New Six-Story Building Approved for Site Where Hotel Once Stood

Rendering of proposed building at 529 Broadway in Manhattan. Image Credit: BKSK Architects.

Rendering of proposed building at 529 Broadway in Manhattan. Image Credit: BKSK Architects.

Residents and representatives from the Judd Foundation oppose demolition of two-story structure for the development of a new six-story building due to loss of light and air space. On September 17 2013, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing, and voted to approve a proposal for the demolition of an existing building, as well as the plans for new structure located at 529 Broadway in the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District. The building will be six stories tall at the streetwall, with a minimally visible setback penthouse. The building will house offices, with retail use at the ground floor.

Higgins and Quasebarth consultant Cas Stachelberg, representing the applicants, testified that the location had once been the site of a prominent hotel named the Prescott House. The proposed new structure would mimic the massing of the lost building. The hotel, built in the 1850s, was demolished in the 1930s, and replaced with a two-story structure, which was re-clad with aluminum panels in the 1990s. Stachelberg claimed the existing building did not possess architectural or historical merit, and was not identified as significant by Landmarks in the district’s designation report.

According to Stachelberg, there had been a demonstrable “trajectory of taller height, especially along Broadway,”  and the scale of the proposed building would comfortably fit, leaving only nine sites within the district where buildings stand under four stories. He stated that the proposed new building represented both “better architecture and more permanent architecture” than the one currently occupying the lot.

The plan for the new building was presented by Harry Kendall and Todd Poisson of BKSK Architects. Kendall said the proposed building would be in the “spirit of technological innovation,” which defined the development of SoHo.  The building would be faced in cast cream-colored glazed terra cotta which would simultaneously allude to the masonry and cast-iron historical façades in the district. A glass curtain wall would stand behind the terra cotta façade.

The ratio of glass to masonry would increase across the façade, with windows growing larger from left to right, as the building would extend toward Spring Street, which Kendall said also reflected the evolution of architecture in the area. The building would have digitally cast lintels with designs based on the 19th-century lintels of the area. On the façade facing Spring Street, the six bays would have a consistent window pattern with projecting aluminum fins on the columns and spandrels. A projecting cornice would top the plan. A set back seventh-story penthouse would not be visible from Spring Street or Broadway, but would be slightly visible from Mercer Street vantages.

Representatives of the nearby Judd Foundation, at 101 Spring Street, spoke in opposition to the plan, testifying that the project would block sunlight from reaching the recently restored museum. Foundation Co-President Flavin Judd criticized the developers for what he called their “arrogant and patronizing attitude,” and said approval of the project by Landmarks would set a “terrible precedent.” Christabel Gough, of the Society for the Architecture of the City, commended the architects for the design of the proposal, but objected to the demolition of the existing building at the site, which she noted had been identified as contributing to the district in a previously issued certificate of appropriateness. Michael Gotkin, of the Modern Architecture Working Group, argued that the existing structure held merit and that an addition to the building would be more appropriate than its wholesale demolition. Representatives of nearby cooperative buildings and some residents also spoke against the proposal, saying the proposed building would negatively impact their quality of life, blocking light and air, and covering lot line windows.

Harry Kendall responded to the testimony by stating that the project was separated from the museum by a 25-foot gap, and that the Judd Foundation was surrounded by buildings that were equally tall or taller than the proposal. Cas Stachelberg said the building currently at the site was a poor example of Moderne architecture, and retained very little original material.

Landmarks General Counsel Mark Silberman clarified that the building at the site was not identified as significant in the historic district designation report, and the certificate of appropriateness had been inconsistent on the subject of the building’s architectural and historical importance. Silberman stated that the Commission had the discretion to determine whether or not the building could or should be demolished, and that Commissioners should directly consider the question in their reasoning

Commissioner Fred Bland was sympathetic to the Judd Foundation’s position, but held that protecting people‘s light and views was not the mandate of Landmarks, and that New York was a vibrant and growing city. Bland praised BKSK’s design and choice of materials, finding that it drew on the “rich context” of the neighborhood. Bland found that there was so little original fabric on the existing building that demolition was appropriate. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter concurred that the existing building did not contribute to the district and that its two-story height was inconsistent with the character of the district. Commissioner Michael Goldblum found that although the current structure was part of the milieu of SoHo, the district was not “frozen in amber.” Goldblum stated the high quality of the proposal helped him decide that demolition was appropriate, and that the new building would add more to the district than the existing one. Goldblum recommended that the applicant reduce the amount of signage on the project from that in their proposal.

Commissioner Joan Gerner similarly found that the building at the site had been “totally stripped bare” and that the new building would fill in a “missing tooth” in the streetscape. Gerner also recommended that signage should be reduced. Agreeing, Commissioner Michael Devonshire suggested that the applicants work with the Judd Foundation to find a mutually satisfactory resolution, and also work with Landmarks staff to ensure that the color of the terra cotta was not too white.

Chair Robert B. Tierney determined that demolition was acceptable and that the proposal “replaces it very appropriately.” He led a unanimous vote in favor of the proposal, with language inserted into the certificate of appropriateness to reduce the amount of signage.

LPC: 529 Broadway, Manhattan (14-7209) (Sept. 17, 2013) (Architect: BKSK Architects).

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