Proposal for Rooftop Addition Near Union Square Draws Opposition

Rendering of proposed additions on 860 Broadway, Manhattan. Image credit: PKSB Architects.

Rendering of proposed additions on 860 Broadway, Manhattan. Image credit: PKSB Architects.

Commissioner generally determined that an addition to an 1884 building was appropriate, but the design required refinement. On March 18, 2014, the Landmarks Preservation Commission considered an application for a two-story addition to an 1884 building located at 860 Broadway in the Ladies’ Mile Historic District.  The building faces the northwest corner of Union Square Park. The structure’s Neo-Grec exterior was heavily altered in the 1920s, and much of its original ornament has been removed. The applicants proposed to make alterations to the ground-floor storefront and build a two-story rooftop addition.

Sherida Paulsen of PKSB Architects presented the planned addition and alterations. The addition would be visible over two facades and would be composed of brick and terra cotta. Paulsen noted that the building had undergone many alterations throughout its history, and that the terra cotta band course at the top of the structure was one of the few remaining original decorative elements of the building. Paulsen noted that the building’s original architect Detlef Linau, one of the first architects to bring the mansard roof to the United States, had drafted an alternative design for the building that included a visible roof. Paulsen argued that a contemporary “bauble” on top of the building was not appropriate for the site, and demanded something “demure” and “contextual.” She said that the brick and terra cotta would create “softness” in the addition and the design would constitute a “layering of materials.” The addition would be in the shape of a mansard roof, which would be contextual with the “Parisian” mansards of the district.

The additions, which would raise the building to eight stories, would face the Union Square Park and East 17th Street. The additions would also be set back 100 feet from the 18th Street facade.  The addition would be used as residential space, and visible from public thoroughfares on the south and west. The plan would also include bulkheads, stairs, elevator, and mechanical equipment. Paulsen noted that there were other taller buildings nearby, including the Barnes and Noble building at 33 East 17th Street, which possesses an added mansard roof, but stands outside the boundaries of the historic district.  Paulsen also noted that the building served as the third location for Andy Warhol’s “Factory.”

Jack Taylor of the Drive to Protect the Ladies’ Mile District opposed the application, stating that the proposal would “dramatically alter the historic skyline of the north side of Union Square.” The Historic District Council‘s Barbara Zay argued that the “bulky” addition would represent a 30 percent increase in the building’s height and be “an affront to the building and to the streetscapes on both East 17th and Broadway.” The Society for the Architecture of the City’s Christabel Gough testified that the proposal would “completely obliterate” what little remained of the building’s original design and would block views of the adjacent McIntyre Building.

Commissioner Fred Bland said the extensive alterations to the existing building created “a license to be somewhat freer,” and that the buildings on Union Square were generally taller than elsewhere in the district. However, Bland thought the application needed further study, criticizing the proportions of the windows and dormers, and suggested that the applicants reconsider the use of terra cotta. Commissioner Michael Goldblum concurred that the site was appropriate for a rooftop addition, but found a mansard unsympathetic with the “austere, simple” existing building. Commissioner Michael Devonshire opposed the use of terra cotta and said the landmarked building should not be asked to host more than a minimally visible one-story addition. Commissioner Libby Ryan found the project to be conceptually appropriate, but agreed that there were problems with the mansard’s proportions. Commissioner Ryan suggested that the rooftop addition be set back from the 17th Street streetwall. The Landmarks Commissioners also asked for some small revisions to the storefront work, including the preservation of existing iron grilles.

Chair Robert B. Tierney stated that the site was an appropriate one for an addition, but the proposal required refinement. He asked the applicants to revise the proposal and return to Landmarks at a later date.

LPC: 860 Broadway, Manhattan (14-8061) (March 18, 2014) (Architect: PKSB Architects).

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

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.