Proposal for Whitney Museum block considered

Landmarks requested developer consider reducing proposal impacting buildings adjacent to the Whitney Museum. On October 18, 2011, Landmarks considered Daniel E. Straus’s proposal to alter and redevelop eight buildings adjacent to the Whitney Museum along Madison Avenue and East 74th Street in the Upper East Side Historic District. The site includes six rowhouses at 933 to 943 Madison Avenue and two townhouses at 31 and 33 East 74th Street. Straus purchased the buildings from the Whitney in 2010. The museum in 2005 and 2006 had obtained approvals from Landmarks and the Board of Standards & Appeals for an expansion plan that included building a Renzo Pianodesigned 178-foot tower behind the facades of the rowhouses on Madison Avenue. 3 CityLand 122 (Sept. 15, 2006). The Whitney, however, abandoned the project and instead decided to build a new museum facility in the Meatpacking District.

Architect Richard Metsky, from Beyer Blinder Belle, presented Straus’s plan. Straus planned to replace the heavily altered rowhouse abutting the Whitney at 943 Madison Avenue with a new infill building. A visible two-story addition would be built on top of the remaining five rowhouses along Madison Avenue, and the facades of the rowhouses would be restored. Straus would demolish a one-story infill building behind 933 Madison Avenue and a rear extension of 31 East 74th Street and build a nine-story residential building that would be set back 25 feet from East 74th Street. A one-story set-back rooftop addition would be added to 33 East 74th Street. The addition and new building would be clad in terra cotta to match the Madison Avenue rowhouses. Metsky said the neutral palette would not distract from the historic district and would become part of the background.

Valerie Campbell, Straus’s attorney, noted that while the project’s residential uses would be permitted as of right, Straus would need BSA variances to build the project. 

Manhattan Community Board 8 supported the proposed restoration of the rowhouses, but opposed the proposed new building and additions. According to CB 8, the project had too many parts and would be out-of-context with the district.

Preservationists found the proposal more appropriate than the Whitney’s expansion plan, but expressed concerns about the design. A representative of the Municipal Art Society testified that the project’s massing was appropriate, but found the architecture too mundane. Rita Chu, of Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, testified that the plan would be “a welcome improvement over previous schemes,” but urged Straus to come up with a more compelling design for the street-front facades.

A member of the Whitney Community Coalition argued that the additions would overshadow the Madison Avenue rowhouses, and that the facades would clash with the district. In contrast, Donald Gringer, president of the Coalition of Concerned Whitney Neighbors supported the proposal and Praised Straus’s restoration plan. The Commissioners found aspects of the proposal appropriate, but expressed concerns about the bulk and visibility of the additions and new building. Commissioner Michael Devonshire said that the terra cotta would be appropriately mundane for the additions, but not for the street-front facades. Commissioner Libby Ryan said said that the additions were too visible and would overwhelm the rowhouses. Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea recommended reducing the overall height of the nine-story building and the two-story additions and requested details on how the proposal differed from the Whitney’s previously approved plan.

Chair Robert B. Tierney asked Straus to consider reducing the project’s bulk and altering some design features, but noted that the issues facing the proposal were “not insurmountable.”

LPC: 933-943 Madison Avenue, Manhattan (12-4140) (Oct. 18, 2011) (Architect: Beyer Blinder Belle).

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