In 2006, a doctor involved in a bitter divorce destroyed his four-story townhouse on the Upper East Side. Now, there is a new approved proposal for what will fill the vacant lot.
On Tuesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved a proposal for a five-story, single-family home at 34 East 62nd Street. That’s on the south side of the street between Park and Madison avenues, and located in the Upper East Side Historic District.
The previous occupant was built in 1882 by L.D. Russell and J.B. Wray. The explosion that destroyed it also killed the doctor, earning him the nickname “Dr. Boom.” In 2007, the LPC approved a new building for the site, but that was never constructed.
The new proposal was presented by preservation consultant Jørgen Cleemann of Higgins Quasebarth & Partners and by design architect Henry Jessup of Financial District-based H.S. Jessup Architecture. It is decidedly less modern that the proposal approved in 2007.
Cleemann said the design draws on district elements, such as light stone, mansard roofs, dormers (some with copper cladding), and second floors that take visual priority over the actual entrance. Jessup noted that among the planned materials are granite for the base, limestone, and brick for the side and rear facades. Plans indicate an elevator and five bedrooms, including a master suite that will occupy the entire fifth floor.
Commissioner Frederick Bland said he would not have chosen this style, but the owner does have some say in the matter. The question for Bland was whether the chosen style was executed effectively. He said it was done “extraordinarily well.” However, he’d like to see more detail.
Commissioner Michael Devonshire said the windows were essentially too ornate for such a largely minimalist façade. “That’s what separates the men from the boys,” he said of the execution. He opined on the idea of laziness versus replication.
Indeed, public testimony supported that debate. “HDC finds that while the proposed design is not offensive and would be constructed of appropriate materials, it raises the question of whether it is appropriate to construct faux historic houses in historic districts,” testified the Historic Districts Council’s Barbara Zay. “Introducing a design that is of our time or replicating the house that originally stood here would be acceptable strategies, but this house, while thoughtfully picking up details found in the neighborhood, does neither. The house might look like it has always been here, but we are not sure that would be an honest approach.”
Elizabeth Fagen of Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts echoed that, saying that the design is handsome and uses high quality materials, including limestone, which they found “refreshing.” However, she said it was a “missed opportunity” for a better and more contemporary approach.
In the end, the commissioners approved the project unanimously. However, they mandated that the applicant work with LPC staff to try and refine the design.
View the presentation slides here: