On Cushman Row, a Win for Preservationists and Historic Districts

The LPC listened to testimony, then delivered a decision that pleased preservationists. | Photo by Sally Greenspan

BY SALLY GREENSPAN (Member of the Board, Save Chelsea)| On Tuesday, May 14, the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) held a hearing on the proposal submitted by real estate investor David Lesser for 418 West 20th Street, a Cushman Row house in the heart of the Chelsea Historic District. Number 418 anchors the west end of a magnificent group of seven matching houses built in 1840.

Concerned individuals, members of preservationist groups from throughout the city, and representatives of elected officials attended the meeting to speak in opposition to the plans, as submitted. As Chelsea Community News previously reported, the proposal called for the demolition of everything but the house’s street facade, sidewalls, and front roof slope.

The rear roof and wall of the building, with its wood-framed tea porch, would have been demolished. A new, lower cellar would have been constructed to extend beyond the existing cellar, over 29 feet from the main rear wall of the house—and new basement, first, second, and third floors would have extended out at various distances into the rear yard, breaking with the ensemble look of Cushman Row from the back.

Had these plans been approved, it would have continued the slippery slope toward facadism which has been spreading throughout the city, threatening our historic districts and the preservationist community’s commitment to preserve the integrity of our architectural history. But the LPC, led by Chair Sarah Carroll, patiently listened to testimony by elected officials, preservationist groups, and individuals—and came down on the side of genuine protection, by rejecting the most destructive part of the proposal.

These red brick historic houses of Cushman Row (W. 20th St. btw. 9th & 10th Aves.) have survived intact since 1840. | Photo by Scott Stiffler

According to Hilda Reiger (of Victorian Society New York), “LPC approved the front area which are mostly repairs, the owner’s proposal for the downstep from the street, but required repairs/restoration of other parts of the building. Most importantly, they denied the rear expansion. The tenor of the commissioners’ remarks following the hearing was that all were opposed to the rear façade destruction. Now, they are even requiring that the owner redo the extension granted in 2006 to conform to what was permitted. Apparently, this was not done. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a ‘split’ decision about a proposal—but a solid vote by the Commission. It’s a new day!”

Among those appearing before the LPC in opposition to the 418 plans:

Elected Officials

–Carl Wilson, from New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s District Office, accompanied by Asher Baumrin, from NY State Senator Brad Hoylman’s office, read a joint statement from Speaker Johnson, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, Senator Hoylman, and Assemblymember Dick Gottfried.

Preservationist Groups

Save Chelsea

Historic Districts Council

Village Preservation (aka Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation)

Victorian Society New York

Laurence Frommer, President, Save Chelsea, testified on behalf of the group. | Sally Greenspan

Civic Groups

Community Board 4

–CCBA, aka the Council of Chelsea Block Associations (letter in support of CB4 and Save Chelsea position)

Louisa Winchell, a research and preservation intern at Village Preservation, represented the group’s perspective. | Photo by Sally Greenspan

Individuals:

–Sean Morrison

–Wendy Solem

–Andrew S. Dolkart

–David Hemingway, on behalf of Carol Ott

Save Chelsea board member and CB4 member David Holowka, at the May 14 LPC hearing. | Photo by Sally Greenspan

NOTE: Contributions to our Community Voices section do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Chelsea Community News.

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