About two months ago, the Landmarks Preservation Commission heard a proposal to create a mega-mansion out of the rowhouses at 11-15 East 75th Street. The commissioners, and the public, were quite unreceptive to it. On Tuesday, the team representing Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, owner of the mega-yacht Eclipse and the Chelsea Football Club, returned to the LPC and found their revised proposal much more to the commissioners’ liking.
Before we go into the original proposal and the revisions, here, again, is background on the structures in question, located between Fifth and Madison avenues in the Upper East Side Historic District. At one time, all of the addresses were occupied by Queen Anne Style rowhouses. The ones at 13 and 15 were designed by William E. Mowbray and built between 1887 and 1889 and still are designated as Queen Anne style, though 13 was painted white. There was a whole row of Queen Anne style structures. No. 11 was designed by the same man and built at the same time in the same style, but, in 1923 it was redesigned into the neo-Federal style by Henry Polhemus.
No. 13 sold for $30 million, making it one of the most expensive homes sold in New York City in 2015. No. 11 and no. 15 sold for a combined $48 million.
The proposal presented in April called for removing party walls, largely restoring no. 13 and no. 15, changing no. 11 into a recreation of a Queen Anne style structure, completely redoing the rear façade in glass and bronze, and constructing a rooftop addition.
It was designed by architect Stephen Wang of Midtown-based Stephen Wang + Associates, PLLC, as architect of record, with work by architect Jacques Herzog of Herzog & de Meuron and done in consultation with preservation consultant Ronda Wist of Wist Preservation Associates.
It was the presentation of the front facades that really irked people the first time around and a major shift was made this time. Primarily, the façade of 11 East 75th Street will see some changes from its current condition, which is somewhat transitional with a previous LPC-approved restoration never having come to full fruition. But it will retain its neo-Federal style.
“It all sounds very easy, but it wasn’t,” said Herzog, who deferred to his associate, Olga Bolshanina, for most of the remainder of the presentation. Bolshanina said no. 11 will be restored. Its door will be on the left, while no. 13 and no. 15 will still have doors. Herzog said an artist will be hired to design the door of no. 13, which will be wide and positioned in the center, and will serve as the main entrance. No. 15’s door will be on the right. No. 13 (which is currently painted white) and no. 15 will both see restorations. There will also be a 104-inch-tall fence in front of the property.
The keys to the front are that the three structures will present as such, despite their being part of one very big house, and that no. 11 won’t be dramatically transformed.
As for the rear, which was very well-received initially, it will still be clad in glass and bronze. However, it will be more open and feature more rocks. There will still be a rooftop addition.
Inside, some party walls will be retained. According to the presentation slides, the layout will be as follows. The cellar will have an accessory kitchen, laundry and storage; the basement will have the pool, a sauna, and an A/V room; the first floor will have a double-height arts room, a library, a sitting niche, and a dining room; the second floor will have a family room/kitchen and a TV room; the third floor will have the master bedroom suite as well as a living/working study and a “flexible room;” and the fourth floor will have four bedrooms (each with their own bathroom) and two studies. The roof will have a garden.
LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said the revised proposal was “incredibly responsive” and “very pro-preservation.” She said the team had come a long way and done what the commissioners were seeking.
Commissioner Michael Goldblum was actually sad they didn’t propose a more adventurous take on the neo-Federal style, but found the proposal “totally appropriate.” He loved the retention of the party walls and level differences between the structures. He described the changes to the rear as “miniscule.”
Commissioner Frederick Bland called the proposed rear an “outrageously wonderful” way of breaking the mold. He questioned Herzog’s assertion that it was so hard to retain no. 11’s neo-Federal style. He did say he thought the fence was too high and recommended that the team work with LPC staff on it. Srinivasan said they had proven the height was appropriate given fences in the area.
Srinivasan noted that the Upper East Side preservation group Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts was very pleased with the revisions. The commissioners approved the proposal as presented and without dissent. Now, it just has to get past the Department of Buildings.
View the full presentation slides below, including the appendix.