On Tuesday, a partial victory was made in preserving a part of New York City history. The Landmarks Preservation Commission announced a new landmark district on East 10th Street between Avenues A and B, which is lined with single-family homes dating back to the 1840s. The only issue: Building 315 that, stands smack dab in the middle of the street, fell through the cracks.
Several news sources have been reporting on the building’s owner, Benjamin Shaoul, who applied for a permit back in December to add another story to the four-story building, despite the fact that the street had already been on the calendar to be landmarked. Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, rang the alarm and notified the LPC of the pending permits, but the commission was unable to act quickly enough. The New York City Department of Buildings issued the permits just hours before the LPC held an emergency meeting to designate the street as a landmark.
Landmark status was unanimously voted on, but construction on the fifth story at 315 is already underway. On my visit to the site yesterday afternoon, I spotted construction workers heading into 315 and most of the windows were boarded up.
Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokesperson for the LPC, told Hyperallergic that the commission did everything they could to save 315. “Yesterday was the earliest we could meet, especially since we have to give a two week notice in advance of a hearing,” explained de Bourbon. She also mentioned that while Shaoul now has free reign with his development plans, he has approached the LPC to go over his design proposal and get their input. At the end of the day though, he has no legal obligation to the commission. Other rooftop additions in the area by Shaoul have some worried that his construction will destroy the architectural character of the historic block.
The buildings on East 10th occupy a quiet, tree-lined street on the north side of Tompkins Square Park that is rich with neighborhood history. When the park first opened in 1834, long before the crack epidemic struck, it attracted business and development to the area. Several of the houses on East 10th are some of the first in New York City to be built in the Italianate style and are attributed to the architect Joseph Trench, who is known for introducing that style to the US. The block has remained largely intact throughout the East Village’s many lives from the influx of immigrants in the 19th C. to its role as an arts hub after World War II. Considering so little stands the test of time in the East Village, the landmarking of this street is an important step in the right direction. “This is progress, albeit progress on a scale,” Andrew Berman told Hyperallergic, “There is so little landmark designation in the East Village.”
Despite this up-side, landmark designations can often spark complaints of rising rents and increase costs to keep up the area. I wandered into Tower Brokerage Inc, one of the few businesses on East 10th street, and spoke with president Robert Perl to get his opinion. Perl noted, “Saying that landmarks increase rent is like throwing a shaker of salt in an ocean. It makes very little difference.” Instead, Perl insists that rents are rising in the neighborhood because it is such a desirable place to live. “The landmark will do very little to hurt the development of the area, especially because these buildings have very little underutilized square footage,” he added.
The landmark appears to be a win-win for the neighborhood and the city, but what about building 315? Why did it fall through the cracks?
Andrew Berman’s press release calls the situation a “fumble” on the part of the city, and told Hyperallergic that there was definitely miscommunication between the DOB and the LPC and there some rumors that more could have gone on behind closed doors. Berman noted that he is not in any position to speculate, but the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation will be looking further into the permits. “We are taking a close look to make sure that the permits were legally and appropriately issued,” said Berman.