The High Line’s Would-Be Neighbor That the Neighbors Abhor

837 washington street 0 The High Lines Would Be Neighbor That the Neighbors AbhorThe High Line has become the backbone of the city’s best architecture, this generation’s Park Avenue. From the Standard Hotel to Nouvel’s 100 11th, from Frank Gehry’s IAC HQ to HL23, the High Line–itself an exquisite work of architecture and landscaping–has won a reputation as the best spot to build stunning new structures, as well as the best place to gaze upon them.

The elevated park nearly got another high-flying neighbor yesterday at 837 Washington Street, a lot across the cobblestoned road from the Standard Hotel, though the proposal was ultimately turned down by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The new office building, being developed by Tacononic Investments, is designed by Morris Adjmi, the architect of the nearby High Line Building, which is, along with the Standard, the only edifice that will ever overhang the park. 837 Washington is currently a two-story meatpacking building, and Admji has proposed a torquing glass-and steel tower atop it, creating an unusual design that nods to both the Manhattan street grid laid out in 1811 (paralleled by the building’s top) and the older, confusing-even-to-natives streets of Greenwich Village (the bottom).

“I think this building tries to be a metaphor for what’s happening in the Meatpacking District,” Adjmi told The Observer Monday. “It’s a very modern structure of glass encased within a steel lattice that nods to the High Line and the area’s industrial past.” Plus, the original 1938 Art Deco meatpacking building remains relatively intact, instead of being demolished.

It would be a ravishing addition to the neighborhood, and might even be taller than its proposed eight-stories, were it not located in a historic district–one created to head off over-development such as that created by the Gansevoort Hotel and the Bumble and Bumble Building, both built before the area received historic status.

Adjmi presented the project to the commission yesterday, and while it won praise from some local developers, preservationists were bothered by the proposal. The biggest issue seemed to be that the building’s height–many others in the district are much shorter, like the building currently at 837 Washington–that and Taconic’s desire to replace a building deemed a contributing piece of the Gansevoort Market Historic District when it was established in 2003. At the time, the commission said it was an exemplary building from the market’s latter day architecture.

“The existing landmarked building is once again merely playing base to a grandiose, out of context structure, and that is not the role of a contributing building in an historic district,” Nadezhda Williams of the Historic District’s Council argued in her testimony to the commission. Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation told The Observer that the building actually had “an interesting design.” Still, there’s that whole height issue. “The big thing for us is a seven-story addition dwarfing a one-and-a-half-story contributing building,” Berman said.

The commission seemed to agree, telling Adjmi he should come back soon with a shorter proposal. “I don’t know how I’m ever going to get to the size making any sense at all,” Commissioner Elizabeth Ryan said. The commissioners were, however, impressed with the marriage of new and old and did not seem bent on ensuring the building remains as is. The architect argued that his building, being located on the border of the district, and just across the street from its taller neighbors, could serve as a transition, but even this argument did not fly.

In reality, though, this may all be part of the plan. From St. Vincent’s aborted hospital to 980 Madison, developers know full well to push the limits as much as possible at the commission. That way, when they return months later with their relatively more conservative proposals, they can, typically, be easily approved.

mchaban [at] observer.com | @mc_nyo