New Six-Story-Plus-Penthouse Hotel Would Lie Partially Within Historic District

Architect's rendering of the proposed 456 Greenwich Street. Image credit: Stephen B Jacobs Group

Architect’s rendering of the proposed 456 Greenwich Street. Image credit: Stephen B Jacobs Group

Landmarks asked for revisions to application to demolish 20th century freight terminal building and construct new brick-faced hotel. On August 3, 2015 the Landmarks Preservation Commission considered an application to demolish an existing building and construct a new hotel at 456 Greenwich Street in Manhattan. The lot under consideration lies partially within the Tribeca North Historic District. The existing structure at the site, originally built as freight terminal building in 1942, was heavily altered in the 1950s, and now functions as a garage. The building is identified as “no style” in the district’s designation report. Landmarks previously considered an application for the alteration and redevelopment of the garage in 2014, but the project has since been abandoned. The new building would function as a hotel, with ground-floor commercial use.

The lot spans the width of the block, from Greenwich to Washington Street, with its longest facade on Desbrosses Street. Only the eastern portion lies within the historic district, which includes the facade facing Greenwich Street, and a segment of the Desbrosses Street face side.

Higgins Quasebarth and Partners’ consultant Cas Stachelberg testified that the design would be uniform throughout the lot, though more bulk would be added to the portion outside of the historic district. He stated that the site is surrounded by five- and six-story 18th century warehouse buildings faced in masonry with cast-iron bases. He called the proposed design “clearly of the district, but also clearly of its time,” and said it would retain the tradition of textured brickwork and the governing “utilitarian aesthetic.” Stachelberg provided multiple examples of non-contextual short buildings in Tribeca that had been replaced by taller infill buildings with Landmarks’ approval.

Architect Stephen Jacobs, of the Stephen B. Jacobs Group, presented the plan for the new hotel’s design, which he described as a “contemporary contextual infill building.” The building would rise to six stories at the streetwall, with a one-story, setback penthouse, into which a rooftop pool would be installed. The new building, which would have two bays on Greenwich Street, and sic bays on Desbrosses Street, would be primarily faced in brick with, with metal and glass openings. Large double-height square windows would span the second and third, as well as the fourth and fifth stories on all three facades. The large square openings would be divided into quarters by aluminum replications of steel I-beams, and further subdivided into multiple smaller windows.  Jacobs said the contemporary nature of the openings prevented the design from falling into a false “historicism,” while the “heavily articulated” brickwork was also intended to reflect historic architecture in a contemporary manner.

The first story would be demarcated from the upper floors by a metal cornice recalling historic corrugated metal canopies of the district. The sixth story would have smaller, vertical windows similar in design to the “attic stories” of the district’s historic buildings. Multi-story mechanical equipment and bulkheads would be clustered on a portion of the roof outside of the historic district. A rooftop swimming pool would be built on the historic district portion of the penthouse. The penthouse and pool would be minimally, partially visible from public thoroughfares.

The Historic District Council’s Barbara Zay called the project largely admirable, but criticized the double-height open squares and their failure to align with adjacent buildings, as well as an excess of glazing. Sean McCarthy, a resident of 452 Greenwich Street, expressed concern about the ratio of glass to masonry, the height of the proposed building, and the mass of the roof accretions, which would be visible from his building. Attorney Scott Schweber, representing a resident of the adjoining co-op at 449 Washington Street, said the development would block light and air to the building, which lies outside of the designated district.

Manhattan Community Board 1 issued a resolution recommending approval of the project, though requesting that the visibility of the rooftop accretions be reduced.

No commissioners objected to the proposed demolition. Commissioner Michael Goldblum found the approval contextual in its massing and materials and the proposal would constitute an improvement over the existing building. Goldblum questioned the large square windows, but determined that the design fell within the boundaries of appropriateness. Commissioner Michael Devonshire criticized the use of sand-struck brick in the proposal, which he said would clash with the historic hydraulic, water-struck brick predominant in the district. Though slightly “cringe-worthy,” Devonshire did not find that the choice rose to the level of inappropriateness.

Commissioner Fred Bland suggested that the applicants use a stronger cornice above the sixth floor and also opposed the square opening for reasons of proportionality. Commissioner Diana Chapin found the large square windows “disruptive,” and advised that they be replaced with rectilinear openings.

Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan commented that she was glad to see a plan that would replace the existing garage with a streetwall building, and called it a “great improvement” over the site’s current condition. Srinivasan found the square openings integral to the concept presented, and said she was hesitant to ask the applicants to completely redesign the proposal. Srinivasan asked the applicants to refine the use materials and color in the proposal, and to reconsider the use of the sand-struck brick. The applicants were invited to present a revised proposal at a later date.

LPC: 456 Greenwich Street, Manhattan (17-2567) (Aug. 3, 2015) (Architects: Stephen B. Jacobs Group).

By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law)

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