The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission today voted to landmark the I. M. Pei-designed Silver Towers, giving the set of NYU-owned apartment buildings known as University Village a protective status.
The action comes in connection with NYU’s plans to expand its space in the city by 6 million square feet in the next two-plus decades, as the university agreed to the landmarking in an early concession to the community.
“Landmarking Silver Towers not only helps preserve an eminently livable place and honors a great work of architecture, but it also acknowledges the importance of our city’s past efforts to create affordable housing and public art," Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation said in a statement.
NYU had previously said it wants to add a fourth tower to the three-tower complex, though it is unclear how the LPC would react to such a proposal (Mr. Berman, in his statement, says the LPC’s language in its designation suggests it would greet another tower coolly).
In a big day for modernism, the LPC also designated the SOM-designed Guardian Life Insurance Company of America Annex, at 108 East 18th Street, and a Morris Sanders-designed apartment building at 219 East 49th Street.
Also designated: the Robert Moses-built Red Hook Play Center, and two cast-iron buildings on 14th Street.
Release from LPC below.
COMMISSION APPROVES LANDMARK STATUS FOR THREE MODERNIST PROPERTIES, TWO LATE 19TH CENTURY COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS AND TWO CIVIC SITES
City’s Latest Landmarks Are NYU’s University Village in Greenwich Village; the Guardian Life Insurance Company Annex at Union Square East; the Morris B. Sanders Studio and Apartment in Turtle Bay; the New School’s Former Baumann Bros. Store off Union Square West;Pratt Institute’s Renaissance- Revival Building in Greenwich Village, a Former FDNY Firehouse in Midtown and a WPA-Era NYC Parks Department Pool Complex in Red Hook
The Landmarks Preservation Commission today voted unanimously to approve the designation of seven properties as New York City landmarks, including six in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn. The approvals bring to 1,212 the total number of individual landmarks in all five boroughs, and will preserve several striking examples of New York City’s rich architectural heritage, from a cluster of I.M. Pei-designed modernist towers and an aluminum-clad low-rise office building by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to a late 19th century D. & J. Jardine cast-iron commercial building.
“Each of these landmarks is an icon, and each has a lot to say about the City’s architectural evolution, as well as its social and historic development,” said Commission Chairman Robert B. Tierney. “It’s a great day for preservation in New York City, particularly for modern architecture, as these three sites reflect the development, evolution and acceptance of modern architectural aesthetics. I’d also like acknowledge the widespread support for all of the designations.”
Originally known as University Village, this residential “superblock” complex, set on five acres north of Houston Street between Mercer Street and LaGuardia Place, was designed by architect James Ingo Freed of I.M. Pei & Associates for New York University and completed in 1967. The complex, comprised of three identical 30-story, reinforced concrete, buff-colored towers built in the Brutalist style, is centered around the “Bust of Sylvette,” a 36-foot-tall concrete sculpture of an enlarged cubistic piece by Pablo Picasso.
“It’s widely known as one of the finest modern residential complexes in the City,” said Chairman Tierney. “The configuration, style and park-like setting of the towers create an undeniable tension between the buildings themselves and the space they occupy.”
The three freestanding, gridded towers cover a only a small percentage of the site, and reflect the influence of the Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier. Each floor has four or eight deeply recessed horizontal window bays and a sheer 22-foot-wide sheer wall, creating strong contrasts of light and shadow. The enormous sculpture, added in 1968, was executed by Picasso’s frequent collaborator, Norwegian sculptor Carl Nesjar. Picasso selected _ in consultation with Nesjar _ which of the five busts of model Sylvette David would be reproduced at the site.
The two buildings on the east side of the site are owned by NYU and serve as faculty housing, while the western tower is a cooperative apartment house on NYU-owned land. The NYU buildings were renamed Silver Towers in 1974 to honor a major donor to the school, Julius Silver, a lawyer.
Guardian Life Insurance Company of America Annex,
108-116 E. 18th Street, 105-117 E. 17th Street
Guardian Life built the through-block, 77,000-square-foot, four-story annex on a lot directly to the east of its 1911 mansard-roofed, neo-classical headquarters (a New York City landmark) at 17th Street and Park Avenue South. Constructed of stylish anodized aluminum panels and tinted glass windows, the annex was designed in the International Style by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and completed in 1963.
“SOM was renowned for its interpretation of 20th- century European Modernism, and this approach is in full view at this building,” said Chairman Tierney. “The crisp curtain walls and large, almost square, plate glass windows on the north and south sides of the building bear the influence of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Its scale and understated style also show enormous respect for its nearby, low-rise residential neighbors.”
The annex was modeled after SOM’s Pepsi-Cola Building, a New York City landmark, which was completed in 1960 to critical acclaim. Several members of the team that designed the Pepsi-Cola building also worked on the annex. Other major local works by SOM include Chase Manhattan Plaza in the Financial District and three other New York City landmarks: Manhattan House on the Upper East Side, the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company Building and Lever House.
Founded in 1860 by a group of German immigrants under the name of Germania Life, the company changed its name in 1917 because of negative sentiment towards Germany during World War I. The company occupied the tower and annex until 1999, when it moved to Lower Manhattan. Both buildings were acquired by the Related Companies. The tower is now a hotel and the annex continues to be leased as offices.
Morris B. Sanders Studio & Apartment, 219 E. 49th Street
Located between Second and Third avenues and completed in 1935, the 5 ½ -story, dark blue glazed and vacuum glass brick building with recessed balconies was designed by architect Morris B. Sanders as his office and residence. The building is one of the earliest structures in New York City to adapt the principles pioneered by European modernists, including Le Corbusier, as it features virtually no ornament, no stoop and industrial materials such as glass brick, and bold colors.
