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Willem de Kooning's former Union Square home is now a NYC landmark

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The Landmarks Preservation Commission has voted to landmark the twin cast-iron buildings at 827-831 Broadway on account of their significant architecture and cultural history

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The Landmarks Preservation Commission has approved a proposal to landmark the twin Civil War-era cast-iron buildings at 827-831 Broadway, the former studio to artists Willem and Elaine de Kooning. In addition to the De Koonings, the buildings also served as studio space for Paul Jenkins, and as home for the likes of MoMA curator William Rubin, whose loft was designed by Richard Meier and adorned in work by artists of the New York School.

“What really elevates this building is it's cultural history,” said Landmarks Preservation Commission chair Meenaskshi Srinivasan before the commission’s unanimous vote of approval. “This building embodies the art scene of New York post-World War II.”

The vote represents an unusual kind of designation for the commission that takes into special account the cultural history of the site. (Similar designations include the Stonewall Inn and Tammany Hall.) “The building itself, regardless of the destination, is worthy of designation,” said Commissioner Frederick Bland. “What happened in it, regardless of the building, is worthy of designation."

10/17/17: A proposal to landmark the former home and studio of artist Willem de Kooning received unanimous support at a public hearing held at the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday morning.

Last month, the LPC had calendared the cast iron buildings at 827-831 Broadway, to formally consider designating them an NYC landmark, and Tuesday’s meeting constituted the next step in making that a reality.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation spearheaded the campaign to the landmark the buildings, and while the LPC had rejected this proposal last year, the LPC changed its mind this year.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Andrew Berman, the executive director of the GVSHP, reminded the Commission of the buildings’ history not just as an “unparalleled nexus of the art world,” but also the twin buildings’ relationship to Allan Wilson, the man who invented some of the first successful sewing machines, and Pierre Lorillard III, the grandson of the tobacco company founder, Pierre Abraham Lorillard.

Berman had previously expounded his feelings towards the twin structures in a New York Times op-ed published in August. In the op-ed, he details how Lorillard III asked architect Griffith Thomas to design the buildings for “retail, office and manufacturing space, a mixed-use building 100 years before the term became a real estate cliché,” in the 1860s.

Wheeler & Wilson Manufacturing (Allan Wilson’s company) was one of the first tenants, and most recently Howard Kaplan Antiques occupied the ground floor for over three decades.

De Kooning’s move to the building in the 1950s, subsequently prompted the move of artists like Paul Jenkins and Larry Poons to the building as well. de Kooning’s wife, Elaine painted a presidential portrait of John F. Kennedy in the building.

Many others spoke in favor of landmarking the buildings on Tuesday, including representatives of the Willem de Kooning Foundation, the Historic Districts Council, and The Victorian Society of New York. City Council member Rosie Mendez also dashed in for a few minutes to urge the Commission to vote in favor of the buildings.

For preservationists, the designation has been particularly pressing since a developer proposed demolishing the buildings last year to replace them with a 14-story office tower. The developer has since withdrawn the demolition application, and now intends to submit a proposal after the Commission decides on the buildings. At Tuesday’s meeting, a representative for the developer informed the Commission that they had brought on DXA Studio to design an addition to the existing structures, and would present those plans after the Commission had made its decision.

The Commission will vote on landmarking the buildings on October 31.