Since 2008, the Historic Districts Council has been pushing to expand the Madison Square Park North Historic District, and tonight, their cause may actually gain some ground. The landmarks committee of community board 5 agreed to hear the proposal, which calls for more than doubling the district's size. The current boundaries include about seven blocks, and the extension would cover an additional 20 blocks. The current borders, roughly 25th to 28th streets from Madison to Sixth avenues, would stretch to 24th to 34th streets from Sixth to Park. The 29th Street Neighborhood Association commissioned a report to advocate for the designation, and it highlights the area's "early 20th-century office and commercial structures, turn-of-the-century hotels and original mid-19th-century row houses." But property owners who spoke to the Journal think a broad-strokes designation makes no sense and is simply a move by NIMBYs to impede new development.
A review of the report commissioned by property owners in the area found that of the 286 buildings in the proposed area, there are a "remarkable number of undistinguished properties, parking lots, architecturally uninteresting garages." The report highlights buildings built from the 1840s to the 1930s, but many buildings in the area were constructed after that or have been seriously altered. One example highlight by the Journal is a low-rise building at 49-51 W. 33rd Street, which dates to 1911. It used to be a lovely Greek Revival structure, but the report says it underwent a full renovation and is now rather nondescript. One of the review's authors, George E. Thomas, a cultural and architectural historian, told the Journal, "We are designating the memory of a building that was gone in 1950. For 65 years it hasn't been this building."
But that's not to say individual buildings in the area don't have merit. The expansion would cover Tin Pan Alley, a row of brownstones on West 28th Street that's the birthplace of American popular music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and, had it gone through a few years ago, it could have saved the Bancroft Building.
Still, it seems like preservationists have an uphill battle ahead, but the 29th Street Neighborhood Association and HDC are prepared to fight. An announcement for tonight's meeting reads:
"WE URGENTLY NEED SUPPORTERS TO FILL THE HEARING ROOM We expect a lot of negative testimony from real estate developers. It's critical that we demonstrate as much support as possible for our proposal, because if this Committee doesn't vote to approve our proposal on Tuesday, and if their recommendation isn't strong enough for the CB5 full board to vote to approve this on April 7, that's it. It's over.
Please come if you have any interest in the future of this neighborhood —we just need as many bodies in as many chairs as we can mobilize. It is REALLY critical that we pack the room with supporters Bring a friend (or several). The committee wants to see that there is support from the community to expand this historic district. The destruction of our neighborhood will continue to surround us if we can't get this done.