Landmarks Rejects Proposal for Glass Façade Building in Greenwich Village Historic District

Corner view of proposed 21 Greenwich Rendering Image Credit: Landmarks

Commission would like to see more masonry to help building remain in context. On October 8, 2019, the Landmarks Preservation Commission heard an application for a Certificate of Appropriateness to demolish a one-story extension and construct a new five-story residential building with a rooftop addition, on a corner three-story mixed-use building. The application also seeks to restore the three-story corner building. The proposed building and addition is located at 21 Greenwich Avenue within the Greenwich Village Historic District in Manhattan.

The Greenwich Village Historic District is geographically located in Manhattan between the present downtown financial center and the midtown business center. The district contains a variety of architecture, including Federal-style rowhouses dating to the early 19th century, and a variety of tenements built before and after the Civil War. The principal styles, represented by the largest number of buildings are Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, French Second Empire, Neo-Grec and Queen Anne. The streets offer a delightful mixture of these styles, while with each style there is a variety of designs. The district is further characterized by predominantly low building heights, and the use of material such as brick and brownstone, the symmetrical placement of windows and other qualities that have the authentic flavor of the periods represented. Significant structures in the extension include the flatiron-shaped Varitype Building and Our Lady of Pompeii Church.

The proposed extension is situated on the corner of Greenwich Avenue and West 10th Street. Bordering the one story extension to the right is a three story, brick façade rowhouse. The majority of buildings on West 10th Street, between Waverly Place and Greenwich Avenue, are four to five-story buildings with brick and masonry elements. Across Greenwich Avenue, to the north, is Jefferson Market Library and Jefferson Market Garden. Just south of the site on Greenwich Avenue is a five-story mixed-use brownstone, a one-story commercial building and just further south, a 16-story mixed-use building. Across the street on the other corner of West 10th street and Greenwich Avenue, is a fifteen story, 149 Unit, mixed-use residential building.

The lot currently houses a three-story mixed-use building, with one a one-story commercial extension on the back portion. The three-story building contains a storefront on the first floor, and has a brick façade with a faded black cornice. The one story-extension facing West 10th Street, continues the brick façade and has two large storefront windows.

The proposed design demolishes the one-story extension in its entirety and restores the corner building to its 1926 original form. This restoration includes a new aluminum and wood cornice to replace the existing painted wood storefront cornice and signage band. The restoration also matches the new brick to the existing brick. The restoration of the corner building received full support from the commission.

The proposed five-story residential building where the one-story extension once stood stands to be one of the most contemporary in the neighborhood. The infill façade features black ornamental metal and semi-opaque screen glass separating the façade from the unit windows. The steel and glass screen is purportedly intended to provide more privacy for the units. The first floor, which is the security gate level, incorporates a portion of the same brick from the corner building. The second and third floor make up one unit and the fourth and fifth floors are intended to be a duplex. The design also features a fourth-story rooftop addition that extends to the roof of the corner building. The front facing semi-opaque face continues up the entire façade, whereas the sides of the rooftop addition feature gray cement board.

The architects on the project are Higgins Quasebarth & Partners, LLC. During the presentation the applicants quoted the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission Designation Report stating “Greenwich Village is the only surviving section of Manhattan where one can see the major architectural styles of the early City displayed, side by side, ranging from the most naïve to the most sophisticated versions.” With this philosophy, the applicants argued that they show respect to the district by providing contrast. They stated that think they have relocated a theme that exists throughout the village, pointing to the existence of balconies.

Street View Rendering Image Credit: Landmarks

There was considerable discussion amongst commissioners whether the proposed design was for a new building, or for an addition. The distinction can often weigh on the appropriateness of the scale and massing. The ultimate conclusion was that the building was an addition and the added height was inappropriate. The commission recommended the height be reduced by at least one story.

The commissioners were generally against the façade as currently contemplated. The opaque, acid-etched glass did not appear to be in context with the rest of the district. A few commissioners spoke to this disconnect between this proposed design and the rest of the buildings in Greenwich Village. Commissioner John Gustafsson saw the application as “one to be prevented, not one to be sought.” Commissioner Michael Goldblum called the façade “unusual” but admitted it could be more effective if integrated with a masonry context. Ultimately, the Commission recommended returning with much more masonry, similar to the brick accents on the first floor. Adding more masonry elements would help work the building into the intimateness of West 10th Street.

The public shared these same sentiments. The Commission received seven emails, 105 letters, and a joint letter from State Senator Brad Hoylman, U.S. Congressman Jerry Nadler, State Assembly Member Deborah Glick and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in opposition of the proposal and supporting the community’s position.  Manhattan Community Board 2 sent a resolution recommending denial of the demolition and denial of the proposed extension.

Contemplating reduced height and the façade recommendations, the Commission asked the applicants to come back with a design more connected to the area.

By: Jason Rogovich (Jason Rogovich is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019)



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