Open Letter: 11-15 Leonard Street

Click to enlarge

To: The Landmarks Preservation Commission

From: Hal Bromm, who established his gallery, Hal Bromm Art & Design, in 1975.

Re: The proposed design for a new building at 11-15 Leonard Street (pictured).

As you know may know, in 1984 a community-based effort to preserve the Tirbeca neighborhood’s character, scale and sense of place began. The many friends, neighbors and colleagues—from throughout the community and across the city—who joined in the effort was both humbling and impressive. As leader of that drive I was proud of the determined good work of our community in assisting the Landmarks Preservation Commission to preserve and protect the area’s historic resources by establishing the Tribeca Historic Districts. As a member of Community Board One I also worked to establish a Landmarks and Cultural Affairs committee that continues today, carefully reviewing applications for work within these districts.

Now one of our nation’s most successful renaissance neighborhoods, Tribeca is a thriving economic engine that fosters the city’s growth on many levels. Home to a myriad mix of residents, businesses and retailers who keenly appreciate the quality of life that historic districts offer, Tribeca has seen the successful adaptive reuse of countless commercial mercantile buildings, while new infill structures within and around the districts have quickly capitalized on the area’s curb appeal. This success proves real estate industry naysayers wrong yet again. Preservation does not limit development, it fosters growth and economic development, drawing tourists, restaurants, art galleries, shops and the television and film industries. It is an understatement to say that the preservation of the area’s many fine historic buildings has been hugely beneficial to the city.

Yet today we are reminded how judiciously we must guard this success, for as much as we value our community and its irreplaceable historic character and scale, others see only financial gain, seeking to profit from the neighborhood’s success and popularity, pushing the limits of square footage, height and bulk with little regard for the streetscape and their sense of place within the district. One of the most recent—and perhaps egregious—examples might be the the grossly over-scaled proposal for 11-15 Leonard Street.

As this proposal is again before the commission, a few comments:

• The scale, size and massing go well beyond what was previously approved; the structure is too tall and the penthouse too large, inappropriately out of scale and context with the historic district. While we have seen numerous attempts to add penthouse space that exceed all reason, I can think of no precedent that ”tops” this proposal.

• The penthouse scale and dimension relative to the neighborhood are clearly out of context and fail to fall within what could possibly be considered appropriate parameters.

• The disjointed use of channel glass—and its likely negative night-time impact—are a serious issue that would subject the block and area to potentially high levels of illumination that are both out of keeping with the historic streetscape and impossibly unattractive. (As others note, the inappropriately glaring law school structure nearby provides a disturbing example of what not to do with glass and light.)

Accordingly, I ask you and your fellow commissioners to reject this proposal as inappropriate to the district and the community. To allow it would be a failure to protect and preserve the historic neighborhood we fought to save.

Thank you for your consideration and attention to these concerns.

14 Comments

  1. Doesn’t look that bad to me. There are a lot of worse things around the ‘hood. I like the scale of the windows on the ground floor, for example. A big penthouse really doesn’t bother me as much as how fancy new buildings present themselves on the street and this would seem to fit in pretty well. I can see how people might want exact replicas of the great old cast iron buildings from the 1890′s but the problem is the replicas tend to look crappy knockoffs and would be prohibitively expensive since no one knows how to build that way anymore.

  2. I live in Tribeca and like this design very much. Architecturally it’s a great take on the original Tribeca loft buildings. The current site for this proposed building has three dilapidated garages sitting empty. It’s inevitable that something new is going to rise. It might as well be something interesting that pays homage to old Tribeca like this design does.

  3. As a Leonard Street resident, I welcome the addition. Landmarks and the CB have done a wonderful job preserving the identity of the neighborhood. To the extent a proposal comes before the board that would seek to alter or destroy the buildings that define the neighborhood, I strongly urge the community to stand up and voice their concerns in favor of preservation. However, preservation of buildings of historic significance is a far different concept than resisting improvement of a dilapidated garage site. We can’t turn down every proposal because it doesn’t mimic exactly the old warehouse across the street or resemble a Bogardus design. The community needs to balance old and new, not continue to harp on old.

    11-15, to me, looks very well done. It’s certainly an improvement architecturally over some of the recent additions to the neighborhood (see 1 North Moore & the Brick S*#thouse on Broadway and Franklin). I look forward to seeing it go up and appreciate the effort of the team to come up with something that seeks to capture the neighborhood’s character.

  4. lop off some of the penthouse, make sure the place doesnt give off light like ny law and its cool.. sounds like a lot of people complaining are the one’s losing their view but what do i know ive only lived here for 20 years

  5. Oh, heaven forbid there should be light on the street. What a positively DREADFUL thought.

    These people should move to Colonial Williamsburg.

  6. The windows look like iPhones. I thought the penthouse housed the mechanicals. If those verticals on the front are metal, it will look like yet another boring condo. why, oh why, are these buildings grey?

  7. As long as they require the ground floor to be commercial space and it is filled with a children’s toy/clothing store, a who-gives-a-chef-themed restaurant or left vacant then the “history” of the neighborhood will be preserved. BTW, is any other f**king group setting-up f**king amplifiers on the street this f**king weekend? Just curious to know if the peace and quiet is ever going to be f**king preserved.

  8. This is a hideous building that does not belong in Tribeca. The purpose of the historic district designation was to protect the architectural integrity and character of our neighborhood. This building violates it. Whatever happened to the idea of contextual development? Those who want to live in these kind of ugly glass monstrosities or who want to build them should do so OUTSIDE of Tribeca.

  9. Thank you, Lynn, for saying what every irrational person was thinking. Tribeca should be segregated. You’re either with Lynn or against her. FYI – Lynn will be reading excerpts from her new book “Throwing Cobblestones at Glass Houses” this Saturday afternoon at Duane Park. She’s not sure if she will have an amplifier, she is still looking for a long enough extension cord and doesn’t want to use the one she has hooked up to her electric litter box.

  10. As the subject of all the debate, I cry hypocrisy! How can a 7 story building with a penthouse be one of the most “egregious” examples of a “grossly over-scaled proposal ” that is “clearly out of context and fail[s] to fall within what could possibly be considered appropriate parameters” when only a block away a 796 foot tower is going up? Have you seen the plans for 56? How could you complain that 11-15′s “disjointed use” of glass is inconsistent with the neighborhood? Perhaps when you walk the block east from 11-15 to 56, and cross West Broadway, you enter some dramatically different zone, but its all Leonard to me.

  11. Started to comment…found myself writing small book…seeing too much bad, weird, retrogressive thinking…gorge risen too high…can’t…go…on…

    (And Eric Bogosian on the side of the “there’s too much new” -bies?!? Oh! How the mighty have fallen).

  12. congratulations lynn ellsworth i had know idea you were the queen of tribeca….

  13. Relative to the junk that’s there-Improvement
    Retail space with awnings-attractive throwback
    Residential facade design-not my favorite but at least it doesn’t look like a contrived version of ‘Old TriBeCa’ like the building to the East.
    Height – once we give in to one, others will try for more, so not a fan.
    Overall it’s better than an empty garage and doesn’t really add much to the population density. But what schools will their children attend? That’s a much bigger issue.

  14. well now you know the true identity of Jim Smithers will never be revealed- cause lynn ellsworth would beat him down

    by the way, could someone please explain the “electric litter box” reference? i’m lost