Landmarking Yorkville’s German Past

Written by Megan Finnegan Bungeroth on . Posted in Breaking News, News Our Town, Our Town.


The Yorkville Bank building is expected to be the Upper East Side’s newest landmarked building. Photo by Andrew Schwartz.

 

Late last month, the LPC met to hear testimony about the historic building, which it described as “an elegant Italian renaissance revival-style structure.”

The Yorkville Bank, which was established in 1893 by German stockholders, first operated out of an office on Third Avenue and East 85th Street. In 1905, they commissioned Robert Maynicke, a German-born architect who had designed the Germania Bank Building, now a city landmark, to construct the current four-story building of granite, limestone, brick and terra cotta.

The LPC and those supporting the effort cite the building’s cultural history as an important factor in the designation decision.

“This building is significant not only for it architectural integrity but its representation of the German-American community that once populated this part of Manhattan,” said Tara Kelly, executive director of Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, who testified in support of the designation at the recent hearing. “This area of Yorkville centered around the ‘German Broadway,’ which had all kinds of businesses that supported the community, and unfortunately there isn’t much left of that.”

While architecturally valuable buildings are sometimes marred by haphazard additions, proponents of landmarking the bank building point to the 1923 addition by architect P. Gregory Stadler, designed to replicate Maynicke’s original structure, as an enhancement and asset of the aesthetic. They also assert that while the facade has been slightly altered since it was constructed, the main features that make it stand out are still intact and are the most prominent aspects of the building.

“Although the ground-floor windows were elongated in the 1990s for use as show windows for the retail enterprise, the elegant arched openings, separated by full-height pilasters and flanked by delicate roundels, were left intact,” the LPC stated in their summary of the landmark merits. “The building’s massive sculpted bronze entrance doors, second-story triangular pediments supported by scroll brackets, classical window surrounds and two imposing cornices have all survived as well.”

Others pointed out that as the neighborhood continues to grow in popularity, it will be more urgent to protect worthy buildings with landmark status.

“Just as the opening of the Second and Third Avenue elevated railroads brought initial urbanization to Yorkville, work on the Second Avenue Subway has brought new construction to the area and development pressure will only increase with the line’s eventual opening,” said Nadezhda Williams of the Historic Districts Council.

The building changed hands several times over the course of its history but continued to operate as a bank until 1991, when it was converted to retail space on the ground floor and a fitness center on the upper floors. It is currently owned by the Related Companies, which supports the designation, and houses the Gap and an Equinox gym.

“If the owner is for it, then typically, it goes right through,” Kelly said of the chances that the LPC will vote for the designation.

City Council Member Jessica Lappin has also expressed her support for the landmark, and Lo van der Valk, president of the Carnegie Hill Neighbors, praised the building, saying that its massive doors “remotely evoke a modern industrial counterpart to the Gates of Paradise of the Florence Baptistery.”

The LPC will likely agree, and is schedule to vote on the Yorkville Bank Building’s application on Tuesday, April 17.

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