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Sunnyside Beside Itself Over Aluminaire House Proposal

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Residents of the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District were up in arms about the plan to bring the Aluminaire House and a low-rise residential development to the site of a long-closed playground at 39th Avenue and 50th Street before anyone even really knew what the plan was. Over the past few months, more details about the project have been released—the residential building will contain eight units and be clad in terracotta and the Aluminaire House will be open a few times a year for tours—but have done nothing at all to mollify the neighbors, who are absolutely furious. They showed up in droves yesterday to a public hearing at the Landmarks Preservation Commission and, when all was said and done, 54 people had delivered testimony, with 40 of them strongly opposing the proposal.

Most of fourteen people supporting the proposal were architects and architectural historians, who spoke to the importance of the Aluminaire House, which former New York Times architectural critic Paul Goldberger once called one of "the pivotal works of modern architecture in America." The 1,200-square-foot house was, when it was constructed by A. Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey in 1931, the first all-metal house in the United States.

As for the opposition, most of it focused on the fact that the Aluminaire House is out of context with Sunnyside Gardens (apparently there aren't a lot of Depression-era all-metal houses in the neighborhood). There were also, of course, some stunning displays of NIMBYism. "I know a little bit about graffiti and vandalism," one gentleman began, going on to explain that graffiti artists (exaggerated air quotes) prefer light-colored, blank walls. In other words, the Aluminaire House should stay out of Sunnyside ... for its own good. Another lady posed the question, "To all these architects who think it's a great idea, how would they like it if this house was dropped into their neighborhoods?" (Probably a lot?) She concluded by yelling, "Not in my neighborhood!"

All in all, though, the opposition was nothing if not forceful, and counted among its numbers Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, State Senator Michael Gianaris, and Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, who all showed up in person to pander to address the concerns of their constituents. Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan sent a representative to speak on her behalf and Congressman Joseph Crowley sent a strongly worded letter.

The public testimony dragged on so long that the Landmarks Commission didn't have time for comments, so that section of the hearing will resume at a later date. At this point it's completely up in the air as to what the commissioners will decide, but if they do allow the project to go forward, they had better be wary about showing their faces in Sunnyside. That one guy has heard that Landmarks commissioners make great targets for graffiti vandals ... if you catch his drift.
· Aluminaire House coverage [Curbed]