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Tribecans, Landmarks Abhor Garage-to-White Restaurant Plan

A proposal to convert and repaint a one-story building in Tribeca really, really missed the mark at Tuesday's session of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. 456 Greenwich Street, which serves as a parking lot at the northwest corner with Desbrosses Street, dates back to 1942 and was enlarged in 1950.

The commissioners didn't oppose the basic idea: converting the garage into a restaurant. But architect Gene Kaufman's design was met with strenuous objections. (A real shocker, that, given his history.) The proposal includes lowering the ground floor to the flood plain, adding an elevator and stairs to the roof, enclosing the current ramp area with a brick wall, and, most notably, painting the building white.

LPC chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said she would like to have seen a taller building replace the existing structure. It "could have been torn down and it would have been fine." That said, she seemed ready to approve a restaurant in the current building. But she said the white color "seems disconnected" and she found the new canopy "distracting."

Commissioner Frederick Bland loved the idea of converting this building into a restaurant. He said he thought people would find drinking in an old garage very appealing. But he said the design's impact on the area it would be "gentrifying to death." "If you're going to leave it, leave it," he said of using the existing structure. That was a sentiment echoed by several commissioners, who felt leaving the brick in its current color and just cleaning it would be a great idea.

Commissioner Michael Goldblum praised the "industrial" feel of the building, but said the proposal looked suburban. He said he doesn't want an Olive Garden there. Commissioner John Gustafsson (a relative newcomer to the LPC) said it felt more like someone had plopped an Applebee's there than an Olive Garden. Commissioner Michael Devonshire spoke of having been to a place in Paris called the Blind Pig that resulted from a similar conversion; you actually got your food from a truck inside the building.

Several commissioners also objected to the wall enclosing the garden area, but it didn't seem to be a deal-breaker. Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron wanted the ramps and roll-down garage doors kept in place.

Community Board 1 recommended rejection, as did the neighbors in their spoken testimony. They were concerned about noise, both from the garden and activities that might take place on the roof. They also hated the design, the color in particular. One said it belonged "in Miami, not Tribeca." The Historic Districts Council liked the conversion idea, but wanted the brick left unpainted, saying it "would celebrate the industrial character of both the building and the surrounding area."

In the end, if Kaufman had relented on the color, it seemed like he had a real chance for approval. But he would not budge. So, the hearing was closed without action. We'll be curious to see what the next design is.
—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· All Landmarks Preservation coverage [Curbed]