Landmarks rejects Mariners’ Family Asylum bldg.

Elected officials saw designation as obstacle to expansion of foster care facility. On November 20, 2007, Landmarks removed the Mariners’ Family Asylum building from its designation calendar, allowing its current owner, New York Foundling Hospital, to move forward with its development plan.

Built in 1852, the Italianate Villa style building was originally known as the Seamens’ Retreat and housed widows and other family members of New York seamen. Progressive in its time, it was entirely staffed and managed by women. Currently, the Hospital uses the building as a foster home facility, providing housing for 24 children.

At a public hearing held on October 16, 2007, a representative from the Hospital testified that the building was functionally obsolete, and that the Hospital’s expansion and modernization plans called for its demolition. The representative claimed that the Hospital was “not insensitive to notions of preservation,” but that “the needs of the City’s kids take precedence.” An architect also testified on the Hospital’s behalf, claiming that the building was not exemplary of the Italianate Villa style, and not worth landmarking since it had already lost its original cupola and added a modern fire escape.

Local elected officials supported the Hospital’s expansion plans and opposed designation. A representative for City Council Member Michael McMahon, whose district includes Clifton, claimed that the Hospital’s expansion would provide a “much-needed resource” for the community, and designation would impede expansion because renovating the building is cost-prohibitive.

A few preservationists advocated on behalf of the building. Nadezhda Williams of the Historic Districts Council compared it to the East Village’s P.S. 64 building, which Landmarks recognized as a “unique contributor” to the City’s history and designated last year despite it losing some original details. Linda Eskenas of the Preservation League of Staten Island also supported designation, calling the building a cultural and historical landmark.

At the November meeting, Landmarks Chair Robert B. Tierney “reluctantly” recommended that Landmarks no longer consider the building for designation due to its “significant deterioration” and the “community consensus against designation.” Commissioner Pablo Vengochea agreed in part, acknowledging the political reality that designation would not be approved by the City Council without McMahon’s support. Landmarks then voted unanimously to remove the building from its designation calendar.

LPC: Mariners’ Family Asylum, 119 Thompkins Ave., Staten Island (LP- 2293) (Nov. 20, 2007).

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