When we last left the subject of 807 Park Avenue and the proposal for a new 12-story building there, there was no quorum at the Landmarks Preservation Commission. However, it did seem like those who were there liked the proposed building, but its future depended on whether demolition of the current building would be allowed. Things got more complicated on Tuesday, when there was a quorum (barely), but not a consensus.
807 Park Avenue was originally five stories tall and completed by the firm Neville & Bagge in 1899, when elevated trains ran along what was called Fourth Avenue. Sometime between 1980 and 1983, its height was more than doubled and changes were made to the original façade. Further changes were made in 2005, after it was purchased from Puff Daddy for $14.3 million (he bought it in 1999 for $12 million). In the end, all that remained of that original building was the façade and some of the curtain wall. However, when it comes to the façade, it is only the second through fifth floors since the first floor was cut away.
On Tuesday, Bill Higgins of the preservation firm Higgins Quasebarth & Partners gave another presentation attempting to convince the commissioners that the existing building doesn’t need to stay. He pointed to the “fragmentary experience” most people have when viewing 807 Park Avenue. He said they don’t see a fives-story building. They see the 12-story building. He pointed to there being six more genuine extant examples of low-scale tenement buildings, meaning what is left of the original 807 Park Avenue isn’t the last of its kind. He also cited the new building planned for 815 5th Avenue as precedent.
Architect Charles Platt of PBDW Architects, who designed the new building, said it is the job of a building not to deceive and he said that what we have now sitting on Park Avenue between East 74th and 75th Streets is a deception in its design. He talked about how you are not supposed to duplicate parts of an existing building in its addition.
Then the commissioners discussed the situation regarding the current building. The Upper East Side Historic District (warning! PDF) was designated in 1981 and the report refers to the building as five stories, but in between the writing of the designation report and its enactment, the changes were made to 807 Park Avenue. LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan affirmed the way to look at the building is as a 12-story building and that demolition may be appropriate (key word “may”). She also noted that the commission has allowed the demolition of “style” buildings in the past.
Commissioner Diana Chapin pondered the current contribution of the building and said it’s “not such an important contribution that it needs to be conserved.” Commissioner Frederick Bland said “only a fragment” of the original building remains, said that what we have now is an “amalgam of odd pieces,” and noted that even if you were to see it as its original self, it would still not be the last of its kind.
Commissioner Michael Devonshire called the situation “very troubling” and “extremely tricky.” He said he see the use of the term “fragment” as a negative. He said he does experience the original five-story building when he looks at it, but also noted that it might just be his “proclivities.” And he said he could approve demolition, but “with some reluctance.”
Commissioner Roberta Washington also called the situation troubling, though wasn’t sold on the contribution of the current building. Commissioner John Gustafsson could not support demolition.
That would mean that if they voted to demolish the building on Tuesday, it would have been by a slim margin and with three commissioners (Michael Goldblum, Christopher Moore, and Adi Shamir-Baron) not present. So, without hearing a second presentation of the proposed building, the applicant was asked to come back to the commission after exploring ideas of integrating what is left of the original building.
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