Owners oppose designation of Queens buildings

Owners claimed designation will force them to close their business or hinder needed repair. On March 15, 2005, Landmarks held public hearings on its proposed designations of two separate commercial buildings in Queens: the Sohmer & Co. Piano Factory building in Long Island City and Elmhurst’s Jamaica Savings Bank.

The six-story Sohmer & Company Piano Factory building, built in 1886 and designed by Berger & Baylies, has a unique mansardroofed clock tower, making the building one of the most prominent structures along the Queens East River waterfront. After it was calendared for designation, public hearings followed in 1983, 1984 and 1990; however, the building was never designated.

At the March 15, 2005 hearing, the Sohmer building’s current owner, the Adirondack Chair Company, opposed the designation, claiming that the high costs associated with a landmark’s upkeep would ultimately force it to close its Queens’ location. Adirondack’s experts claimed that the building had no significant architectural value and held no significant role in the city’s history. Both Council Member Peter Vallone, Jr. and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall opposed the designation. Council Member Vallone proposed designation of the clock tower only. The Municipal Art Society and the Historic Districts Council testified with others in support.

Jamaica Savings Bank, located at the intersection of Queens Boulevard and 56th Avenue, has a unique 116-foot long curved copper roof that rises from a low floor-to-ceiling height at its center support piers to a 40 ft. height at the Queens Boulevard facade. Designed by William F. Cann Company and constructed in 1966, Landmarks noted that the bank’s design, with its curved, winglike and pointed-edge roof, is similar to Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal at JFK International Airport, an existing city landmark. At the public hearing, the bank’s owner, North Fork Bank, opposed the designation, claiming that the building has persistent flooding problems, which may require an expansion for additional mechanical equipment. The owner argued that a building expansion, following designation, would be cost prohibitive. North Fork Bank also complained that the designation would effectively eliminate the lot’s remaining development rights, which it claimed remained at over 80 percent.

No date is set for a designation vote on either building.

LPC: The Sohmer & Company Piano Factory Building (LP-2172) (March 15, 2005); LPC: Jamaica Saving Bank (LP- 2173) (March 15, 2005).

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