New facade for historic district’s “no-style” building

Developer only needed approval for new building’s facade before demolishing existing no-style building. On May 11, 2010, Landmarks approved Orlandi Realty’s revised facade design for a townhouse at 12 East 76th Street in the Upper East Side Historic District. The five-story building occupying the site was built in the early 1880s and extensively redesigned in 1946. Orlandi Realty plans to demolish the majority of the existing structure and construct a new five-story building in its place. Because Landmarks classified the townhouse as a no-style structure in the historic district’s 1981 designation report, Orlandi Realty only needed Landmarks approval for a new facade design before demolishing the building. This requirement only applies to the Upper East Side Historic District.

At the proposal’s initial hearing in April, Bill Higgins, of Higgins, Quasebarth & Partners, represented promulthe owner. Higgins said the new five-story, sandstone-clad townhouse would be a “respectful, classical building” designed by architect Umberto Squarcia. The front facade would include a cornice and balustrade, wood-casement windows, wrought-iron balconies, and a new at-grade entrance. The new building’s rear facade would feature brick with stone lintels and would not differ significantly from the existing rear facade.

The proposal was met with opposition from preservationists. A representative of Friends of the Upper East Side said the group could not support the construction of a “hybrid contemporary-classical townhouse.” The Historic District Council’s Nadezhda Williams said the building’s details had not been fully developed or explained and called the fenestration “awkward.” Manhattan Community Board 8 submitted a letter in opposition.

Commissioner Fred Bland said it was “philosophically difficult to replicate today something from 100 years ago,” and Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea said the facade had “a certain flatness.” Chair Robert B. Tierney asked the applicants to refine the proposal.

At Landmarks’ May 11 meeting, Orlandi Realty presented the revised design. The revised front facade featured simplified metalwork, smaller windows on the upper floors, and slight modifications to the window surrounds and entryway.

The commissioners responded favorably to the revised design. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter said it was responsive to earlier criticisms and the building would now be better proportioned. Byrns reiterated his enthusiasm for the project, saying he was proud that Landmarks had embraced different approaches to new construction in historic districts.

Landmarks voted unanimously to approve the revised proposal.

LPC: 12 East 76th Street, Manhattan (10-4479) (May 11, 2010) (Architect: Umberto Squarcia Designs).

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