Possible Landmarking Pleases Activists, Concerns Owners
Community activists applauded New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission for its decision to consider six East Village buildings for landmarking, while property owners expressed economic concerns during a public hearing on Tuesday.
“We are pleased that the commission has turned its attention to the East Village where so many historic buildings are unprotected,” said Melissa Baldock, director of preservation and research at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “The neighborhood has thus far been underrepresented in the landmarking process.”
The Landmarks Preservation Commission had invited activists and building owners to comment on the possible landmarking of Webster Hall, the former Public National Bank of New York, the Wheatsworth Factory, the former Eleventh Street Public Bath, the Elizabeth Home for Girls, and the former synagogue Beth Hamedrash Anshe Ungarn, all of which are located in the East Village. The commission included these six buildings in its review process after it had surveyed 130 structures last summer.
All six buildings in question were built between 1886 and the late 1920s. They are remains of the East Village’s immigrant-rich and artistic culture, which activists say gradually disappears in the face of rapid development and gentrification.
The hearing came at a time when flourishing real estate business and increasing development threaten the East Village’s cultural history in the eyes of many residents. Community activists have urged the city to put tougher restrictions on developers by changing zoning regulations and designating landmark status to the neighborhood’s historic buildings. Preservationists hope they can spare these structures from the fate of 19th-century St. Ann’s Church on East Twelfth Street, which is been demolished and replaced by a 26-story New York University dormitory.
Councilwoman Rosie Mendez praised the commission’s interest in the East Village, but also stressed that more buildings, like St. Brigid’s Church on East Seventh Street, still face destruction. “There’s not enough designation in my district,” Mendez said.
Baldock said religious institutions are at risk. “As the demographics change, a lot of congregations close,” she said. “The main threat is demolition for real estate purposes.”
Receiving landmark status would save these buildings from demolition, and owners would have to seek approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission to make changes to the buildings’ façades.
These requirements worry some landlords.
Catherine Kord, owner of the former Public National Bank on Avenue C, which today is an apartment complex, said residents fear the amount of time it would take to get work done. “It complicates matters. I regret to say that I can’t fully support the landmarking,” she said. Kord, who has owned the building since 1980, added she had no desire to make changes to the building.
Marisa Roel, a representative from Unity Gallega of the U.S. Inc., which owns the Webster Hall and Annex complex, made the same pledge. But she also stated reservations about landmarking Webster Hall, saying preservation guidelines would increase costs for maintaining the building and make it more difficult to rent.
“We are in favor of preservation, but we are also concerned about the livelihood of our organization. Our ability to rent out depends on the costs to maintain the building,” Roel said.
Ron Ballinger, who has run Webster Hall since 1992, doesn’t share these worries. “Preservation of these buildings is important to preserve the character of the East Village. We support the landmarking efforts,” Ballinger said.
The next step in this landmarking process is an official report followed by a commission vote on the designation of the buildings, which could take several months. Landmark status will be effective with a confirmative vote, but the City Council can override it within 120 days.