New SoHo Structure Would Retain Cast-Iron Facade of Former Building

Rendering of proposed building at 74 Grand Street.

Rendering of proposed building at 74 Grand Street.

Original 19th-century cast-iron facade preserved and stored as part of prior demolition application. On March 19, 2013, the Landmarks Preservation Commission considered an application by SoHo Equities to construct a new building at 74 Grand Street in the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District. The currently vacant lot previously hosted an 1886 neo-Grec store-and-loft building, which was demolished in 2010 because it was structurally unsound. Landmarks granted a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition in 2009 after the owners agreed to disassemble the facade and store its cast-iron components securely, so that the retained elements would be incorporated into any future structure at the site.

Attorney Caroline Harris of Goldman Harris represented the applicants and explained that the historic structure was occupied by a co-op. After an adjoined property was excavated without proper underpinning, the Department of Buildings ordered the occupants to vacate the co-op, and then ordered the building’s demolition. She said the fabric salvaged from the original building was protected and stored in a New Jersey storage facility. The old facade would be reutilized on the new building, but it would be impossible to construct a replica of the original structure because the original structure was not in compliance with the Building Code. Harris said the proposal would integrate the historic material into the new building in a way that would “recognize that something happened.” She further claimed the design was “sensitive and thoughtful in integrating the history and the recent past” by putting a gap between the preserved facade and the rest of the new building. She added that “the design [was] consistent with surrounding buildings,” and was supported by numerous architects whose letters were submitted to Landmarks. The project will require waivers for ground floor commercial use and residential use on the upper stories, height and setback, as well as for additional floor area.

The plan for the eight-story plus penthouse building was presented by Joseph Levine, of Bone/Levine Architects. He said the mandate to design a new building in a historic district using a historic facade was an “unprecedented and unique” project presenting “a variety of challenges.” He characterized the project as “caught between a pre-building code and the current building code.”

He said the new building would stand about eight feet behind the restored facade, “to achieve a reasonable measure of efficiency” and “mediate dimensions” between the old and the new structures. The distance would be filled by “green space open from ground to sky, with balconies for residents,” and the facade would be attached to the new building by a steel armature. He said the historic facade “remains the primary architectural feature of this new building.” He described the new building behind the facade as “modest, and honestly contemporary,” with a simple glass and metal facade that would not “compete” with the historic cast iron. He said the proposal “tells the story of the undermining and loss of the original building.” The floor-to-floor height of the new structure would not match that of the facade, because of the ground floor courtyard, ingress, and egress requirements, and because floor-to-ceiling heights would differ from the original building.

The side walls would be clad in red brick, and Levine said he expected the empty adjacent lot to be filled in the near future. He claimed the penthouse would fit in with rooftop bulkheads and other roof structures common to the district.

Rendering of 74 Grand Street proposal.

Rendering of 74 Grand Street proposal.

A representative from Manhattan Community Board 2 said the Board strongly recommended denial, and requested that the developer come forward with a new plan that “respects the spirit of the original building.” The Historic Districts Council’s Nadezhda Williams spoke in opposition to the proposal, stating “the cast iron deserves to be a true part of a building as was intended.” Christabel Gough, of the Society for the Architecture of the City, found the proposal disrespectful of the original structure and its architect George da Cunha, and said that “the original floor heights should be retained and the facade rebuilt retaining the historic proportions.”

Commissioner Michael Goldblum expressed appreciation for the difficulty of the applicant’s task. He found the proposal needed significant revisions before approval, and particularly needed to resolve the “disembodied facade” by finding a way to “knit together the old and the new.” He also said the windows could be better aligned with the historic facade. Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea appreciated the applicant’s efforts in the “invention of something new,” but agreed there was “too much of a disconnect” between the new and old fabric. Vengoechea also believed the proposal should be reduced by one story. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter said the new building did not relate to the historic district without the salvaged facade, and that the proposal left the historic facade “wafting in the breeze.” Commissioner Libby Ryan determined that the mismatching floor heights created a “discordant note in the historic district.”

Chair Robert B. Tierney asked the applicants to consider reducing the height of the proposal, as well as to further refine the design, and to return to the Commission with a revised proposal at a future public meeting.

LPC: 74 Grand Street, Manhattan (14-0893) (Mar. 19, 2013) (Architect: Bone/Levine Architects).

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