Eve of Destruction

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Preservationists may not have succeeded in saving two West End Avenue , but they did manage to delay the date until a nearby elementary school is finished for the summer.

Community Board 7 and West Side elected officials met on June 12 to prepare for demolition of the brownstones, 732 and 734 West End Ave., near West 96th Street. Although the official start date of the demolition was not finalized at the meeting, Sackman, the buildings’ owner, reached a deal to delay work until P.S. 75, on West End Avenue and West 96th Street, closes for the summer.

“I would prefer if these brownstones didn’t get torn down, but the good news is they will wait till school is out,” said Council Member .

Demolition will take approximately 60 days and leave a filled vacant lot, as Sackman doesn’t have the financing to build yet. The city is also to looking for ways to cut down on noise and dust, particularly because an adjacent building houses a senior residence.

Scaffolding has been up on the buildings since June 2, and nearby residents and school officials were worried about the dust, debris and increased traffic from demolition.

These two brownstones will be torn down this summer. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

These two brownstones will be torn down this summer. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

“I thought it was an excellent idea to try and allay the fears of the people impacted,” said Erika Peterson, vice president of the West End Preservation Society. “Overall, they tried to offer some solutions and be helpful.”

A construction task force assembled by Community Board 7 and Brewer’s office plans to closely monitor the demolition throughout the summer to make sure that work is carried out as safely as possible.

The imminent demolition, along with a new study by Columbia Professor Andrew Dolkart, has spurred preservationists to push for creation of a landmark district. Last month, more than 80 residents gathered at The West End Institutional Synagogue to learn more about Dolkart’s study, which supports turning the entire avenue, from West 70th to 107th streets, into a historic district. Currently, only select buildings and areas on the avenue are landmarked. Dolkart’s study showed that many structures have a high degree of common elements in terms of size, design and the time period in which they were constructed.

“Either it is a landmark district, or it isn’t. It’s an absurdity to go in and out of a historic district,” Dolkart said, referring to the current patchwork of protected buildings.

Borough President Scott Stringer, who attended the May meeting, added, “It’s very easy to support the big name areas, but we all know that everyone who has walked down West End Avenue knows how magical it is. West End Avenue can disappear the same way other non-landmarked areas have.”

In addition to Brewer and Stringer, State Sen. Eric Schniderman and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal have also spoken out in support of the historic district.

But Michael Slattery, senior vice president of research at the Real Estate Board of New York, argues that buildings should be not be clumped together in a historic district.

“You have to look at the individual buildings,” he said.

Landmarking adds to the cost of repairs and upkeep, Slattery added, and creates an extra level of bureaucracy for even small changes to interiors and façades.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission has already reviewed the buildings submitted by the society and decided that the proposal was strong enough to include additional buildings, according to Elisabeth de Bourbon, director of communications.

“Commission staff will survey the additional buildings outside the current proposal this fall,” de Bourbon said.

Twelve neighborhoods in New York are currently waiting to be evaluated as historic districts, including West End Avenue. The commission is also trying to focus on districts outside of Manhattan, de Bourbon said.

The society, though, feels confident about its case.

“With the Dolkart Report in the hands of the LPC and all of the political and citizen support,” said Richard Emery, the society’s president, “we are optimistic that we can get the historic district designation calendared in this municipal election cycle.”

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