The first residential high-rises in Long Island City’s Court Square neighborhood rose along Purves Street about a decade ago. Today, the block-long street forms the borough’s densest high-rise canyon. The cul-de-sac is built out from end to end, except for the roughly-triangular plot at its southern terminus. A seven-story, 33-unit residential building was proposed for the lot early last year. Though the site was cleared for construction, 44-46 Purves Street has not seen any activity in a year, in contrast to bustling construction activity along the rest of the block. As we await news of further progress and building renderings, the site’s pivotal location as a neighborhood gateway gives the developer an opportunity to present an architecturally notable design.
44-46 Purves Street marks the southern tip of a long, trapezoidal block. Jackson Avenue, the neighborhood’s principal arterial, runs to the north. To the west, the elevation of 44th Drive rises gradually as it heads south. There it meets the elevated Thomson Avenue, which bridges the massive Sunnyside Yard that separates Court Square from the neighborhoods to the south and east. The southern terminus of Purves Street stops at the concrete retaining wall of the viaduct, which the street meets at a 48-degree angle. 44-46 Purves sits at this junction upon its triangle-shaped, 4,566-square-foot lot. Its frontage along Purves Street, 101 feet long, sits about 20 feet below the frontage along Thomson Avenue, which runs for the same distance.
The lot was previously occupied by a two-story, brick-clad warehouse, typical for the formerly commercial-industrial Court Square district. Its lower level was accessible via Purves, while the second story opened directly onto Thomson. The remainder of the block was populated with empty lots and warehouses as recently as 2012. Since then it has been redeveloped in its entirety, aside from two small properties at the corner of Jackson Avenue and 44th Drive. A 14-story apartment tower rose at 26-14 Jackson Avenue in 2014, along with the four-story 26-20 Jackson Avenue next door. Work on the tower trio of 33-story 44-26 Purves, the 27-story Harrison, and the 27-story Watermark LIC commenced soon after. The three buildings would take up the majority of the block while introducing 270, 115, and 168 units respectively, along with over 11,200 combined square feet of retail.
When the three towers were on the drawing boards a few years ago, it looked like 44-46 Purves would rise at the same pace. By early 2013, Massey Knakal Realty Services listed the property for sale for $4.75 million, or $1,040 per square foot. The listing offered a site diagram, as well as a massing diagram that showed construction potential as permitted under existing zoning.
The property was sold for $4.14 million to Jewel Liton LLC In June 2013. In September 2014, building permits were filed for a nine-story hotel that would rise 108 feet to the main roof. Its 87 rooms would spread across 36,494 square feet. Gerald J. Caliendo of Caliendo Architects was listed as the applicant of record.
Sano Demolition dismantled the warehouse in early 2015. New permits were filed around the same time, changing the proposal to a seven-story residential building, which would rise 82 feet to the main roof. 33 units would occupy 23,251 square feet of the 43,281-square-foot structure, translating into units averaging 705 square feet each. The owner and architect remained unchanged. While a series of additional permits were filed during this period, no renderings were released. The closest thing to a preview is the DOB site plan and massing diagram, which shows a triangle-shaped tower with an awkwardly-shaped open space in the rear.
Over the following months, the block was transformed almost beyond recognition. The Harrison topped out in June 2016. The Watermark LIC followed in July. 44-26 Purves, which meets the lot at 44-46 with an angled, blank concrete wall of its podium, reached its topmost point in September, and became one of the tallest buildings in the borough. Meanwhile, there has been no activity at 44-46 Purves since the latest permit dating to August 2015.
Despite the challenges presented by the oddly-shaped lot, any creative architect would see the opportunity for iconic design. Acute-angle lots are often known for dramatic buildings. The Flatiron Building is known in the world over. Long Island City boasts two prominent examples of the typology: the eight-story residential building at 10-63 Jackson Avenue, completed in 2008, and the nine-story Dutch LIC under construction two blocks north of Purves Street. 44-46 Purves Street marks the gateway to Court Square as it faces the Thomson Avenue viaduct, which is one of only two crossings over a mile-long stretch of the railyard, and the only one not obstructed by an overhead train. The future building would greet motorists and pedestrians alike as they cross the viaduct, which is capped by a dramatic vista of One Court Square and the Midtown skyline beyond.
The developer may be eligible for a buildable area bonus in exchange for public space improvements. The site presents a perfect opportunity to connect the lower level of the Purves Street cul-de-sac with the dead-end sidewalk along the viaduct above, by means of a public stair. This connector could either run along the concrete wall of the viaduct, or be integrated within the building itself, similar to the High Line entrance integrated within the 2008 Caledonia in Chelsea.
The staircase would be a boon for both the neighborhood, which stands to connect two dead-end sidewalks at the district gateway, and the developer, which would be allowed to build more units at the site. Introducing a crosswalk at the existing traffic light on the viaduct would further activate the sidewalk at the north side of Thomson, make adjacent retail more viable with increased pedestrian traffic, and reduce congestion on the southern sidewalk, which sees heavy foot traffic during the morning rush hour.
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