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Neighbors Give Apthorp Penthouse Addition A Resounding No

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It's back to the drawing board for Area Property Partners, the relatively new owners of the embattled Apthorp building who want to build a four-penthouse addition on top of the Italian Renaissance Revival structure, a beloved 1908-built landmark that takes up a full square block on the Upper West Side. After two-and-a-half hours of debate in a packed room that alternately rang out with boos, jeers, cheers, and woops, Community Board 7's preservation committee voted 5-2 against the addition. After a detailed 34-slide presentation by architects Goldstein, Hill & West as well as historic preservation consultants Higgins Quasebath & Partners, plus passionate speeches in opposition to the proposal by some two dozen neighborhood residents, the committee ended up siding with public opinion.

Their main concerns were that the addition, which would mainly face West End Avenue and the Hudson but extend along 79th and 78th streets, was inappropriate on a few counts: 1) that although it is relatively unobtrusive from the street level, it blocked light and affected the general symmetry and architecture of the building's giant courtyard, which is also landmarked; 2) that filling in or otherwise altering the open loggias/pergolas/arcades/pavilions (folks didn't exactly agree on what to call them) with vaulted ceilings that currently top the building's north and south sides would be too great a change in the building's appearance to be acceptable. To put it mildly, the developers' offer of a new public rooftop space along Broadway didn't placate anyone, especially the London-born set designer who has lived in the Apthorp for 47 years and said, "The structure on the top just looks like a Holiday Inn plopped on the roof... of the massive powerful beautiful structure beneath it."

The architect-developer-historic preservation expert presentation, detailed in the slides above, aimed to convince dubious attendees how little the set-back addition would be seen from the street, as well as what they hold is a minimal effect on the courtyard with respect to light and shadow as well as visual impact. The design incorporates of limestone ringed with copper (which will eventually turn green to match the existing cornice) to reflect the Apthorp's iconic architecture. The addition's backers also emphasized the funds that the penthouses would bring in (folks speculate they could go for $15 million a pop if not more) and that the money would be used to make capital improvements to an ailing building in need of costly repairs and upkeep.

A mock-up simulating the addition with orange netting allowed the addition's advocates to take photos of how it might look to have a mass atop the building from various vantage points. Though the orange netting isn't discernible from too many locations according to the photographs they presented, most area residents (and a representative from State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal's office, and advocates from the West End Preservation Society and Landmarks West) were fervently opposed, and waited for their two-minute slot to speak. Here were some of the highlights:

A committee member: "The old saying of lipstick on a pig?this is what I'm looking at and it's very disturbing."

A resident of the Apthorp since 1974: "It's an eyesore and an affront to the seminal design of the building."

Community Board 7's chair, perhaps trying to be reassuring: "We do routinely approve rooftop additions. We do!"

A woman who moved to the Apthorp when she was one year old and has lived there for 45 years, recalled walking through the arch and reveling in the perfect rectangle of the building: "It's an architectural marvel. It's a piece of the neighborhood; it's a home and it's a remarkable one."

Marc Myers, a resident of 400 West End Avenue since 1993 and a former assistant to architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable (who earned applause and a few "bravos" for his strongly-worded testimony): "Shame on you for touching a building like this, for even coming close. Shame on you for making your financial difficulties a problem for the rest of the neighborhood. ... Say no to the cowshed."

Another committee member, who didn't agree with the motion to disapprove and could see the Landmarks Preservation Commission approving an addition like this: "There's a lot in the design, scope, and bulk that I don't find objectionable in the context of inevitability."

A resident who has lived in the Apthorp since 1972: "It set a dangerous precedent for other Upper West Side buildings."

One of the newer condo owners at the Apthorp: "Are they going to allow additions to the Dakota and the Hotel des Artistes?"

An 400 West End Avenue resident wondered about any benefit for the community: "The sole value here is to the developers."

A resident of one of the existing penthouse apartments, who brought photographic evidence that the impact of the addition might be different or more than the architects' renderings revealed: "Please say no to the entire project. Please be the preservation committee, not the "go ahead and alter it" committee."
· Developers Hope to Give Apthorp Four New Penthouses [Curbed]
· All Apthorp coverage [Curbed]

Apthorp Building

390 West End Avenue, New York, NY 10023