To Renovate or Enervate

Community Board 1 (CB1) is taking a dim view of a developer’s plan to modernize a trio of historic structures in Tribeca. The buildings are located at the Leonard Street and West Broadway. Because all three buildings (29 and 31 Leonard Street, and 198 West Broadway) fall within the Tribeca West Historic District, they are protected by the legal equivalent of landmark status.

In mid-2018, a developer known mostly for residential work in the Hamptons paid $25 million for all three buildings, and began plans to convert them from industrial to residential use. Those plans were unveiled to CB1 for the first time in January. (Because of the site’s protected status, the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission must approve any changes, but CB1 has the right to weigh in with an advisory opinion, first.)

Under the developer’s plan, this wall would be pierced by new columns of windows, 15 feet wide and 80 feet tall.
Central to architect Gil Even-Tsur‘s vision is to pierce the east facade of 31 Leonard Street (which faces West Broadway) and insert multiple columns of metal-framed windows that extend for the full height of the building.

Roger Byrom

At CB1’s January 22 meeting, Roger Byrom (who chairs the Board’s Landmarks and Preservation Committee) said, “this a major, major alteration to a very nice corner building. While the applicant wasn’t seeking to overdevelop the site, we feel that the design didn’t particularly fit within the district — particularly this massive amount of glass in the storefront. We didn’t feel it was contextual.”

This point was amplified by Bruce Ehrmann, who serves as the co-cvhair of CB1’s Landmarks and Preservation Committee, when he added, “this is one of the last buildings on Leonard Street to be converted. The architect clearly had zero understanding of the Historic District, or its meaning, or its history. This design maybe belongs in Seattle or Venice Beach, California, but it absolutely doesn’t belong here.”

Bruce Ehrmann

After this discussion, CB1 enacted a resolution rejecting the design, noting that, “the proposed 80 foot tall and 15 foot wide glass and steel intervention at the exposed brick wall would leave a permanent scar on the building and neighborhood, forever stripping 29-31 Leonard Street of its status as a fine example of the typical historic building style (dry goods warehouse) that makes the Tribeca West Historic District one of the most intact historic districts in Manhattan.” The same resolution concluded that, “since there is no historic district in the world where it would be appropriate to make a humongous gash in the façade of an exemplary 19th century warehouse building, Community Board 1 cannot support any part of this application until this gesture is struck from the proposed design.”

The two structures fronting Leonard Street are seven-story lofts that were erected in the early 1880s, by financiers Samuel Babcock (then presidents of International Bell Telephone) and Augustus Juilliard (for whom the Julliard School is named). This was not their first joint venture: the two had earlier been part of the consortium that successfully developed the Riverdale section of the Bronx. They hired architect Jarvis Morgan Slade, whose work would later become synonymous with the cast-iron facades in Soho, and who was also responsible for many of the remaining buildings from that era in the Tribeca West Historic District. The third building at 198 West Broadway, is a one-story structure dating from 1932. Originally used as an auto repair shop, it has more recently served as a garage. In the plan by Mr. Even-Tsur, this building would become new retail space.
Matthew Fenton

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