**Become a member of The Art Deco Society of New York at www.artdeco.org. With over 25 events per year, ADSNY is an active cultural and social non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and celebrating architecture, decorative arts, fashion, and music from the 1920s and 30s! I look forward to seeing you at the next event!**

26 April 2011

SoHo Cast-Iron Building Finally Restored!

Usually, I walk swiftly past the cast-iron buildings in SoHo in order to beat the long lunch line at Fanelli's, but this week I took notice of a building that had been under renovation since I moved here almost three years ago. The structure was still under scaffolding; yet, something about the facade had changed. I turned around and headed back to the office to do some research. My findings prompted me to write about the research process in this week's post. For those of you who are interested in preservation it might seem like a daunting task to begin even thinking about where to look for information on a building. Rest assured, the resources you need are mostly online. The following is an abbreviated process on how to research basic information on historic structures in NYC.

The first step one should always take if interested in the preservation of a building is actually look at the property in the round. Your eyes are your best friends. From what I can tell, 122 Greene Street is located on the corner of Prince Street across from the Apple store. Wolford's boutique sits at the ground level and four condominiums rest on top, making it one of many mixed-use structures in the area. The building struck me as curious in 2008 as it was painted entirely white and had permits posted on the property. I thought to myself, was it just painted? The possibility was unlikely as the district is historically landmarked. All of this information comes from physical examination.

For a more thorough property search, you must check the Department of Buildings (D.O.B.) website. However, you will need a block and lot number of the building in question. This can be found on the NYC Finance website under Property/Property Information. The block and lot number are essential in retrieving any and all information one seeks out at the D.O.B. Once the property report is pulled you can essentially search through all the documents on that building--permits, complaints, violations, and applications to name a few. Sometimes the information is cryptic and rather brief, but for landmarked properties all of the permits are issued by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commisssion (LPC) and contain a full, essay-style report outlining the work to be performed. LPC ensures proposed work is in compliance with the building and preservation codes for historic structures.

I continued sifting through the property report, and eventually came across the permit issued by LPC in 2009 outlining the proposed restoration efforts. Bingo! Permits are always a reliable source of information on changes made to a building. Block 499/Lot 15 is described in the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District Designation report as the following: "106 Prince Street (a.k.a. 122 Greene Street) as a store and tenement building designed by W.E. Waring and built in 1866." This one sentence provides some clues about the structure. If you possess a general knowledge of architectural history you will immediately note the erection date of the structure. 1866 marked the end of the Greek Revival and the beginning of the Colonial Revival period in America; the sash windows, decorative cornice, and symmetrical composition of 122 Greene Street speak to this style.

Today the scaffolding stands erect and serves as a showcase of advertisements for the shops underneath, but it also contains the contact information for one of the contractors on the project. So, I called Preserv, a Brooklyn-based restoration and project management firm specializing in historic preservation, and inquired with one of the project managers who worked on 122 Greene Street. He confirmed the project consisted of stripping the brick of paint and reapplying cast-iron supports, but could not recall the history of the building. Although he was unable to elaborate on the structure, it is never a bad idea to speak directly to the design firm that is managing the renovation. They just might be able to provide additional information not found on the D.O.B. website, including the length of the project and materials.

If time permits, I suggest visiting the NYC Municipal Archives to look up original building documents and possible tax photos in order to complete a comprehensive search of your building since its erection. In addition, The Office of Metropolitan History, founded by historian and writer Christopher Gray, contains permits and photos for buildings erected in NYC between 1900-1986. Each historic district also includes maps, photos, and designation reports on the area and certain buildings. In my case, the SoHo Neighborhood Alliance is the organization I would contact for additional information on 122 Greene Street.

These resources are not only useful for those interested in preservation, but also for those who have a general curiosity in the history of their block or apartment building, and even the value of their property.You'll be amazed at what you find!


15 April 2011

Understanding the Tobacco Warehouse Controversy

A sigh of relief was heard last Friday from local preservation advocacy groups, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, Fulton Ferry Landing Association and Brooklyn Heights Association, after federal judge Eric Vitaliano "granted a preliminary injunction" halting New York City's plan to turn over two historic structures to private developers. The verdict comes as a response from a lawsuit filed by the advocacy groups back in January when they claimed the National Park Service (NPS) and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) were urged by the Bloomberg Administration to revise the zoning map, whereby the Tobacco Warehouse and the Empire Stores building were strategically drawn out of the federal landscape.

