Applicants presented a plan with a reduced penthouse and modified storefronts, among other changes, with a bronze plaque memorializing those who lost lives in 2015 gas explosion. On August 7, 2018, Landmarks considered and approved a modified proposal for two lots at 119-121 Second Avenue in the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District. The empty lots, at the corner of East 7th Street, compose a portion of the site of a 2015 explosions, caused by an illegal gas set-up, that led to the deaths of two people, caused multiple injuries and destroyed three buildings. The project’s developers are Nexus Development Group, who acquired the property in 2017.
Before the explosion, two Queen Anne-style tenement building occupied the site to be developed.
Landmarks considered a plan for the site at a public hearing on July 10, 2018. Architect Morris Admi described the scheme for a six-story-plus-penthouse building, clad in buff brick, with storefronts at the ground floor. The building would feature wrapping windows at the corner, intended to interpret in a contemporary manner the special treatments on the corners of historic buildings at the ends of blocks. Custom L-shaped bricks, with a built-in recess, laid in a checkerboard pattern would be used on the bulk of the two facade, with brick corbel at the base and top story. The building would have four bays on Second Avenue, and two on Seventh Street, with a tripartite arrange of base, shaft, and upper story, topped with a cornice.
Nixon Figueroa, father of Nicholas Figueroa, who died in the 2015 explosion, asked that a permanent memorial to the explosion be incorporated into the plan, rather than a tree planted in his son’s name as the developer had offered. Community Board 3 and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation also supported a permanent memorial to the tragedy, created with input from the victims’ families.
Preservationist organizations also objected to the wrapping windows at the corners as reminiscent of 1930s architecture as inappropriate for the historic district, and asked that the visible penthouse and a roof bulkhead be reduced. Some speakers found the buff brick inappropriate, and recommended that a warmer color of masonry would better integrate with the area’s historic fabric.
Commissioners agreed that a permanent memorial to the explosion’s victims, possibly as a bronze plaque, was desirable. Commissioners found the general massing and design as appropriate, but determined revisions were necessary. Commissioners agreed that the windows wrapping the corner were incongruous in the historic district and that the visibility of the penthouse and stair bulkhead should be reduced. Some commissioners requested that the applicants reconsider the color of the facing brick.
When the applicants returned, they presented a plan that included a plaque on the proposed building’s northeast corner. Wording on the plaque would be crafted with input from the victims’ families. The zinc-clad penthouse was set back slightly on Second Avenue, and by approximately seven feet on Seventh Street, minimizing visibility from public thoroughfares. The rooftop bulkhead was also reduced in height by five feet. The revised proposal included a masonry corners, and more metal added to the storefronts.
Architect Morris Adjmi presented photos of the proposed brick, as it had been in the prior presentation, against similar historic buildings in the district, demonstrating that its color was not anomalous.
Commissioners agreed that the revised plan successfully addressed their concerns. Acting chair Fred Bland called the proposal “highly contextual but ingenious at the same time.” He asked the applicants work with staff on a rooftop railing, in response to concerns raised by Commissioner Michael Goldblum. Bland then led a unanimous vote to award the project a Certificate of Appropriateness.
LPC: 119-121 Second Avenue, Avenue (LPC-19-25061) (August 7, 2018) (Architects: ma.com).
By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a former staff writer for the Center for NYC Law.)