Dismantle the O'Toole Building and reassemble part of its facades as free-standing sculpture in the Triangle block

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Building is key to St. Vincent's Hospital's plans for a new hospital

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Landmarks hears its "hardship" applications for revised plans

That are widely regarded as an improvement

but concerns remain about appropriateness of demolishing O'Toole

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Community Board 2 comments on revised plan but is "unwavering" in its support of the historical significance of O'Toole

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Commission votes 6 to 4 October 28, 2008 to approve the hardship application and demolition of the O'Toole Building

Revised plan for new hospital and residential conversions and development at St. Vincent's Hospital

Rendering of revised St. Vincent's plan for new hospital on west side of Seventh Avenue and residential conversion and development on its properties on the east side of the avenue in Greenwich Village

By Carter B. Horsley

The Landmarks Preservation Commission held a lengthy hearing June 3, 2008 on "hardship" applications for a revised plan by St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Centers and the Rudin family to redevelop the hospital's properties on both sides of Seventh Avenue in Greenwich Village.

O'Toole, loading and hospital buildings

Now: O'Toole Building, left, loading station, foreground, hospital buildings, background right

The hospital maintains it must demolish the Edward and Theresa O'Toole Medical Services Building on the west side of the avenue between 12th and 13th Streets to erect a new hospital building and the Rudin organization wants to convert four existing hospital buildings on the east side of the avenue between 11th and 12th Streets to residential properties and erect several new residential buildings.

Initial plan for new hospital

Initial proposal for 329-foot-high new hospital on site of O'Toole Building on west side of Seventh Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets

Revised plan for new hospital

Revised plan for new hospital that is 299 feet high and not as wide

The commission held a hearing on the initial proposal recently and indicated it had many problems with it such as the proposed demolition of the O'Toole building on the west side of the avenue and the preservation of some of the hospital's buildings on the other side of the avenue. Commissioners also expressed concerns about the height and bulk of the proposed buildings.

Model of revised plan looking up Seventh Avenue from the south

Model of revised plan looking up Seventh Avenue from the south

The revised plan "significantly" reduces the bulk and scale of its expansion plans and preserves its Nurses, Raskob, Smith, and Spellman buildings in the Greenwich Village Historic District that are east of Seventh Avenue. Those were buildings that the commission expressed an interest in preserving. These changes were met with widespread approval by many civic organizations although most still had minor points to pick with some aspects of the design of the residential buildings.

The original proposal called for a large residential building on the Seventh Avenue east blockfront between 11th and 12th Streets and many townhouse-size buildings on the side-streets. The new plan keeps one of the existing hospital buildings on the southeast corner of 12th Street and Seventh Avenue and therefore reduced the width of the proposed new large residential building on the avenue. The revision also significantly reduced the number of mid-block townhouses in the plan (see The City Review article on the original plan.)

Model of the residential complex looking west

Model of the residential complex in revised plan on the east side of Seventh Avenue with tall building fronting on the avenue

The revised plan now intends to re-use several of the existing large buildings on both 11th and 12th Street and the renovation includes the removal of through-wall air-conditioners on those buildings as well as making changes for more attractive roofs.

Rendering of proposed new residential tower on the northeast corner of 11th Street and Seventh Avenue

Rendering of proposed new residential tower on the northeast corner of 11th Street and Seventh Avenue

Spokespeople for the hospital told the commission in great detail that various alternatives to its proposal were not feasible.

Shelly Friedman, an attorney for the hospital, explained that the commission's citing the buildings it now plans to preserve preclude the development of a new mid-block hospital and an architect for the hospital explained that building over the O'Toole building would involve very expensive foundation and truss work and would result in a tower of more than 400 feet in height compared to it present plan for a 299-foot-4-inch high new hospital building.

Another spokesperson said that a property that the hospital owns on Sixth Avenue between 15th and 16th Street does not have a large enough footprint for the new hospital and other speakers emphasized that its present buildings are highly inefficient and do not meet contemporary hospital standards in terms of ceiling heights and square footage for surgery rooms and the like.

Renderng of proposed residential buildings on Seventh Avenue

Rendering of proposed residential buildings on Seventh Avenue looking east

Many speakers had very high praise for the Rudin family's recent plan to provide a 563-student school for the neighborhood as well as the lowering of scale and height of the proposed new buildings and the preservation of several red-brick, mid-rise buildings. Others remarked on the remarkable fast production of the revised plans.

Hospital buildings east of Seventh Avenue

Hospital's existing buildings east of Seventh Avenue. Revised plan would preserve the Smith & Raskob Building, the Nurses residence, the Spellman Building and the Cronin Building

Revised plan for properties east of Seventh Avenue with townhouses shown in light blue

Revised plan for properties east of Seventh Avenue with 5 townhouses in blue on 11th Street

Lisa Kersavage, director of advocacy and policy for the Municipal Art Society, submitted a statement that said that the society's preservation committee believes that the design and scale of the proposed residential buildings "are not yet at a point where they are appropriate for the Greenwich Village Historic District," adding that "Given the size and complicated nature of this application, we do not want the scrutiny normally afforded to new buildings in historic districts to get lost in the shuffle." She said the committee felt that the design of the mid-block new townhouses should be revised as "the design, which seems suburban particularly in their stepped plan and corner windows, is oddly out of character" with the historic district. The society's committee also was not happy with the "proposed use of channel glass and copper on these vertical 'zippers'" at the end bays of the Nurses building."

Schematic of 405-foot-high tower that could be built over O'Toole

Schematic of new, 405-foot-high hospital structure that could be built over O'Toole Building

In his statement, Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for the Historic Preservation, said that the revision of the residential proposals "certainly improves the application, but "strongly" urged the commission to not make any final decision about them "until it has heard and made a decision upon the O'Toole hardship case and new hospital application." Regarding the proposed new building on Seventh Avenue and its wing on 11th Street, he said his organization was "glad to see a reduction in the height of the building as well as a change in the choice of brick," but still felt the building was "still quite tall" and felt that balconies should be eliminated from the wing and that retail should not extend to the side-streets.

Revised plan would align triangular block with southern street grid

Revised plan would align triangular block south of O'Toole with southern street grid

A spokesman for the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects said it supported the demolition of the O'Toole building as its site is the hospital's "best opportunity."

12th Street elevations

Top shows proposed elevation of revised plan for 12th Street and bottom shows existing elevation

A statement drafted by Nina Rappaport, chair of the New York Chapter of DOCOMOMO
(Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites and Neighborhoods of the Modern Movement), opposed the hardship application and described the O'Toole building, which was designed by Albert C. Ledner in 1964 for the National Maritime Union, as "a significant later modern work of architecture that incorporates innovative technologies, social spaces for the labor movement, and a creative and striking design."

Rendering of new mid-block building on 12th Street

New mid-block building on 12th Street would have copper roof and some copper mullions

The condominium apartment tower on the avenue has been reduced in height by 30 feet and in width on the avenue by 60 feet.

Rendering of 12th Street elevation showing slight changes to existing buildings

Rendering of 12th Street elevation showed slight changes to existing buildings expecially at roof levels

The proposed new hospital tower on the "O'Toole" site has been designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners and the residential buildings for Rudin have been designed by FXFowle.

Rendering of base of proposed new hospital building viewed from the north

Rendering of base of proposed new hospital building viewed from the north

Rendering of Seventh Avenue facade of proposed new hospital building on O'Toole site

Rendering of base of proposed new hospital building on 12th Street

Rendering of base of proposed new hospital building on 12th Street

Simeon Bankoff, the executive director of the Historic Districts Council, told the commission that "there is no suggestion that O'Toole is inadequate for its present uses," and suggested that "a not for profit, needing to relocate its facilities in order to carry out its mission, could acquire a landmarked site….and then ask that the hardship provisions be applied to this new site. This would render every landmarked building as potentially unprotected."

Rendering of five townhouses planned for11th Street

Rendering of five townhouses planned for 11th Street

The townhouses in the revised plan are bland and have no cornices and no contextual relationship to the traditional townhouses of the West Village and their design needs reworking. The handling of the red-brick, mid-rise buildings that are to be preserved in the revised plan shows considerable sensitivity and makes them a lot more attractive, especially because they begin to look like attractive pre-war apartment buildings.

The hospital made a compelling and convincing case for the great need for it to significantly upgrade its operations and it was pretty evident that renovation of its existing buildings would not suffice, leading one speaker for the hospital to suggest that they would become obsolete and the hospital might have to shut down altogether. As it is the only trauma center serving Manhattan's West Side south of 59th Street that is not an attractive option for the city, to say nothng of the fact that the hospital has operated in Greenwich Village for 150 years.

