Commission Moves Midtown East Buildings To Next Stage of Landmarking Process

The Graybar, one of the five buildings that will move to a public hearing.

The Graybar, one of the five buildings that will move to a public hearing.

Five historic Midtown East buildings could be granted landmark status in advance of the Midtown East rezoning, after the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted this afternoon to move the Graybar Building, the Shelton Hotel, the Beverly Hotel, the Hotel Lexington and the Pershing Square Building to the next step of the landmarking process.

Today’s vote to calendar public hearings signals that the landmarks commission considers the buildings worthy of landmarks consideration. And while it in no way assures that any of the buildings will achieve landmark status, it is a promising sign that at least some of the properties may be protected.

The five are but fraction of the 17 historic properties that the Municipal Art Society has identified as endangered by the Midtown East rezoning, a process that, if passed, would allow developers to build bigger office towers in the city’s central business district. Mayor Bloomberg has touted the rezoning as an absolute necessity for preserving the vibrancy of the city’s commercial core, and is clearly eager to see it passed before he leaves office. This summer, he tried to sweeten the proposal by announcing that the city would front money for infrastructure improvements so that the public would see benefits of the plan sooner.

But some critics have questioned the speed with which the proposal is being pushed through—claiming that there isn’t enough time to consider its potential impact—while others have focused on the historic buildings that would be endangered if the rezoning were to pass. In addition to the five that came before the Landmarks Preservation Commission today, preservationists have pointed to Yale Club and the Brooks Brothers flagship. Two of the buildings that came before the commission today—the Graybar Building at 420 Lexington Avenue and The Pershing Square Building at 125 Park Avenue, are owned by S.L. Green, which is poised to be one of the major beneficiaries of the rezoning with a huge block-long development parcel between 42nd and 43rd streets.

The buildings’ owners, none of whom are in favor of the landmarking, cited, among other things, renovation work and argued that buildings like the Beverly and the Lexington, though designed by architectural luminaries Emery Roth and Schultz & Weaver respectively, were not considered to number among their significant works.

The landmarking proposals will now be scheduled public hearings, to be followed by an LPC designation vote. The rezoning, if it passes, would take effect in 2017.