Plan by West End Collegiate Church to Develop Adjacent Lot Approved

Architect rendering of the proposed West End Collegiate development. Image credit: CFA

Architect rendering of the proposed West End Collegiate development. Image credit: CFA

Demolition of existing building and construction of new residential tower generally supported by community and preservationist organizations. On December 8 2015, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to approve two applications submitted by West End Collegiate Church for the redevelopment of adjoining properties. The sites are currently occupied by the Collegiate School, from whom the church repurchased the property when the school made a decision to relocate. The plan calls for the demolition of the existing building at 260 West 78th Street, called Platten Hall, and to replace it with a new residential tower. The second application entailed the construction of rooftop addition to 378 West End Avenue, with other alterations to the building. The sites to be redeveloped lie within the West End-Collegiate Historic District Extension. Restoration work to the historic church and school, an individual landmark, was not included in the application, and will be handled at staff level.

West End Collegiate Church Senior Pastor Michael Bos said revenue earned through the development would fund the repair and restoration of the historic church buildings, and serve to sustain the congregation’s ministries. He noted that the church would be adjacent to any newly constructed building in the future and, as a church composed primarily of area residents, it was important to be “good stewards” of the neighborhood and the environment. Therefore, the church has so far decided not to partner with a developer, but instead retained it own architect itself to design a proposal appropriate for the site and the community.

Higgins Quasebarth Consultant Bill Higgins identified the three-dimensionality of the church and the interplay of different rectilinear planes in Dutch and Dutch-revival architecture as significant aspects of the site that inspired the design proposal.

CookFox Architects Partner Rick Cook presented the plan and said the design was inspired by the “cascading” series of setbacks that characterize the large-scale residential and hotel buildings of the Upper West Side, as well as the Dutch Revival Architecture of the church and its European antecedents on Delft and Ghent. While the new building would front 78th Street, the majority of its rear facade would also be highly visible over the roof of the church.

At the street frontage, a portion of the building would be set back at 117 feet, reading as a large square cut-out at the structure’s northeast façade. The western portion of the facade would also possess a series of setbacks, beginning at 163 feet. The setbacks would allow for more visibility of the sky than exists with the current Platten Hall. The setbacks would also allow for the creation of terrace gardens. Cook called the design “a very simple deep facade.” The building’s spandrel and bulkhead would be clad in dull zinc.

The building’s rear façade, visible over the roof of the landmarked church and school, would also be highly designed. The rear would be composed of vertical frames hearkening back to the rectilinear forms of Dutch Revival architecture. The deep facade would be arranged in multiple planes, in what Cook called a “cascading composition.” The design of proposed grilles was inspired by the church’s rose window. The rear would be clad in variegated red brick to hearken back to the façade’s history as a secondary sidewall.

The proposed building would have a total height of 210 feet, with additional rooftop bulkheads. Cook provided examples of other buildings of similar heights in the immediate neighborhood.

Cook noted that Platten Hall was identified as a non-contributing building in the district’s designation report.

The plan would also partially infill the empty space between the rear of the church and the sidewall of 378 Broadway, which was created when the original building at the site was demolished in the 1960s. The new infill portion would be set back from West End Avenue in an acknowledgement of that aspect of the site’s history.

The new work would be LEED-certified, and possess green roofs and other plantings. A sidewalk garden named the “Healing Turtle Island Garden,” facing West End Avenue, would offer space for contemplation and pay homage to the Lenape people who occupied Manhattan before European settlement.

The planned two-story penthouse addition to 378 West End Avenue, a Renaissance Revival style structure built in 1915, would only be slightly visible from oblique angles. The building would also be restored, with a new cornice and balcony. Existing one-over-one windows would be replaced with six-over-one windows, which Bill Higgins said were often found on similar buildings of the time period.

Landmark West’s Sean Khorsandi endorsed the proposal, finding it to acknowledge its environment, and to complement the historic district. Josette Amato, of the West End Preservation Society, praised the return of 378 Broadway to residential use. A member of the church’s congregation read a letter from Congress member Jerrold Nadler in support of the project, which stated that the proposal “fits well into the historic context” and “enhances the character of the historic district.” Landmarks Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said that Community Board 7 had issued a resolution approving of both the proposed demolition and the planned new development.

The New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Andrea Goldwyn said the proposed design was “appropriate and consistent” with the historic district, but argued that its scale and massing were excessive, and that it “crowds and overwhelms” the church.

Fred Bland said the proposal was among the best he had seen in his seven years as a commissioner, and urged its approval without modification. Bland found that the proposal “reflected a deep understanding of its context,” and would serve the site and the landmark much better than a “glassy background building.” Commissioner John Gustafsson commended West End Collegiate Church for demonstrating that “stewardship of the preexisting landmark doesn’t always have to equal greed.” Commissioners Diana Chapin and Wellington Chen concurred.

Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron expressed reservations. She found the Dutch-Revival precedents cited by the applicants to possess a “plainer assemblage,” and particularly objected to the side frames of projecting bays on the rear facade and multi-story frames. Commissioner Michael Goldblum also found the design of the south facade overly aggressive and domineering toward the church.

Chair Srinivasan, who praised the proposal as “sensitively designed” and a “very appropriate ensemble,” led a vote for approval after Commissioner Shamir-Baron agreed to support the project on the condition that her comments be taken under consideration by the applicants.

LPC: 260 West 78th Street; 378 West End Avenue, Manhattan (17-6916; 17-6917) (Dec. 8, 2015) (Architects: CookFox Architects).

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


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