Testimony taken on three West Village buildings

Wide support voiced for landmarking of three 19th century Far West Village buildings. On November 14, 2006, Landmarks held hearings on the possible designations of 159 Charles Street, the Keller Hotel, and the Edwin B. Brooks House, all located in the Far West Village.

The merchant Henry Wyckoff built the Greek Revival row house at 159 Charles Street in 1838 on the site of the former Newgate Prison. Wyckoff built eight houses in the area, but only 159 Charles Street remains. The building was later used to house workers from the nearby Beadleston & Woerz brewery. Donald Olsen, a shareholder in the co-op that owns 159 Charles Street, enthusiastically supported designation, asking only that the building’s garage be carved out of the designation. Olsen told Landmarks that he lived through the neighborhood’s destruction and development, and that 159 Charles was “the last building standing.”

Hilda Regier, from the Metropolitan Chapter of the Victorian Society in America, urged designation, stating that the “history of the house reflects the history of the neighborhood: from an upper class family to dock workers and sailors to brewery workers.”

The Keller Hotel, at 150 Barrow Street, received similar commendations from Far West Village residents and preservationists. The hotel was built in 1898 by Julius Munckwitz, who designed several other buildings in the Greenwich Village Historic District Extension. The hotel, originally called the Renaissance Revival Hotel, served sailors when the Far West Village was a bustling maritime center. It remains one of few waterfront hotels left in the city. Ed Kirkland of the Historic Districts Council testified that the hotel was designed to be visible to sailors and ferry riders coming into the city and was intended to “elevate and redeem seamen above fleabag hotels and brothels.” Elijah Bender, the ten-year-old great grandson of William Gottlieb, the owner who passed away in 1999, testified that he “wholeheartedly” supported designation “on behalf of his great grandfather.”

In contrast, the current owner of the Edwin B. Brooks House at 354 West 11th Street, Susan Selkirk, vehemently opposed designation. Selkirk testified that she had purchased the building as an investment when it was “a boarded-up ruin” and “the only neighbors were garbage companies, and the only people on the streets were prostitutes.” While Selkirk was “delighted the City noticed the restoration,” she called landmarking “comparable to taking by eminent domain.” Selkirk argued that it was unfair that a consequence of her work was the denial of investment potential. Preservationists countered that the Greek revival style house, built in the early 1840s, maintained a well-preserved entrance, a notable cornice and Tuscan pilasters.

Landmarks closed the hearing without comments from commissioners.

LPC: 159 Charles Street House, 159 Charles Street (LP-2211) (Nov. 14, 2006); LPC: Keller Hotel, 150 Barrow Street (LP-2212) (Nov. 14, 2006); LPC: Edwin L. B. Brooks House, 354 W. 11th Street (LP- 2210) (Nov. 14, 2006).

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