Nearly 150 years old, the Tobacco Warehouse once served as an inspection site for imported tobacco, while the Empire Stores building was used for coffee storage among other spices. Both are located in the northern section of Brooklyn Bridge Park in the Fulton Ferry Landing District. Their presence celebrates the shipping industry that once played an integral role in New York City's 19th century economy. 

In order to understand the court's decision, one must be aware of the laws that protect these historic buildings. First, the structures are located on federal parkland which means NPS is ultimately responsible for their well-being. Secondly, the Tobacco Warehouse has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974 protecting it from demolition. Finally, OPRHP applied for a Land and Water Conservation Fund grant and was awarded the funds in 2001. Under this grant certain requirements must be satisfied and laws obeyed. Of great importance is a provision in the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 under section 6(f)(3) which states: "no property acquired or developed with assistance under this section shall, without the approval of the Secretary [of the Interior], be converted to other than public outdoor recreation uses." To preservationists dismay, this is exactly the compliance that had been breached by allowing St. Ann's Warehouse, a theater group in DUMBO, to lead a $15 million redevelopment of the empty Tobacco Warehouse including building a permanent performance space and administrative offices.

The heart of the controversy lies in changes made to the zoning area. A subsequent paragraph in section 6 reads: "No changes may be made to the 6(f) boundary after final reimbursement unless the project is amended as a result of an NPS approved conversion." In 2003  no other documentation accompanied the request for final reimbursement of the grant. The monies were claimed and the grant was closed out in good order. However, in 2008 OPRHP requested NPS to "revise the section 6(f) boundary map" for the Empire Fulton State Park (ESFP) stating that the warehouse buildings were "not suitable for nor used by the public for outdoor recreational opportunities in the park." In response, NPS acknowledged their oversight of the warehouses in the original grant application stating they should not have been part of the area under the terms of the grant as the grant only covers conservation of land and water and outdoor public spaces. To complicate matters further, NPS reissued a new boundary map that did not include the Tobacco Warehouse or the Empire Stores building.
The precedent this case could set  is of great concern to the preservation community as it would essentially compromise the protection historic buildings and sites currently receive under HPS. As Peg Breen, President of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, stated last Sunday, "this ruling reaches far beyond Brooklyn...If the National Park Service could choose when to enforce the law, historic buildings and parks across the country could suffer."

The debate is not solely pinned to HPS overlooking buildings in a grant application; rather, it extends to the lack of coordination between the state and city agencies. EFSP and OPRHP twice confirmed that by submitting appropriate documentation to complete the grant application, including the controversial boundary map with the Tobacco Warehouse and Empire States building in its zone, "it understood the implications of the proposed 6(f) boundary." If they were unable to foresee the use of the buildings in the future by either state or city agencies, OPRHP should never have included the buildings in their grant submission.

According to Vitaliano's decision, the plaintiffs demonstrated irreparable harm and a likelihood of success on the merits which were items necessary to order an injunction. St. Ann's Warehouse and/or Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (BBPC) are planning to commence drilling in the concrete floor to determine whether or not the structure is sound for further development. Potential injury to the building is completely possible and, "all agree that the Tobacco Warehouse is worthy of preservation and care, and thus the inadequacy of monetary compensation for any harm to it is self-evident." The likelihood of success on the merits was based on the record of the Land and Water Conservation Fund grant. "There is no suggestion of a cartographical error of any kind...the purposeful inclusion and acceptance of the structures within the 6(f)(3) boundary is further confirmed by a wealth of details from the record."

The good news is the Tobacco Warehouse will continue to serve as an outdoor public space enjoyed by those who visit Brooklyn Bridge Park. On the other hand, St. Ann's Warehouse might be out of a home if they do not find a proper space for their theater group. Preservation decisions are never black and white. Although adaptive reuse of the buildings presented itself as a viable option at first glance, the integrity of the buildings might be compromised due to dangerous construction conditions. It is also unfair for city agencies to proceed with any projects that directly affect the public without first consulting them. NPS and BBPC will most likely continue to challenge the court's decision by using the case they made a mistake in the grant application submission, but is this really just cause for potentially harming a historic property and taking it out of the public's hands?

10 April 2011

South Village Rally

The South Village is under threat of losing more of its most precious historic buildings!

Today members of the community rallied on Sullivan Street to condemn the sale of the The Children's Aid Society to looming developers, including their next-door neighbor NYU. Over 100 years old, the society has been an integral part of the Greenwich Village and SoHo communities. Its mission is to "fill the gaps between what children have and what they need to thrive."

