A real estate developer wants to double the height of a historic Tribeca building, adding a several stories of glass-enclosed apartments to a brick structure dating from the 1920s. The building, at 50 Hudson Street (located on the corner of Thomas Street), is a legacy Tribeca’s industrial past: It was originally constructed as a headquarters, factory, and warehouse for the John F. Sarle Company, paper merchants.
The proposed addition would add 40 feet to the height of the exiting three-story building, with two levels of glass-enclosed penthouses rising above the original facade of patterned brickwork.
Such a request must receive approval from the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), because 50 Hudson falls within the boundaries of the Tribeca West Historic District. Before LPC will consider such a request, however, it requires the local Community Board to weigh in.
In June, Community Board 1 (CB1) did just that. As Bruce Hermann, co-chair of CB1’s Landmarks and Preservation Committee noted in his presentation, “this is way too big and way out of context — a masonry proposal would have been more contextual.”
Mr. Ehrmann added that not just the building at 50 Hudson, but it’s surrounding location, are worthy of preservation. “If there was one space that justified the creation of the Tribeca West historic district, it was that spot,” meaning the convergence of Thomas, Duane, and Hudson Streets. “The view corridor north from Reade Street and the view corridor east from Duane Park remain largely as they were more than 100 years ago,” he observed.
Finally, Mr. Ehrmann cited an inconsistency in the developer’s application for permission to install the addition to 50 Hudson. When the property owner last applied for such a variance in 2007 (for a much smaller penthouse, which is not visible from the street), “he said the building was, ‘a handsome Beaux Arts composition,'” Mr. Erhmann noted. “Now, he calls it, ‘a nondescript industrial building from the 1920s.’ So their position has changed 180 degrees since the first go-round.”
In 2007, CB1 approved the request for the original, unobtrusive penthouse addition, noting that it would detract minimally from the building’s historic character. But it emphatically rejected the request for the new addition, noting in a resolution passed at the June 27 meeting that, “the current proposal explodes the entire justification for the prior approval with a barrage of non-sequiturs by an armada of hired representatives,” and arguing that, “having an under-built building is not justification for doubling the height of a property that has been low-rise continuously since 1867.” (This was a reference to the structure that occupied the site before the John F. Sarle Company factory, which was of a similar height.)
The views were echoed on July 18, in testimony before the LPC by the Historic Districts Council (HDC), a non-profit that advocates for the preservation of significant historic neighborhoods, buildings and public spaces throughout New York City. A Council representative told the LPC that, “HDC finds the proposed application to be completely inappropriate. This building had a very considered proportion. The proposed addition almost doubles the height of the building. The applicant has argued that the building as it currently stands is ‘out of scale with the taller buildings’ nearby and that ‘the added height would help it fit in with its neighbors.’ Our committee finds this justification confusing. According to this thinking, Grand Central Terminal is extremely out of place between the Chrysler Building, the Met Life Building, and the new One Vanderbilt. Should we then… build a 50-story office tower over [Grand Central] so the added height helps it fit in with its neighbors?”
The HDC representative added that, “the applicant quotes the Tribeca West Historic District Designation Report as saying that Duane Park’s ‘spatial quality is further enhanced by the uniform street walls of the warehouse and store and loft built-ins surrounding it.’ The architect of this project says that raising this building two or three stories will ‘complete the park.’ Our committee wonders if Washington Square Park is also in need of ‘completion.’ Perhaps the problem of differing building heights can be addressed by adding 50 foot tall rooftop additions to every house,” alongside that venerable park.
At its July 18 session, the LPC declined to approve the proposed addition to 50 Hudson, but also left the door open to doing so in the future. Ironically, the LPC panel withheld their approval for reasons that seem likely to aggravate the concerns cited by CB1 and HDC. One commissioner suggested bringing forward the glass facade of the penthouse, to make it flush with the existing brick exterior of the lower floors. (The proposed design had envisioned setting back the glass surface, to make it less prominent.) Several commissioners wondered aloud whether the design they were reviewing might be improved by a larger addition, containing more floors than the two currently proposed. They closed the discussion by inviting the developer and architectural team to come back with a revised plan.