Architects told by landmarks group to go back to the drawing board
upper west side The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission denied a developer’s application to demolish a 22-unit building he recently purchased on W. 79th Street, but the developer will likely succeed in getting approval by the commission at some point to demolish the building.
Anbau Enterprises bought the five-story building at 203-209 W. 79th Street in February, and had plans to build in its place a 16-story luxury condo that includes a two-story penthouse on the top floors. According to permits filed with the DOB, Anbau’s project included 62,000-square-feet of residential housing and 5,000-square-feet of retail space.
The building was originally four separate row houses built in 1896-97 that was combined into one apartment building in the 1970s. According to the LPC, the building is classified as having a modern style façade but is not classified as a landmark. However, since it falls within the Upper West Side-Central Park West Historic District, Anbau needs LPC approval before it can be demolished.
Anbau retained Morris Adjmi Architects to design the 16-story building. Among the objections from Community Board 7’s Preservation Committee was the proposed building’s lack of architectural transition to the existing townhouses to the west, the complete blocking of the adjacent 12-story Lucerne Hotel’s wall to the east, the scale and bulk of the proposed building, and the inclusion of terraces on the southwest corners of 10 of the floors, which have no precedent on West 79th Street, according to the Historic Districts Council. The council, which testified, asked Morris Adjmi to consider moving the terraces to the back of the building.
Several lawmakers, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Councilmember Helen Rosenthal and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, supported the community board’s objections and asked the LPC to deny Anbau’s application. Aside from lawmakers or their representatives, about 10 other people voiced their concerns with the project, including residents of other buildings on West 79th Street.
Robert Withers, who lives nearby on W. 80th Street, told the LPC that Morris Adjmi’s design will destroy the neighborhood’s distinctive and beautiful skyline.
“These vistas have existed for a hundred years since the building of the Lucerne Hotel, for scores of families and residents of this block. I’ve been enjoying them since 1976,” said Withers. “This is a common heritage of our historical district, an urban landscape and aesthetic that’s been enjoyed by generations.”
Withers urged the LPC to deny Morris Adjmi’s design. “There are no tweaks that would fix it,” he said.
The LPC decided to close the application with no action, meaning Anbau and Morris Adjmi can return with a revised plan that addresses the LPC’s and the community’s objections.
A consultant for Anbau and Morris Adjmi, Elise Quasebarth, told the LPC that the “modern style façade” of the existing building seems to be a catch-all term for buildings without any particular historic features, and that demolishing it would be of little consequence to the surrounding historic district.
“This [building] is particularly lacking in historical distinction,” said Quasebarth, a principal at the historic preservation firm Higgin, Quasebarth and Partners, LLC.
Crucially, this point seems to have traction with the LPC, whose sole concern is the aesthetic and historical implications that any new building will have on the surrounding district. Most of the commissioners agreed that the building could be demolished without significant historic impact, making it likely that Anbau and Morris Adjmi will eventually present a more palatable plan to the LPC that will be approved.
LPC Chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan told Morris Adjmi and Quasebarth that she walked the block on West 79th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway in preparation for the hearing, and that a tall building “might be possible” on the site, but that Adjmi’s proposal was wrong for the block. Inherent in that statement is the notion that the commission would approve a plan that involves demolishing the existing building. At least two other commissioners stated outright that they’d be in favor of demolition if it was accompanied by the right proposal.
Anbau is at the top end of luxury residential development – the firm installed a $2.3 million filtered fresh air system into their property at 155 East 79th Street – and isn’t likely to abandon their plans to demolish and build over the existing building at 203-209 West 79th Street. Included in the company’s portfolio is 110 Central Park South, a 25-story, 81-unit luxury development that lists units in the millions of dollars. Anbau is managed by founder Stephen Glascock and architect Barbara van Bueren, who are married.
The company is already moving to empty the building. According to Councilmember Helen Rosenthal’s office, the five rent-regulated tenants have already been bought out. “We heard it was for a pretty significant sum,” said a Rosenthal staffer, who didn’t know the exact amount.
Retail tenants in the building told The West Side Spirit that they heard the building had changed hands, but have yet to be contacted by the new owner.
“I don’t have any messages from [the new owner],” said Sojung Lee, owner of Tower Cleaners, who said she’s worried for the future. “I don’t know if I’d move or close, I haven’t decided yet.”
An employee at Mai Salon said they haven’t been contacted by Anbau regarding their lease. The antiques shop A Select Few did not return calls for comment. Tower Cleaners has been in the space for two years and half years, according to Lee.
Judith Calamandrie lives at the corner of West 79th Street and Amsterdam Avenue and testified at the LPC hearing about the impact that a luxury condo would have on the social fabric of her neighborhood.
“There is collateral damage. Don’t we care that people live in the building? Don’t we care that the stores already there are part of the stability of the neighborhood? They’re not yogurt shops, which will disappear in two weeks,” said Calamandrie. “Where are the hardware stores? Where are the shoe repair stores? They’re all gone.”