Community leaders urged the Landmarks Preservation Commission to quickly complete the designation of the South Village Historic District. Last June, LPC had officially landmarked 1/3 of the proposed area, but presently 2/3 still remains susceptible to over-development and demolition.

Andrew Berman, Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation and Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council, lead the well-attended rally by inviting notable community leaders to add pressure to the cause.

SoHo Alliance's Director, Sean Sweeney, drove the message home. Preservation is not just about landmarking the historic mansions on 5th Avenue. It is about recognizing the places that have touched our daily lives not just once, but continuously. The Children's Aid Society is an indispensable community resource and the parents, children, and members of the South Village Community who were in attendance at today's rally are proof that its loss will be greatly felt.

To help save the Children's Aid Society and the remaining 2/3 of the proposed South Village Historic, please send a letter to the city urging them to landmark the area immediately. You can find a letter template on the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation's website below:


08 April 2011

On the brink of a shut-down

Hi fellow preservationists!

Welcome to my blog about preservation and the built environment in NYC.
Although I do not foresee this blog taking a firm political stance, it is inevitable when dealing with preservation issues. This brings us to the current state of our government.

As many of you know, the Democrats and Republicans are once again torn over the budget. This means that spending and taxes and cuts are being mulled over by politicians who believe their degrees and certifications legitimize their ability to run red ink across numbers pertaining to our youth's after-school programs, Medicaid spending, or public work projects. As this week's newsreels suggest, it also affords them the opportunity to debate late into the night about whether or not spending billions of dollars on these programs is what is good for 'the people.' These long nights have lead many political analysts to believe that a government shut-down might occur tomorrow if no agreement is made this evening.

The point of my introduction is to present the issues that affect the preservation field, and every other sector for that matter, when the United States government chooses to take a nap. Although only 60% of the government shuts its doors, this figure includes almost all entities deemed 'unnecessary' to function the country leaving us with a slimmer workforce and fewer services in the interim. No one would argue that our military, postal service or Social Security Administration are  UNessential. But I'm afraid this is not my point. What is more disconcerting is the fact that ideological issues (abortion spending and green energy) are taking center stage over the greater whole. Those in D.C. are more concerned about sounding like hypocrites that they opt for a budgetary stalemate over coming to terms with hard facts which reveal themselves in the numbers. Did you know the estimated cost to shut the government down and then restart it is approximately $1.7 billion based off figures from the last shutdown in 1995?

To make matters worse, the proposed budget for historic preservation has been cut by almost 30%. Instead of $80 million, its budget was decreased to $55 million. Think about the math for a minute. The proposed historic preservation budget for 2011 fits the cost of a shut down almost 31 times. It's insane! I'm in complete shock at their lack of sensitivity. Two entire programs, Save America's Treasures and Preserve America, have been completely removed from the roster. In case you are not familiar with these federally funded programs, I have outlined what we will be missing below:

Save America's Treasures: Created as a public-private partnership, SAT has awarded $300 million in funding for preservation and restoration projects of all types since 1998. This includes preserving the bus Rosa Parks was arrested on to local art collections. According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, SAT has created approximately 16,000 jobs since its inception.

Preserve America: A White-House initiative to stimulate the local and regional preservation efforts of our communities. Small grants are awarded to historical and cultural sites that have proposed sustainable uses of their resources.

More disturbing is the proposed increase in funding by nearly 50% for the Historic Preservation Fund's sister program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. At first, this appears to be a victory for preservationists, but look at LWC's source of revenue and you will find that it is primarily supported by offshore drilling and gas leases. Do you see a hidden agenda here?

The decreased budget proposal for the Historic Preservation Fund means an increase in the number of structures that are in danger of being demolished for lack of available funding, both locally and nationally. In addition, funds are being cut from local preservation groups hindering their ability to rally against real estate development corporations and big business in order to save your neighborhoods like Greenwich Village from overdevelopment by New York University's 2030 Plan. 

The sad reality is that the historic preservation field is not a priority in Washington. Although I consider myself a 'building hugger,' I completely understand the need to decrease the budget for preservation in order to increase the budget for health care. However, this is not what is happening today in D.C. The fate of one of the most successful preservation initiatives, Save America's Treasures, will soon be a paragraph in U.S. history books while health care costs are not being subsidized by the government; instead, costs for health care are increasing again this year. You would think the political parties would come to an agreement today in order to avoid the $1.7 billion shut-down expense--money they could be spending on after-school youth programs. Oh, and lest I forget, maybe add back the meager $25 million to the Historic Preservation Fund.in order to keep SAT.