After Push by Extell, Landmarks Backs Down Over West 57th Street Building

The bold action came not over a particularly notable or high-profile building. The building at 225 West 57th Street is arguably unremarkable at first glance–certainly no stunning sight or great architectural feat. Nor was it ever a priority for preservation groups until Extell began to fight back against the designation, though some had been recommending its designation in recent years.  (The New York Times wrote an article on the buildings in late December, a bit before the LPC informed Extell it was considering landmarking the buildings. The paper has run a number of disparaging articles and editorials criticizing the LPC for what it labels an arbitrary and often developer-friendly approach).

But once the LPC preliminarily acknowledged that the 57th Street building, along with the Broadway building, were worthy of landmark designation, preservation groups contend, it would be improper for the agency to back down in the face of political pressure.

Needless to say, the preservationists were not pleased by the LPC’s action on Tuesday.

“I am appalled,” Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, said after the vote. “I don’t think that the Landmarks Commission should be considering such political features in the landmarking. This opens the door to being an owner-consent situation. The law as it stands has nothing to do with owner consent.”

Extell, however, seemed relieved, and Raizy Haas, a senior vice president at the company, started to talk about the next steps. “We’re talking to a couple of architects,” she said. “We were very focused on this phase of the project, so now we’re going to start planning the real building. Obviously, the design will be slightly modified due to the preservation of 1780.”

And what of the LPC action?

“I think this is a good compromise that serves the purpose,” she said.

The compromise, of course, spares the City Council members on the issue, leaving the LPC to take all the heat from the preservationists. The Council has the right to overturn a landmarking decision by the LPC, though such an action is very rare and would subject the members there–who, unlike the LPC members, are elected–to criticism of their own.

-With reporting by Matt Frassica