The crux of the matter is the O'Toole Building. In my previous Plots & Plans article on the hospital plans, I called for its preservation in the belief that it was an important post-war example of modern architecture that was eclectic and very interesting and had its own important history as it had been built for the National Maritime Union. Furthermore, since the desecration of Huntington Hartford's museum at Columbus Circle, it was important for the city to save something of considerable interest from that era.

As one of the hospital spokespersons described the alternative of attempting a "Hearst Building" solution to O'Toole by building over it, it seemed obvious that it would be much more expensive than a simple new building and that, because of cantilevers and column spacing, it would be 105 feet taller than the revised tower's plans, pushing it beyond the brink of what the do-gooders in the Village would be likely to tolerate.

There is a solution I believe that can accommodate most concerns and I told Bill Rudin during a break in the meeting that I was capable of being a hypocrite.

Carefully dismantle the facades of the O'Toole Building and erect them on the triangular block just to the south of the existing O'Toole Building. The concept is not to "move" the building but to recreate it in a somewhat different and smaller configuration that would retain the double-denture, porthole motifs and glazed tiles. Later in the day I ran into Sam White, the architect, and discussed it briefly with him and he instantly remarked that by angled two of the facades one could even image the "prow" of a ship, which is even more appropriate.

I mentioned it also to Andrew Berman and he reminded me that many in the community are quite adamant about a park on the block but as the photograph near the top of the story indicates the west part of the block is at best an eye-sore that is used as a loading dock and no true park has even been created on this very important site that once housed the Loew's Sheridan Theater that was the major movie palace of the Village. There is no reason why the east end of the block can be turned into a community garden even though there is a large and handsome one just a few blocks away on Greenwich Avenue at the rear of the Jefferson Market Courthouse Library.

A reassembly of a good part of the O'Toole facades could be a free-standing sculpture that encloses a playground and/garden.

Most importantly, it pays very visible homage to Ledner's imaginative architecture and vision and as a reminder of the importance of maritime trade to the city and gives the city a novel "ruin."

Hold off on the sledgehammers and get some skilled craftsmen to salvage these facades, then go ahead and build your hospital.

The commission will meet again on the application next month.

Community Board 2 passed a resolution June 19, 2008 addressing the "hardship" applications before the Landmarks Preservation Commission for a revised plan by St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Centers and the Rudin family to redevelop the hospital's properties on both sides of Seventh Avenue in Greenwich Village.

The commission held a hearing on the initial proposal recently and indicated it had many problems with it such as the proposed demolition of the nautically-styled Edward and Theresa O'Toole Medical Services Building on the west side of the avenue and other buildings.

The revised plan "significantly" reduced the bulk and scale of its expansion plans and preserves its Nurses, Raskob, Smith, and Spellman buildings that are east of Seventh Avenue in the Greenwich Village Historic District.

The original proposal called for a large residential building on the Seventh Avenue east blockfront between 11th and 12th Streets and many townhouse-size buildings on the side-streets.

The revised plan now intends to re-use several of the existing large buildings on both 11th and 12th Street and reduced the number of townhouses dramatically and the renovation includes the removal of through-wall air-conditioners in the buildings proposed to be preserved.

The landmarks commission held a hearing earlier this month on the hardship applications and will hold another one next month.

Considerable discussion at last night's meeting centered on whether the resolution should be amended to state that the board wants the hospital to stay "in the neighborhood," but the "friendly amendment" was eventually withdrawn after Brad Hoylman, the board's chair, said that it might be premature as the board wants to hospital and the commission to further explore the possibility of "alternative" sites.

The resolution and two lengthy appendices detail various suggestions the board has about details of the hospital's revised plans and a friendly amendment to the resolution was accepted to a clause stating that the board was "on record stating that the O'Toole building has historical significance, an assessment supported by the LPC's comments" that changed the wording slightly to "has not wavered in its commitment" to the building's historical significance.

The board's position is that the height of the proposed residential tower on Seventh Avenue "should be further reduced" and its "set back penthouses and mechanicals seem bulky and inappropriate." "The window openings," it continued, "are too large for a Village apartment building" and "the balconies and cantilevered elements are out of place in the district" and "it is important to reduce the presence of retail on the side streets."

