district lw

Image via Landmark West taken from a slide at the meeting. Click to enlarge.

By Sasha Pezenik

The Landmarks Preservation Commission approved an extension to the Riverside-West End Historic District Tuesday that will give more than 300 buildings landmark protection — but the secrecy of the process and the eventual boundaries of the historic district map angered many locals.

lpc meetingThe LPC designated much of the area from 89th street to 108th street on Riverside and West End as an historic district, but the commission carved out parts of Broadway and other buildings that locals had initially thought would be part of the district (the commission had initially reviewed this district in October 2011 and had at that time included more buildings in it.) The changes didn’t sit well with the dozens of locals who showed up at the packed downtown conference room, waving signs with messages like “Government in the Dark,” and “No Carveout.” Some signs had skulls and crossbones, echoing an ominous map distributed by preservationist group Landmark West.  As we reported earlier, the commission had been remarkably quiet about the changes to the district in the days before the meeting.

This is the third section of the Riverside-West End Historic District, which now runs from West 70th Street to West 108th, and brings the grand total of landmarked buildings to over 1,200, LPC Chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan said.

Among Tuesday’s landmarked buildings was the Emily Dickinson School, P.S. 75, which local residents and elected officials worried would be left off the map. Indeed, fears for the seemingly redesign-ripe school were not unwarranted: in April, LPC officials had told the West End Preservation Society that P.S. 75 would not be included in the extension. Not wanting to disrupt the street’s “uniform nature”, the LPC said, Emily Dickinson won a reprieve.

However, loud hissing arose from the crowd as commissioners announced that the P.S. 75 playground, as well as three tenements along the same block, would conspicuously not be included in the extension. LPC researcher Lisa Keresavage said the buildings “did not contribute to the historic district’s sense of place.” This gives rise to apprehensions that a large-scale development could soon spring up in the school’s backyard.

New sections of the Upper West Side are now more vulnerable to development even though some buildings now available for revision were designed by the same architects as those in the still-landmarked zones — leaving a gouged map reminiscent of Swiss cheese.

The Commission did not include Broadway at all (that is, the stretch between West 89th and 107th streets); it is considered its own entity. “Broadway has predated the grid, it’s a vestige of geography,” one LPC commissioner asserted. Keresavage commented that Broadway buildings are not included (as they were at an October 2011 meeting) since new buildings on the avenue “create an uneven streetscape” and lack cohesion, saying “I think it’s mindful and fair.” Commissioners said they plan to “move to the Broadway concept” in the future. LPC Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron expressed wishes that advocates and the commission begin thinking about the avenue, and begin considering “a language for its designation.”

Even so, Peg Breen, President of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, later said that the Real Estate Board of New York specifically requested that Broadway be excluded from the district.

“They’re serving up the neighborhood to developers on a silver platter!” one Upper West Side advocate said.

Not every Upper West Sider agrees: one woman who has lived on the 104th and West End for 22 years and owns her apartment said she is frustrated with the extra red tape it takes to renovate once a building is landmarked.

Many attending the meeting, including President Breen and Executive Director of the West End Preservation Society Josette Amato, described their mixed emotions. “I’m grateful and relieved, but we went up against the big guns,” Amato said, mentioning her disappointment that parts of Broadway had not been included, “We had overwhelming support from our community, though, and from our elected officials – did you see all the letters?”

The friction is understandable. It’s an age-old tug-of-war, and ultimately somewhat subjective: preservation, or change? “The Upper West Side wasn’t designed all at once,” Jan Levy, member of the Community Board 7 Landmarks Committee, “But you have to look at context. I’m all for modern architecture – but some of these new buildings are vulgar!” though she added, “I’m hoping I live long enough to ride on the 2nd Avenue subway.”

Tuesday’s vote will go into effect straightaway, the LPC says, unless the City Council amends or does not approve the extension.

Meeting photo by Sasha Pezenik.

NEWS | 10 comments | permalink
    1. Lisa says:

      Ironic that a foreign company, LG, agreed to scale back its planned building on the Palisades of NJ in order to preserve the green vistas etc (article in today’s NY Times.

      But NYC neighborhoods are fair game for big “American” real estate.

    2. 50 years on the UWS says:

      Avi, Thanks a lot for covering this. As someone who has lived in the West Nineties for nearly 50 years, I care a lot about landmarking. At the very least, we need to make sure we don’t get any more ugly, out-of-context buildings ruining our views, like the god-awful Extell towers on Broadway. After seeing the WSR piece, I got lots of friends to write to the Commission and they forwarded my email to their friends.

      It seems strange to me that cities like Paris are so careful about what they allow to be built while in NYC, random developers and churches seem to be able to do more or less whatever they feel like.

      Do you think btw that something big will go up soon on Broadway between 93rd and 94th on the West Side? That would be an interesting story to report.

      Thanks again for the great work.

    3. Batya Lewton says:

      Great reporting. The LPC is a disgrace. The convoluted explanation was a boldface lie!!!!
      The Coalition for a Livable West Side believes that Mayor De Blasio’s REBNY backers are thrilled. We are afraid that this sell-out portends more deals done without Public participation.
      Kudos for WEPS and especially Josette Amato.
      Batya Lewton, President

    4. Barbara Weiser says:

      “serving up the neighborhood on a silver platter” is absolutely true. Odd that they have excluded Broadway here but not in the area below 89th, except properties owned by powerful retailers like the Zabars,. The fact that Broadway is excluded only shows how little they care about protecting and preserving the neighborhood.
      It is just being turned over to the developers. Utterly corrupt and appalling.

      • dannyboy says:

        the timing of this is indicative of the corruption.

        ‘Appalling’ is too nice a word

    5. Jeremy says:

      Hey West Sider. You guys always do a great job covering this stuff, but this article was awfully unbalanced. It’s not fair to imply that the actions and opinions of the advocates at the meeting are somehow representative of the broad opinion of “locals” (whatever those are 🙂 ), and some of the characterizations by the author sound a lot like Landmark West message points.

      Not a big deal, but unfortunate.

      • Pedestrian says:

        That’s because Landmark West is right. The LPC chair is following the Mayor’s lead. DeBlasio believes in ” government in the dark”. The public doesn’t need to know anything or have an opportunity to speak. We should just trust him. The LPC still has not provided the public with a copy of the report provided to Commisson yesterday and read publically. It is still not up on its website. If they are on the up and up why the secrecy?

        Government in the dark is the antithesis of democracy. Its wrong but its good for corporations, big money donors and the real estate interests.

    6. Paul RL says:

      WSR, which playground adjacent to PS75 is still excluded? There is the small one on 95th Street and a larger one (basketball courts, etc) on 96th Street.

    7. JANNYC says:

      LPC held a LISTENING June 23. The stealth version of the proposed and previously apprved HD was ignored. LPC is more likely to delete than designate. They are dewtroying our architectural and historic heritqge. For shame!!!

    8. adam i says:

      as a longtime Upper Westsidier and lazy reader, the thing I mourn most here is POOR GRAPHIC DESIGN. What happened exactly? The first graphic shows a proposed protected zone, the second a yellow ribbon or measuring tape??? C’mon people!