private school serving children with learning disabilities between the ages of three and fourteen.

The school purchased the stables in 2010 to expand its capacity from 298 to 398 students and to accommodate a new pre-school program. The Rogers Marvel Architects-designed plan will include a copper-mesh encased rooftop addition and a connecting bridge on the rear of the building leading to the school’s existing facilities. The rooftop addition, which at its tallest would reach eighteen feet in height, would be used as a physical-activity space with natural ventilation. The connecting bridge’s design can be approved by Landmarks at the staff-level because only a small portion of it will occupy the landmarked site.

At Landmarks’ public hearing, the school’s attorney, Shelly Friedman, explained that the Claremont Stables building had originally functioned as a livery stable and then as a riding academy, prior to closing in 2007. The Stephen Gaynor School purchased the stables after the prior owner failed to convert the building into residences.

According to the project’s architect, Rob Rogers of Rogers Marvel Architects, the bulk of the addition on the stables would be toward the rear of the roof, with a smaller bulkhead built closer to the front facade. The addition, including mechanical equipment, would be wrapped in a copper-colored metal mesh. Marvel said the mesh would unify the rooftop elements and provide the added benefit of keeping birds outside, and balls inside, the play area. Rogers said the mesh would create a “shell of a silhouette” that would contrast with the solid masonry of the building’s lower facades. The addition would be partially visible from several street vantages, but existing brick parapets along the building would be raised to minimize the addition’s scale.

Rogers pointed out that the school will need a variance from the BSA to build the addition because it would intrude into the zoning regulation’s required rear yard space.

The Historic Districts Council and Landmark West! opposed the proposal, citing concerns about the proposal’s bulk. Nadezhda Williams, from the Historic Districts Council, testified that the current proposal, regardless of use, would be too visible and dilute “the impact of the Claremont Stables.” Chair Robert B. Tierney stated that Manhattan Community Board 7 and the New York Landmarks Conservancy had submitted letters in favor of the proposal.

The commissioners responded positively to the proposal. Commissioner Fred Bland found that the building’s adaptive reuse was evidence that “New York is alive and well and so is this building.” Commissioner Michael Goldblum said the expanded school would be an asset to the community, and argued that the addition was appropriate because the landmark was surrounded by larger buildings and institutional structures. Chair Tierney stated that the addition had been “sensitively handled and brilliantly designed.” The commissioners unanimously approved the proposal.

LPC: Claremont Stables, 175 West 89th Street, Manhattan (12-8788) (March 20, 2012) (Architect: Rogers Marvel Architects).

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