Two weeks ago, the Landmarks Preservation Commission reviewed five buildings in Midtown East for landmark consideration in what was another chapter in the debate between the real estate industry and preservationists over the area’s historic real estate assets.
Seen as a roadblock in the Midtown East rezoning plan by many real estate professionals and a vital step in historic preservation by preservationists, the debate has raged on for months—even some of the buildings’ owners oppose preservation status.
Spearheaded by the Municipal Art Society, the preservation process began with the submission of a list of 17 candidate buildings. Four of the five buildings reviewed by LPC were on that preliminary list, and all five have been pinpointed below by The Commercial Observer.
Planes Trains & Automobiles
The press release from a publicist trumpeting some scintillating (or often, not so scintillating) “news” that was broken hours earlier in a Wall Street Journal or New York Times exclusive—what journalist doesn’t hate that? Of course, such breathless communiqués hardly ever make mention of the fact that all of the information being “revealed” is already available in a rival publication and has, at that point, usually been blogged about by several other websites.
It’s a thorn in the side of every journalist—that is, every journalist who doesn’t work at the Journal or the Times—an indignity that is usually borne with under-the-breath invective, some grousing to one’s immediate neighbors and an occasional, pointed email to said publicist informing them that your publication would have been interested in covering this had the Journal not published a story on it hours earlier saying everything there was to say.
Planes Trains & Automobiles
Earlier this month, the Municipal Art Society announced a “provocation” for Penn Station, challenging four architecture firms—Diller Scofidio + Renfro, SHoP Architects, SOM and Santiago Calatrava—to rethink the city’s most hated transit hub. The selection of Mr. Calatrava’s firm as a participant, shall we say, provoked some controversy, with blogger Ben Kabak at Second Avenue Sagas telling The Observer, “Even involving Calatrava underscores the utter contempt for transit improvements that some of the city’s leading institutions have.” At over $3.7 billion, the PATH terminal that Mr. Calatrava designed for the World Trade Center site will be far and away the most expensive subway station in world history.
So Mr. Kabak should be pleased to learn that Mr. Calatrava’s firm is not, in fact, participating in the effort. Santiago Calatrava’s firm sent the following statement to The Observer via email this afternoon:
Best Laid Plans
Santiago Calatrava does not have the best reputation when it comes to designing practical public works. The Valencian architect has achieved great success in winning design commissions across the globe—especially for public works projects like bridges, train stations and cultural centers—but has also attracted criticism for his budget-busting designs.
Mr. Calatrava is practically a persona non grata in Valencia (he is now based in Zurich), where the leftist Esquerra Unida political party has started a website called Calatrava te la clava—loosely translated as “Calatrava bleeds you dry”—on which it accuses the architect of making 100 million euros off the Valencian City of Arts and Sciences, a cultural complex that is widely seen as a symbol of excess, built during Spain’s boom years but now a drain on the government’s finances as it undergoes a period of fiscal austerity.
From the start, one of the biggest concerns over the proposed Midtown East rezoning has been the fate of the area’s historic buildings. Midtown has its fair share of landmarks already, but it is no Upper East Side or Park Slope. No doubt there are precious older buildings worthy of preservation, or at least consideration for landmarks protections, especially when staring down all the development that is likely to come from a huge rezoning like the one the Bloomberg administration has proposed for Midtown East.
To that end, the Municipal Art Society has put forward 17 buildings it believes the city ought to consider protecting before the Midtown East rezoning goes into effect. The administration is rushing toward approving this plan sometime next year, but survey of the area’s historic buildings actually has more time than it might seem to proceed, since it has promised the rezoning will have a sunrise provision preventing it from taking effect until 2017. Still, that does not mean any of these buildings could be saved from being torn down and becoming the next Empire State Building.
The Neverending Story
It has been five years since Dan Doctoroff reported to City Hall for work, but the former deputy mayor and current CEO of Bloomberg LP still finds time to think up interesting, even outrageous visions for the city. Well, they would be crazy if they did not have a habit of getting built. After all, so many developments that came out of Mr. Doctoroff’s unsuccessful bid to draw the Olympics to the five boroughs have since been realized regardless, from Atlantic Yards to Hudson Yards to Hunters Point South, the No. 7 extension, water taxis—the list goes on and on.
These success suggest that even though Mr. Doctoroff is no longer in command, might it still be possible to see a gondola stretch across the East River between Lower Manhattan, Governors Island and Brooklyn? Or a light rail line running the entire length of the waterfront from Astoria in Queens to Brooklyn’s Red Hook? Or, most audacious of all, tearing down the Javits convention center and moving it to yet another decked-over rail yard, this time in Sunnyside, where it would be surrounded by apartment and hotel towers and a sizable retail complex?
For the past nine years, two gigantic beams of light have shown over Lower Manhattan—a beacon of loss and hope, a searchlight for something that would never be found and yet would stay with all New Yorkers forever.
Known as the Tribute in Light, it was a public art project created by the Municipal Art Society and Creative Time to commemorate the fallen Twin Towers. Beginning six months after 9/11, and relit every anniversary thereafter, the temporary, luminous memorial will return this year for the 10th anniversary of the attacks. It could be for the last time ever.
Location: Before you started here at the beginning of January, you spent three years leading the National Park Foundation. That involves defending trees, not buildings, right?
Mr. Cipolla: Not true! There are 400 national parks, and most of those national park units are buildings. There are 22 national park sites in metro New York. Read More
Skidmore Owings & Merrill star architect David Childs will be the new chairman of the Municipal Art Society, the longtime civic group that pushes historic preservation and community-led planning, the organization announced today.
Mr. Childs, who designed 7 World Trade Center and the Time Warner Center, among others, Read More