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NYC's 10 biggest preservation battles of 2017

Take a look back at some of the biggest fights to save New York City's past in 2017

Max Touhey

As developers continue to alter the face of New York City, they often butt heads with New Yorkers who want to preserve at least a modicum of the past. Whether it’s a planned new tech hub near Union Square, condos replacing religious institutions on the Upper West Side, or the future of an iconic restaurant space in Midtown, developers and preservationists went to battle on multiple fronts this past year.

Here now is a list of the 10 biggest preservation battles from 2017.

↑ The former Four Seasons Restaurant

Even before the Four Seasons restaurant shuttered in the summer of 2016, preservationists were perturbed by owner/developer Aby Rosen’s removal of the Pablo Picasso-painted stage curtain at the restaurant.

Things came to a head in October when it was revealed that one of the two restaurants now operating within the Four Seasons space, operated by Major Food Group, had made changes to the space’s landmarked interiors without first consulting the Landmarks Preservation Commission. When the restaurant’s team did come before the LPC to get permits belatedly, the commissioners promptly told them off for the changes.

“In no way does this speak to the iconic-ness and incredibleness that these rooms had,” one commissioner said. The team was asked to present amended plans at a later date, but those plans have yet to come before the LPC.

DBOX

↑ 550 Madison Avenue

In October, Snøhetta unveiled a revamp of Philip Johnson’s postmodern icon at 550 Madison Avenue, aka the AT&T building; and immediately, many architects and preservationists expressed their opposition to the redesign, and called for the building’s exteriors to be landmarked. (Curbed’s own architecture critic, Alexandra Lange, described part of Snøhetta’s redesign as an “Apple Store-wannabe facade.”)

With more architects coming out in favor of preservation (including Robert A.M. Stern), the LPC agreed to put it on its calendar—the first step toward landmarking a building. The owners eventually also came out in support of landmarking, so it remains to be seen if any of Snøhetta’s design will ultimately be incorporated into renovation of the space.

Via Google Maps

↑ 827-831 Broadway

In the summer of 2016, developers announced plans to tear down the former home and studio of Willem and Elaine de Kooning, near Union Square, and replace it with a 14-story office building. Thanks to a concerted effort by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the LPC decided to consider the buildings for landmark status in October, and designated them shortly thereafter.

Still, the battle rages on; the developers have now filed plans for a reflective structure atop the existing one. They will have to go through the LPC for approval, and their plan (unsurprisingly) hasn’t garnered support from preservation groups like the GVSHP.

Via NYCEDC

↑ “Silicon Alley” near Union Square

With a spate of new developments in the works near Union Square, preservationists have called on the city to rezone the area in the neighborhood roughly bounded by Union Square to the north, Astor Place to the south, Third Avenue to the east, and Fifth Avenue to the west. Locals are calling for height restrictions and more affordable housing to curtail the rise of property values and new development.

The rezoning push was largely prompted by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to create a new tech hub at the old P.C. Richard & Son on East 14th Street. At least a half dozen new projects are in various stages of development in the area. Still, it’s not looking good for preservationists; a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio called the opposition to the project, “cynical and disappointing.”

DBOX

↑ 346 Broadway

The Elad Group and the Peebles Corporation, the developers behind the condo conversion of Tribeca’s clock tower building, were hoping to convert the building’s mechanical clock into a triplex penthouse. The LPC signed off on those plans, but a group of preservationists filed a lawsuit in the summer of 2015 to prevent that from happening.

From there, it went back and forth in the courts: a Manhattan judge ruled in favor of the preservationists in 2016, but the developers appealed, and the matter went to a higher court. Preservationists contended that a condo conversion of the space would make this interior landmark inaccessible to the public, and a panel of judges agreed. Earlier this month, they upheld the decision to prevent the developers from converting the clocktower space, heralding a victory for preservationists.

Via PropertyShark

↑ Madison Square North Historic District Expansion

Earlier this year, preservation groups tried to persuade the LPC to designate a 114-year Beaux Arts building that was slated for demolition, with plans to replace it with a 40-story condo in the works. The LPC acknowledged that while the building at 316 Fifth Avenue had received support, it did not merit individual landmark status.

Following that defeat, preservationists decided that they wanted to prevent a similar fate for other buildings in the neighborhood, and have now banded with local elected officials to call for an expansion of the Madison Square North Historic District.

Via PropertyShark

↑ Gowanus Burial Ground

When the city decided to build a school on an empty lot at the intersection of Third Avenue and Ninth Street, in Gowanus, history buffs called for more research into the site, which they believed to be a mass grave for the slaves of the Van Brunt family. There was also a belief that the site could have been the resting place of Revolutionary War heroes.

The city’s Parks Department agreed that an archeological dig was necessary, and that dig eventually determined that the site was not in fact a mass burial ground, allowing for its development to move forward.

↑ Washington Heights Rowhouses

Since at least the summer of 2016, Washington Heights activists have been calling for a group of 12 historic buildings, located at 626-648 West 158th Street, to be included in the Audubon Park Historic District. Over the past few years, some of the rowhouses have sold, prompting locals to fear that the rest would be torn down for large-scale development.

The LPC previously decided not to include these buildings when the Audubon district was designated in 2009. This past summer, the City Council member representing this area, Mark D. Levine, called for the LPC to reconsider.

↑ Our Lady of Loretto Church

Despite a concerted effort by Brooklyn residents, the century-old Our Lady of Loretto Church, at the border of Ocean Hill and Brownsville, was demolished in October. The church closed in 2009, and at that time, preservationists worked with the Brooklyn diocese to ensure that the church building would be preserved, and adjacent sites be used to build affordable housing.

But that plan fell through, and the church decided to demolish the building to make way for 64 units of affordable housing—allegedly, more then 5,000 applications came through when they opened the application process. In April, a judge issued an order to stop construction at the site, but that proved to be a temporary victory; in the end, the building was reduced to rubble.

Via Snøhetta

↑ Upper West Side Condos

A trio of new developments had Upper West Siders blaming developers for using “zoning gymnastics” to build out-of-context developments in the neighborhood. On West 70th Street, the Congregation Shearith Israel’s plans to build a nine-story building topped with condos condos above led to a lawsuit filed by a local preservation group. At 200 Amsterdam Avenue, residents and elected officials tried to halt construction on the neighborhood’s soon-to-be-tallest building, but the developers ultimately prevailed.

And finally, at 50 West 66th Street, Extell has proposed a tower that would surpass the height of the Amsterdam Avenue skyscraper. Elected officials have vowed to fight this latest development—and plans have yet to be filed, so what will happen with that remains to be seen.