With regard to the proposed annex on 11th Street to the Seventh Avenue tower the board questioned "having balconies as such a prominent feature" as "they are unprecedented, and are a distracting element. We worry that they will be used for storage, which is unacceptable."

It said that the proposed new hospital tower, shown at the left, on the O'Toole site is "still too tall" and that "its entry facade on Seventh Avenue is out of scale" and it questioned "the pros and cons of the tower's ellipse" plan.

The board, which stated that it "supports the modernization of the St. Vincent's facility and recognizes the hospital's immense contributions to our local community," said it is pleased that, "thirty years later, St. Vincent's is committed to creating the open public space promised when" they built two new buildings in 1979.

Its documents raised questions about "how can the LPC ensure that a precedent will not be set that would allow other non-profit institutions in our neighborhoods to demolish historic structures in order to fulfill their mission." (6/17/08)

In late October, 2008. the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 6 to 4 in favor of the hardship application submitted by St. Vincent's Hospital in the Greenwich Village Historic District to demolish the Edward and Theresa O'Toole Medical Services Building on the west side of Seventh Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets.

The hospital wants to replace it with a new 299-foot-high hospital building and also plans to demolish several of its buildings on the east side of the avenue so that the Rudin Organization can erect several hundred condominium apartments. The Rudin Organization has also promised to convert part of a property nearby as a neighborhood public school for the community as part of the protracted controversy over the hospital's expansion.

In an article in the October 29-November 4, 2008 edition of The Villager, Albert Amateau identified the four commissioners opposed to the granting of the hardship application were "Roberta Washington, Margery Perlmutter, Stephen Byrns and Roberta Gratz." "Voting in favor of the hardship application in addition to Tierney were Joan Gerner, Diana Chapin, Libby Ryan, Christopher Moore and Frederick Bland. Last May, the commission informally but definitely told St. Vincent’s to go back to the drawing board because its plan to demolish O’Toole to build a 325-foot-tall new hospital on the west side of Seventh Ave. at 11th St. would not be appropriate for the historic district. The hospital came back two weeks later with the proposed hospital tower reduced to 299 feet tall and a residential tower on the east side of Seventh Ave. to be built by the Rudin Organization reduced from 265 feet tall to 200 feet," the article continued, adding that "The O’Toole Building, designed by Albert Ledner for the National Maritime Union, was built in 1964 and acquired by St. Vincent’s in 1975 after the historic district was designated. Tierney said the commission would consider later whether the design of the proposed 299-foot-tall hospital building is appropriate for the historic district."

The article quoted Robert Tierney, the commission's chair, as stating that “We will require that no demolition is attempted until all required approvals and financing for the project are in place.”

In a joint statement, William Rudin and Alfred E. Smith IV, chairman of St. Vincent’s, said the hardship application approval “allows us to take another step forward to building a 21st-century, technologically advanced hospital for Manhattan’s West Side and Downtown.”

But Mr. Amateau's article noted that "in her dissenting vote, Washington, an architect who has designed hospitals, said St. Vincent’s did not adequately investigate alternatives to the O’Toole option. She cited the midblock of the current campus on the east side of the avenue as an alternative that could work. She said St. Vincent’s had a vested interest in showing that alternatives did not work, and called for more exploration of possibilities. Perlmutter, a former architect and a land-use lawyer who has represented hospitals, said that demolishing the St. Vincent’s Nurses Residence and Spellman buildings for a new hospital on the east side of the avenue would be better than demolishing O’Toole. Perlmutter said she did her own analysis of a possible midblock site and came up with a potential 150-foot-tall hospital building with as much space as the proposed O’Toole site. Gratz, a preservation advocate and author, said the proposed hardship application was the most serious challenge to landmarks preservation since Grand Central Terminal, a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that landmark protection of buildings was constitutional. She said that O’Toole could still be used for St. Vincent’s outpatients and does not create a problem. “They have shown that the east campus redevelopment is the problem and they need O’Toole to remedy it,” Gratz said, adding, “This would be a disastrous precedent.” Commissioner Byrns said he was not convinced that the alternatives to the O’Toole site were adequately examined. He agreed that the midblock alternative on the east campus could yield a 150-foot-tall, new hospital comparable to the one proposed for the O’Toole site. Byrns also suggested that a building on the triangle site on the west side of the avenue could connect with a preserved O’Toole Building if W.11th St., which separates them, were closed and made part of an alternative hospital plan.

 

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