ABOUT MERCHANT’S HOUSE MUSEUM
Through public education programs and exhibitions, restoration of its 1832 landmark building, and conservation of its original collections, the Merchant’s House Museum tells the story of the domestic life of a wealthy merchant family and their four Irish servants, 1835-1865, when the mercantile seaport of New York City emerged as a growing metropolis and the commercial emporium of America.
December 8, 2023
Sarah Carroll, Chair, and Commissioners
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC)
One Centre Street, 9th floor / New York, NY 10007
Re: Tuesday, December 12 LPC public hearing on proposed new building at 27 E. Fourth Street, Manhattan
Dear Chair Carroll and Commissioners:
Save Chelsea has grave concerns about the impact of the proposed new building at 27 East 4th Street on the adjacent Merchant’s House Museum at number 29—a landmark of national importance and one of the most fragile and sensitive in all of New York.
We call on the Commission to engage Donald Friedman, PE, of Old Structures Engineering to personally design, or review and approve, a detailed protection plan for number 29, and to regularly monitor and consult on its condition during construction. Mr. Friedman is a highly respected and trusted engineer and likely New York’s top expert on historic rowhouses.
Nine landmarked Chelsea rowhouses in the Gansevoort Market Historic District were recently lost as LPC suppressed Mr. Friedman’s opinion that the houses could be saved and his recommendations for doing so, which the Commission had paid for with public funds. It is apparent from the commissioners’ deliberations in the subsequent public-hearing that Mr. Friedman’s professional opinion and restoration plan were never shared with them.
In 2016, the Commission unaccountably failed to consult Mr. Friedman before deliberating on the oldest house in the Chelsea Historic District, 404 West 20th Street. Its new owner’s architect had made unsubstantiated claims that the house was at imminent risk of collapse and beyond salvage. As Save Chelsea notified LPC Deputy Council John Weiss, Department of Buildings records showed Mr. Friedman had recently signed off on some temporary bracing in the building. We pointed out to Mr. Weiss that Mr. Friedman was therefore the owner’s engineer of record, and should be asked to give his own account of the house’s condition to the Commission. Mr. Weiss responded that he had an open channel of communication with Mr. Friedman but didn’t need to speak with him because he’d been in the house himself with an inspector from the Department of Buildings and that no one touring it believed the house was beyond salvage. Taking the owner’s architect at face value and never hearing from Mr. Friedman, the commissioners accepted as a given that the house could not be saved. They approved a permit to replace all but its street façade with new construction, roughly doubling the original house size. Nearly eight years later, the original house still stands, apparently abandoned by the owner after he failed to flip it for one-and-a-half times his purchase cost on the basis of an LPC permit that stripped all but its façade of landmark protection.
The Commission is suffering a crisis of public confidence after losses like the Dangler House, 14 Gay Street, and the Gansevoort Market rowhouses. At this fraught time, it is critical for LPC to act transparently, accountably, and cautiously, especially when it comes to as sensitive a landmark as the Merchant’s House. This time, Donald Friedman should be involved and, above all, heard by the commissioners and the public. To provide everyone with adequate time for review of engineering reports, final deliberations should be postponed to a later date. Irreversible damage to this invaluable landmark must be avoided at any cost.
President, Save Chelsea
From the Merchant’s House Museum Website
Proposed Development Next Door
OUR VERY SURVIVAL IS AT RISK!
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