Landmarks Considers Nine-Story Project Adjacent to Manhattan’s Landmarked Merchant’s House Museum

Credit: SRA Architecture + Engineering

Opposition feared construction would adversely impact individually landmarked building. On September 11, 2012, Landmarks held a hearing on Gary Spindler’s plan to demolish a one-story garage and develop a new nine-story building at 27 East 4th Street in the NoHo Historic District Extension. The property is located at the northern edge of the historic district and is adjacent to the individually landmarked Merchant’s House at 29 East 4th Street, which is not part of the historic district. The Merchant’s House was designated as a landmark in 1965 (a portion of its interior was designated in 1981), and the building currently functions as the Merchant’s House Museum.

Adrian Figueroa and Edward Carroll of SRA Architecture and Engineering presented Spindler’s proposal. According to Carroll, the nine-story building would not be out of context with the block’s “eclectic environment,” and would match the height of the neighboring building to the west at 25 East 4th Street. The building would feature a tripartite glass and steel facade framed by limestone with red masonry on the visible eastern sidewall. Structural engineer Phil Murray, also representing Spindler, testified that they would brace the Merchant’s House’s western wall and excavate the lot in segments, using seismographs to monitor any potential impacts.

The Parks Department owns the Merchant’s House, and Parks’ Diane Jackier testified that the agency was concerned about, among other things, potential damage to the building’s historic interior. Jackier said the house’s masonry and decorative plaster interior require vigilant maintenance, and Parks wanted to ensure that adequate measures were in place prior to construction in order to protect the property from damage. According to Jackier, Parks had been in communication with Spindler, who had “been receptive” to the idea of signing a memorandum of understanding that would provide protections for the Merchant’s House.

Margaret Halsey Gardiner, executive director of the Merchant’s House Museum, argued that an adjacent nine-story building would “tower over” the Museum and “irrevocably damage [the Museum’s] educational value,” and asked Landmarks to deny the proposal. Robert Silman, a structural engineer retained by the Museum, testified that the historic plaster was “not in great shape,” and that there needed to be a “real study” before allowing demolition and excavation to go forward.

Local elected officials also expressed concerns about the proposal. Council Member Rosie Mendez testified that she was “greatly concerned” that the proposed development would be “detrimental to [the Merchant’s House’s] infrastructure and the precious and world-renowned collections housed therein.” Mendez recommended that any development on the site be limited to three-and-a-half stories and that the developer formally accept fiduciary responsibility for any damages to the Merchant’s House resulting from construction. A representative of State Senator Thomas K. Duane argued that no approval should be issued until the developers assessed all potential damage and undertook appropriate preventive measures.

Manhattan Community Board 2’s Doris Diether stated that the board found the building’s design “innocuous,” but found that its scale was too large for the street. Diether said the Museum should be allowed to approve any plan before Landmarks issues a certificate of appropriateness, and she also argued that the developer should provide financial guarantees for any damage to the museum. Other residents, preservationists, and associates of the Museum testified in opposition, largely focusing their criticisms on the project’s potential negative impact on the Merchant’s House.

Chair Robert B. Tierney closed the public hearing without comments from the Commissioners.

LPC: 27 East 4th Street, Manhattan (13-0884) (September 11, 2012) (Architect: SRA Architecture and Engineering).

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