Upper East Siders care a lot about their historic townhouses, right down to the nitty-gritty (and beloved) details like cornices, arched windows, and the kind of stone used for the facade. But in the case of 815 Fifth Avenue, a petite mansion represented by Elliman for which a Brazilian developer shelled out $32 million last year, the stakes are even higher. Dating back to 1871, it's the oldest residence on Fifth between 59th and 110th streets. Under the guise of a locally based LLC, JHSF Participacoes wants to build a skinny 14-story "high-rise" (up to the height of its neighbors on either side?it's all relative, right?) in the narrow space the mansion currently occupies between 62nd and 63rd streets, sandwiched as it is between two taller, newer buildings.
But at last night's meeting of Community Board 8's Landmarks Committee, scaled-back plans presented by architect Tim Greer, which had been revised to be more "more sensitive to the context" of the building's own past and the surroundings of the landmarked Upper East Side Historic District, were denied a second time.
One of two buildings in the city designed by architect Samuel A. Warner, one of the well-known architects of his time, the "Italianate" exterior has been modified again and again during its 140-plus years of existence, with some of the more attractive embellishments removed during the 1920s. In his presentation to the committee and a fairly packed house of observers (both besuited and pocket-squared or clad in pearls and cashmere), Greer showed scores of old photographs and attempted to show how his design for the sliver building still incorporates many old architectural elements that the UES holds dear. Nonetheless, one audience member pointed out that the plan still "missed the point" when it came to fitting in with the district; another said, "The height is a real concern because it changes the character of the block." A show of hands resulted in about a dozen against and a few in favor.
Board members themselves worried about setting a precedent, allowing developers to stick tall skinny buildings in whatever narrow places they can find, when what's special is the uneven nature of various blocks' heights. Many held that a boost to 14 stories (even though it's allowed by zoning law) is inappropriate given the six-story mansion that's occupied the site for so long. One likened 815 Fifth to "a missing tooth," but one that was vitally important to the area. Another waxed poetic: "Fifth Avenue is like an extended necklace of jewels" for which 815 Fifth is one of the special "anomalies." Yet another comment of the night, directed at Greer: "He designed a nice building, but it's not to scale."
All this dissing (it's the UES, so it was markedly polite dissing) led up to a vote of 5-1 against the proposal. Now, will the Brazilians and Greer return to the drawing board and scale back their ideas even further? One community board member had this to say to the South American developer, for whom this is its first New York City foray: "They're testing the waters. Well, I think they should try again."
· Developer's Fifth Avenue building proposal irks famous neighbors [TRD]
· 815 Fifth Avenue coverage [Curbed]
?Top photo vie PropertyShark