ON THE MAP: Curbed includes Fight to Save the Frick in look back at 2015


Mapping New York’s 10 Biggest Preservation Battles of 2015

By Evan Bindelglass / December 14, 2015

The war to save New York is one that will never end, but every year there are battles won—and battles lost. A a garden is saved, but a view fades; residents of historic districts fight to preserve their neighborhoods’ charms, while developers argue that change will ultimately prove better in the long run. New York’s landmarks law also turned 50 this year, which gave these preservation battles a new sense of poignancy—few things get people more riled up, preservation-wise, than remembering what we’ve lost. Here, take a look back at some of the biggest preservation battles of 2015, some of which have been resolved—Pier 17’s pergola, for example—and some of which are only just beginning.


The Howard Hughes Corporation, in concert with SHoP Architects, is working to remake the South Street Seaport into a new destination for shopping, dining, and living. Three of the biggest controversies are Pier 17, Schermerhorn Row, and a high-rise tower. The new Pier 17 mall (which was already under construction) just got the latest go-ahead from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, but without a controversial rooftop pergola. Schermerhorn Row, the 19th-century hotels now home to the Seaport Museum, is where HHC wanted affordable housing, though their next plan has yet to be determined. Whatever it is, it will have to go before the LPC. As for the 42-story high-rise on the site of the New Market Building, that plan has been put on hold. Whatever the plan, the site is outside the South Street Seaport Historic District (though there are calls to change that).


What will become of the former Long Island College Hospital site in Cobble Hill? Developer Fortis Group has proposed two options: Both plans would have soaring residential components and a new medical facility. One plan, which would be as-of-right, wouldn’t have affordable housing and might have a dorm while the other, which would have to go through ULURP, would have affordable housing and a school and its tallest component closer to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Both would bring tall towers to the otherwise low-slung neighborhood. Many Cobble Hill residents are unhappy with either idea, with some being “shocked.”


The large development, featuring both a condominium and a hotel, is located just south of the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The location is important here: Critics and preservationist groups have rallied against the building, claiming that the building obscures the the view form the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. The group, Save the View Now, has taken the building's developers (Toll Brothers) and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation to court several times; most recently the group filed a lawsuit, along with the Brooklyn Heights Association, that's "seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to ensure that Pierhouse is brought into compliance with SV-1. But past decisions have favored the developers.


William Gottlieb Real Estate and Aurora Capital have a plan to significantly redevelop the south side of Gansevoort Street between Washington Street and Greenwich Street in the Meatpacking District. It includes demolition (and then new construction) and expansion of some existing structures—but, unsurprisingly, many neighbors are vehemently opposed to this. The Landmarks Preservation Commission heard the proposal from BKSK Architects in November, but the commissioners didn’t have time for their discussion or decision. They will come at a later date.


The Pavilion cinema in Park Slope dates back to 1928 and will continue showing movies for years to come, but as part of a larger residential development. Developer Hidrock Realty employed architect Morris Adjmi for the project, which will add a six-story mixed-use building next to the cinema (replacing the existing one-story building). The new construction will be rounded to match the shape of Bartel-Pritchard Circle. The initial presentation didn't fly with the LPC, but refinements got it through on the second try.


This greenhouse across the street from Green-Wood Cemetery dates back to 1880, though it was altered in 1895. The cemetery wants to restore the greenhouse and integrate it into a new office building behind it that would serve as a visitors center. Part of the new building would be within the boundaries of the designated landmark, which means the Landmarks Preservation Commission has to approve it. The LPC heard the presentation in July, but was uncomfortable with the design of the office building. But a follow-up presentation has yet to happen.


The Frick Collection is one of Museum Mile's most beautiful buildings, and one of the most charming parts of the former mansion of steel magnate Henry Clay Frick is a garden that is actually usually off-limits. Yet anyone, whether or not they pay for admission, can enjoy its serenity. But recently, the museum proposed a 60,000-square-foot expansion that would take over that garden space. Not surprisingly, it drew a mass of backlash and the museum withdrew its proposal. A new one has yet to be put forward by the museum, but any proposal will have to be approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission as the museum is an individual landmark.


This 1910 structure used to be Public Bath No. 7; became a gym in the 1930s; closed in the 1950s; and was eventually transformed into a theater known as the Brooklyn Lyceum. Its future, however, features one of the great terms from the preservation movement: adaptive reuse. Though it was already an individual landmark (which means it can’t be torn down or even modified without the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s approval), the latest move means that it has a real future. It will, once again, become a gym, thanks to LPC approval in July. There were reports that Blink Fitness would be the operator, but none of the presentation slides had the company’s logo.


The Four Seasons is one of New York City's most famous restaurants: It dates back to 1959, one year after its home—the Seagram Building, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe—opened. Developer and building owner Aby Rosen wanted to make changes to the restaurant, which is an interior landmark, and did so reportedly without telling the restaurant owners Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder. Those major changes: removing glass partitions from the grill room and putting back the planters that architect Philip Johnson himself had removed in the first place; removing a large walnut panel separating the pool room from the dining room to replace it with operable panels; and installing new carpet. (This comes after his controversial, and ultimately successful, bid to move a famous Picasso from the restaurant.) The carpet was no problem (and was actually approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission), but there was massive outcry against the other changes and the LPC denied them. The latest development: The interior will remain the same, but the Four Seasons itself will be replaced by a new restaurant helmed by Major Food Group will occupy the landmark space.


Not all stories have happy endings. Such is the case here. The Renaissance Ballroom housed a 900-seat theater and a casino in the 1920s and was a hot spot, but eventually fell into disrepair. BRP Development bought the site to replace the structure with a new apartment building. Not having landmarks protection, 4,500 petitions were not enough to save it and it was torn down in the spring.

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