Is the Aluminaire House Proposal About Historic Preservation or New Development? And Does It Matter?

The proposed design, by Campani and Schwarting architects.

The proposed design, by Campani and Schwarting architects.

The proposal to bring the historic Aluminaire House to an empty lot in Sunnyside Gardens is headed to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, as Queens Brownstoner reported earlier today—a move that seems likely to cause more than a little consternation an confusion among preservationists.

Moving the house, the first all-metal prefabricated dwelling, which was designed by Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey and debuted at a 1931 architectural exhibit, from its current site—the closed-down Central Islip campus of the New York Institute of Technology—would preserve a notable piece of architecture. But it would also mean disturbing another historic artifact—the landmarked Sunnyside Gardens.

Complicating matters, the people pushing to move the Aluminaire House to Sunnyside Gardens have linked the relocation with a plan to build eight new low-rise residential units around it. And while both Sunnyside Gardens and the Aluminaire House are of roughly the same vintage—Sunnyside Gardens was built between 1924 and 1929—even if their styles are drastically different, attaching the Aluminaire’s preservation to a non-contextual residential development in a historical district makes getting behind the plan considerably more complicated.

The developers say that the units would provide funds for the maintenance of the Aluminaire House, which would become a museum, while anti-development locals, who had wanted the space for a community park, claim that the house is a thinly-veiled excuse to bring a residential development to a landmarked area.

In the developers’ defense, moving and maintaining the Aluminaire House, as well as staffing it and opening it up to the public, will require funds and some kind of revenue stream; at least this plan provides for that need. And while the new residential units proposed for 39th Avenue and 50th Street are certainly not contextual, they do blend well with the Aluminaire House and their terra cotta and brick exteriors are low-rise profiles don’t look bad in the surrounding neighborhood.

In a city where most NIMBY’s are fighting waste transfer stations and glassy high-rises, an eight-unit low-rise development doesn’t seem so objectionable. And even if they are using Aluminaire House as a device to build a housing development, it would still result in the structure’s preservation. Whether LPC will think so is another matter.