Representatives and members of the Park Avenue Christian Church petitioned Landmarks to ensure that designation would not impede planned development. On February 11, 2014, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing on the potential designation of the Park Avenue Historic District, comprising 68 buildings in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The area is characterized by a predominance of early-20th century high-rise apartment buildings, as well as some low rise dwellings, individual mansions, institutional buildings, and later-period apartment buildings. The area was developed primarily for upscale housing, modeled after Fifth Avenue. If designated, the district would adjoin the Upper East Side Historic to the south, and share borders with the Carnegie Hill and Expanded Carnegie Hill Historic Districts. According to the Landmarks’ Research Department, the buildings in the district “retain a high degree of architectural integrity.”
Representatives of Council Members Daniel Garodnick and Ben Kallos testified in support of the designation. A representative of Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney voiced her “full-throated support” of “this iconic area of our city,” and a representative of State Senator Liz Krueger testified that “threats to this section of Park Avenue are not merely theoretical.” Representatives of Manhattan Community Boards 8 and 11 also recommended designation.
Tara Kelly, of the Friends of the Upper East Side, testified that five historic buildings in the area had been lost since 2010, when the request for evaluations was first submitted to Landmarks. Several area residents and representatives of local co-op boards and block associations testified that the architectural integrity of the neighborhood was being marred by inappropriate developments and alterations, and urged swift designation. Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City stated that the proposed district represented an irreplaceable piece of New York history and “cosmopolitan elegance.” Historic Districts Council Executive Director Simeon Bankoff read a letter from former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who grew up in the area, in which he called the neighborhood “a beautiful part of Manhattan” and expressed strong support for designation.
Numerous representatives and members of the Park Avenue Christian Church testified at the hearing. The church’s plans to develop a residential tower on the site of an existing 1960s annex, in partnership with Extell Development Co., has resulted in significant controversy within the community. Kramer Levin attorney Valerie Campbell stated that the church supported district designation, but was concerned about its impact on its plan to develop a portion of its property. Campbell argued that designation should not be used to delay or prevent the “thoughtful and well-considered plan” that would provide the church with a “solid financial foundation.” One congregant said the church struggled financially and the development would ensure its long term sustainability. Beyer Blinder Belle architects testified to the annex’s lack of architectural significance and historic material. The church’s plans were supported by the rabbi of the Temple for Universal Judaism, representatives of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, and the Reverend Calvin O. Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church.
David Brown, Director of Real Estate for the Archdiocese of New York, asked that the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola be excluded from the proposed designation, saying that landmarking constituted an “unfair burden.” Paimaan Lodhi, of the Real Estate Board of New York recommended the excision of 21 buildings from the proposed map, and said “designating properties that do not contribute to the proposed district is unnecessary and will only devalue the worth of a historic district.”
Chair Robert B. Tierney thanked those who testified, and closed the hearing without comments.
LPC: Park Avenue Historic District, Manhattan (LP-2547) (Feb. 11, 2014).
By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law).