“This townhouse was a major departure from others that were constructed in the City at the start of the 20th century,” said Chairman Tierney, adding that such structures were generally were designed in variants of the classical style, with elaborate porticos and cornices. “The façade is as restrained as it is striking.”
Sanders, a native of Arkansas who studied cabinet making and was educated at Yale University, became well known for his designs of interiors, as well as ceramics, lighting and furniture. His design for the house was most likely influenced by the modern approach his neighbor and pioneer modern architect, William Lescaze, used for the 1934 alteration of his home and office at 211 E. 48th St. (a NYC landmark), considered the first modern structure in the City.
Prior to becoming The New York Times’ architecture critic, Ada Louise Huxtable called the Sanders house a “good example of the modern style in its pioneering decades,” saying its “flat surfaces and simple geometric shapes” were a “protest against the routine mannerisms of overworked period styles.”
Sanders died in the building in 1948. It was sold a year later, and remains a private residence.
Pratt Institute Building, 144 W. 14th Street
Faced with limestone, tan brick and terra cotta and located between Fifth and Sixth avenues, 144 West 14th Street is a Renaissance Revival-style, seven-story loft building that was completed in 1896. It was commissioned by real estate developer and philanthropist Joseph Buttenwieser and designed by Brunner & Tryon, an architecture firm that was responsible for a number of synagogues and buildings for other Jewish institutions in New York City.
“With a massive façade composed of a series of monumental arches, exuberant ornament and wonderfully diverse details, this building is impossible to ignore,” said Chairman Robert B. Tierney. “It’s a fitting exterior for a building that housed an incredible array of tenants since the late 19th century.”
Some of its tenants included R.H. Macy’s, which made flags and silk underwear there; the silversmith Graff, Washbourne & Dunn; and Epiphone, a stringed instrument maker. Famed jazz guitarist Les Paul assembled the first “solid body” electric guitar there in 1941, the model for today’s electric guitars.
Pratt Institute acquired the building in 1999, and has used it as its Manhattan campus since 2001 following an extensive rehabilitation and restoration by Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut & Architects.
New School/Baumann Brothers Furniture and Carpets Store, 22-26 East 14th Street
Scottish textile merchant James McCreery commissioned D. & J. Jardine, one of New York’s most prominent architecture firms in the late 19th century, to design the through-block, five-story, timber-and-iron-framed building with a full cast-iron façade that incorporates several ornamental influences including neo-Classical, neo-Grec and Queen Anne styles. It was completed in 1881.
Brothers David and John Jardine, also of Scottish descent, are responsible for a number of other notable cast-iron-fronted buildings in the city, including the former B. Altman & Co. Building at 625-629 Sixth Avenue, as well as many warehouses, office buildings, religious structures and apartment buildings.
“Baumann’s was built in the heyday of cast-iron façade construction in the City of New York,” said Chairman Tierney. “The façade is a wonderful amalgam of a range of styles that’s nonetheless rhythmic and cohesive.”
Baumann Brothers Furniture and Carpets Store, was a furniture and home furnishings manufacturer that remained in the building until 1897. The ground floor was occupied by a number of 5-10-and-25-cent stories, beginning in 1900 with Woolworth’s and ending with McCrory’s, which left in the late 1970s. The upper floors were leased to makers of girdles and garters; trousers and boxing gloves. The building also housed a gym for the Delehanty Institute, which trained police and fire department candidates.
The New School acquired the upper stories of the building in 1979 to serve as an annex to the Parsons School of Design. The ground floor remains in commercial use.
Red Hook Play Center & Pool (Sol Goldman Recreation Center and Pool), 155 Bay Street
Located on a landfill site on Brooklyn’s waterfront between Red Hook Houses, the Henry Street Slip and the Gowanus Canal, the Red Hook Play Center & Pool is one of a group of 11 immense outdoor swimming pools that opened in the summer of 1936 under Mayor Fiorella H. La Guardia and Parks Commissioner Robert Moses with funding from the federal Works Progress Administration. All 11 were considered major feats of engineering and architecture, and are recognized as the most remarkable public recreational facilities ever constructed in the United States. The Red Hook facility, which was the last to open that summer, is the 11th and last to receive landmark status by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
“The designations of these amazing facilities would not have been possible without the cooperation and vision of the Parks Department,” said Chairman Tierney. “I am grateful to Commissioner Adrian Benepe and his department for their assistance and research of each complex. I am extremely pleased that these great examples of civic architecture will endure for future generations.”
The 330-foot by 130-foot pool opened on Aug. 17, 1936, and held more than 4,400 swimmers. The Art Moderne-style recreation center is designed in the shape of a long, low C and features horizontal bands of windows, long cast-stone sills and segmental arch openings. It was renamed in 1986 in honor of Sol Goldman, a Brooklyn-born real estate mogul who helped to finance the renovation of each of the WPA-era complexes.
Fire Engine Company No. 54, 304 West 47th Street
Fire Engine Company No. 54 is a four-story, Romanesque Revival-style structure that was completed in 1888, and one of 42 firehouses and related structures designed for the City’s Fire Department by the prominent architecture firm Napoleon LeBrun & Sons between 1879 and 1895.
Comprised of a cast-iron base with a wide entrance, the firehouse’s façade features such decorative details as terra cotta sunflowers and sunbursts, and a pair of small pediments that are supported by corbelled brick brackets. The facade is virtually identical to that of another Napoleon LeBrun & Sons-designed firehouse, former Engine Co. 53 at 175 E. 104th St. in Harlem, which received landmark status on Sept. 16, 2008.
In the late 1970s, Engine Company No. 54 was converted to a 194-seat theatre by the award-winning Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre. The company was founded in 1967, and was one of the first to promote Spanish bilingual theater.