Site of proposed mosque near WTC decalendared

45 Park Place, two blocks north of the World Trade Center site. Image: CityLand

Owner of 1850s-era building, calendared by Landmarks in 1989, intends to redevelop site into thirteen- story mosque and community center. On August 3, 2010, Landmarks declined to designate as an individual landmark an 1850s-era building at 45 Park Place, two blocks north of the World Trade Center site. The five-story store-and-loft building reflects Italian Renaissance palazzo-style architecture and includes a ground-floor Corinthian colonnade, molded window surrounds, and second-floor balconets. Landmarks originally calendared the building in 1989.

The owner, SoHo Properties, purchased the property in order to demolish the building and develop a thirteen-story Muslim-led cultural center and mosque at the site, known as Park 51. Controversy has surrounded the proposed project, with opponents objecting to the siting of a mosque in close proximity to the World Trade Center site. The building was damaged by the landing gear of one of the airplanes in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

At a July 13 hearing, attorney Shelly Friedman, representing SoHo Properties, spoke in opposition to designation. Friedman testified that the building was “neither exemplary nor unique” and shared generic characteristics with numerous other buildings in the area. He noted that Landmarks had refrained from taking any action toward designating the property for more than twenty years. SoHo Properties CEO, Sharif El-Gamal, testified that the building did not meet Landmarks standards for designation and noted that Manhattan Community Board 1 had opposed designation. Nathan Riddle, from the environmental consulting firm AKRF, testified that the building was not an “exceptional example of the palazzo style” and no longer possessed any extraordinary decorative ornamentation.

Residents speaking in support of designation argued the building held special historical significance due to its close proximity to the World Trade Center site and because of the damage it suffered during the attacks. The majority of testimony in support focused on the site’s proposed religious use. Sierra Rose asked Landmarks whether the “families visiting [the World Trade Center site] need to hear chants five times a day?” Sara Hartman testified that she had nothing against mosques, but said it would be a mistake to tear down the building in order to build “a monument to terrorism.” Another resident said “Sharia law is not consonant with American values.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio also testified in support of designation. Lazio noted that Landmarks had recently designated a nearby Italian Renaissancestyle building at 311 Broadway, and he said 45 Park Place also “fits this description.” Veering away from the building’s architectural significance, Lazio alleged that the proposed mosque’s religious leader, Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf, had “spent time with some of the most militant international organizations,” and said it was time to take actions that would help keep the people of lower Manhattan “feeling, and actually being, safe.”

A representative of Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino said the building should be designated a National War Memorial and allowing a mosque at the site would be a “poke in the eye to every American who suffered” on the day of the terrorist attacks. A representative of Council Member Margaret Chin, whose district includes the building, said she supported CB 1’s resolution opposing designation. In a letter read by his representative, State Senator Bill Perkins noted that the City’s landmarks law had sometimes been misused solely for political consideration. Perkins went on to say that he opposed designation and supported “creating a new house of worship in our City.”

Chair Robert B. Tierney closed the hearing without a vote.

When Landmarks reconvened, Tierney recommended that Landmarks vote against designation, and said the building did not “rise to the level of an individual landmark.” He argued that the four nearby historic districts “fully express” the development of store-and-loft buildings in Tribeca. Commissioner Diana Chapin said the building was not designed by a noted architect and was not “an exceptional example” of the palazzo style in design or decorative features. Commissioner Christopher Moore opposed designation and noted that nearby Church Street had been home to numerous religious institutions. Commissioner Stephen Byrns pointed out that the debris field from the attack had affected hundreds of buildings and did not cause them to qualify for individual landmark status.

Landmarks voted unanimously to decalendar the property.

LPC: 45-47 Park Place Building, 45 Park Place, Manhattan (LP-2434) (August 3, 2010).

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