Plan to demolish two-story building’s facade rejected

52 and 54 Lispenard Street. Image: Mary Gillen.

Commission rejected plan to replace low-rise building’s facade and build five-story addition that would cross over to neighboring building. On February 7, 2012, Landmarks rejected a proposal to alter neighboring two- and five-story buildings at 52 and 54 Lispenard Street in the Tribeca East Historic District. The proposal called for replacing the facade and adding five stories to the two-story building at 52 Lispenard and adding two floors to the fivestory building at 54 Lispenard. Both buildings date from the 1860s and were recently combined into a single tax lot. The building at 52 Lispenard was originally built as a fivestory, store-and-loft building, but its top three floors were removed after a fire in 1937. The shortened structure retained much of its historic material, including a sandstone veneer and cast-iron columns. 

Studio JS2 architect James Schelke presented the proposal. Schelkle claimed that it was infeasible to retain 52 Lispenard’s existing facade because of its dilapidated condition. Schelke explained that rather than mimicking the surrounding architecture, the owner wanted to develop a more contemporary structure. The new sevenstory structure at 52 Lispenard and the two-story addition to 54 Lispenard would be clad in scalloped terra- cotta tile. According to Schelke, the tile would create a three-dimensional relief inspired by the district’s cast-iron architecture. The sixth and seventh floors would be set back ten and twenty feet, respectively, and would be visible at street level.

Neighbors on Lispenard Street and preservation groups opposed the project. One resident noted that 52 Lispenard’s “low height and idiosyncratic appearance brings a welcome variation” to the streetscape and criticized the proposal’s design as “fairly banal and commonplace.” A representative of Manhattan Community Board 1 testified that CB 1 had unanimously rejected the proposal. The Historic District Council’s Nadezhda Williams opposed the “loss of character of not one but two buildings.” Williams suggested that a project retaining 52 Lispenard’s facade and filling in the three floors removed in the 1930s could be appropriate.

The commissioners found that the demolition of 52 Lispenard’s historic fabric would be unacceptable, and would preclude any finding of appropriateness. Commissioner Michael Goldblum stated that the existing two-story structure should be incorporated into any project. In addition to his objections to the proposed demolition, Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea said the project’s overall height would be excessive. Commissioner Diana Chapin called the architecture “bland.” Commissioner Margery Perlmutter noted that this type of project, with an addition to a remnant building plus an addition crossing over to the neighboring structure could be possible, but that it would need to relate more to the surrounding district.

Chair Robert B. Tierney led a unanimous vote to deny the application. Tierney encouraged the owner to return with plans incorporating 52 Lispenard’s facade.

LPC: 52-54 Lispenard Street, Manhattan (12-6822) (Feb. 7, 2012) (Architect: Studio JS2).

One thought on “Plan to demolish two-story building’s facade rejected

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