By Carter B. Horsley
The Landmarks Preservation
Commission voted 8 to 3 March 10, 2009 to approve the plans for
a new hospital tower to replace the Edward and Theresa O'Toole
Medical Services Building on the west side of Seventh Avenue between
12th and 13th Streets as part of an ambitious expansion plan by
St. Vincent's Hospital.
Commissioners Roberta Brandes
Gratz, Margery H. Perlmutter and Stephen F. Byrns voted against
The previous day a lawsuit
was filed by several civic organizations and neighbors of the
building to overturn the commission's 6 to 4 ruling last October
that the approved the "hardship application" to demolish
the distinctive structure.
The commission had earlier
determined that the building was important architecturally.
The hospital has entered into
an agreement with Rudin Management to redevelop its Greenwich
Village properties and the controversial plans were substantially
revised to meet some community concerns. The present plan calls
for a major new hospital building on the site of the O'Toole Building
and the preservation of some of the hospital's buildings on the
east side of Seventh Avenue and their conversion to residential
condominium apartments along with new residential condominium
construction that will help finance the hospital's new tower.
The new tower, which has been
designed by Pei Cobb Freed, was reduced about 40 feet in height
to 286 feet during the lengthy review process and the Rudin's
residential plans by FXFowle were significantly altered in scale.
In a statement released by
the hospital after the commission's vote, Bill Rudin said that
the development will now move ahead. "The Rudin family is
excited to continue its work on the responsible development of
the residential components of this plan," he said, adding
that "The Rudin family is more committed than ever to our
partnership with St. Vincent's, a partnership that will result
in a dynamic new residential complex, thousands of jobs for the
construction industry, and thousands of New York residents and
visitors receiving the healthcare they need and deserve."
Mr. Rudin said that the commission
will probably look at his company's residential plans in the project
as early as next month.
The low-rise O'Toole building
was erected in 1964 as headquarters for the National Maritime
Union and its cantilevered design by Albert Ledner (see The City Review Article) incorporated scalloped edges that
evoked portholes and had a glass-block base that the law suit
maintained "gave it a sense of floating above the ground."
The law suit noted that when the building was dedicated "it
was singled out by Ada Louise Huxtable, then the architectural
critic for The New York Times, for its audacity in breaking with
the international style and its effort to reflect the maritime
activities that it housed."
The organizations who are the
plaintiffs included the Historic Districts Council, the Docomomo
New York-Tristate, the Historic Neighborhood Alliance, Landmark
West, the Protect the Village Historic District and numerous individuals
including Carol Greitzner and three nearby residential buildings.
The O'Toole Building occupies
the west blockfront on Seventh Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets
and is just to the north of a full triangular block owned by the
hospital that is used for trucking facility and used to be the
site of the Loew's Sheridan movie theater (see The City Review article).
According to an article by
Albert Amateau in The Villager the landmarks commission "also
approved St. Vincent's plan to add a second story to the one-story
materials-handling building on the triangle across 12th St. from
the O'Toole site." The article said that hospital executives
maintained that "moving some nonclinical functions from the
hospital to the second floor of the smaller building enabled St.
Vincent's to reduce the height of the new hospital."
:Last May, the commission ruled
that the proposed 300-foot-tall hospital to replace the O'Toole
Building would not be appropriate (see The City Review article). The O'Toole Building - designed by Albert Ledner
and built in 1963 for the National Maritime Union - was deemed
a desirable feature of the historic district and commission chairman
Robert Tierney told the hospital to go back to the drawing board
and also consider alternate locations.
The hospital did revise its
plans slightly and presented arguments against other sites and
applied to the commission for a hardship waiver arguing that the
demolition of the O'Toole building was necessary for the hospital
carry out its mission.
The new lawsuit was filed by
Albert Butzel and it claimed that the commission did not follow
precedents determined by the U. S. Supreme Court and also argued
that when the hospital bought the building it was after the creation
of the Greenwich Village Historic District and it therefore should
have been aware of its landmark protections.
Mr. Amateau's article said
that the case "is tentatively scheduled for a court hearing
on April 6."
"We are thrilled that
the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved St. Vincent's design
for its new hospital, allowing us to take another step toward
providing 21st-century, state-of-the-art healthcare for all of
Manhattan's West Side," said Henry Amoroso, St. Vincent's
chief executive officer.
Mr. Amateau's article also
noted that "The Seventh Ave. subway station entrance, originally
planned for inside the hospital property line, will be outside
the building because it requires an elevator that could not fit
within the property."
The approved design of the
new tower indicates that itg will be curved on both sides and
also have orange/beige facades that are unlike the red-brick facades
of most of the hospital's existing buildings on the east side
of Seventh Avenue.
In the new design, the Seventh
Avenue base of the new tower has been redesigned and now has a
marquee with six curved sections, a gesture perhaps to the scalloped
edges of the former National Maritime Union Building that it will
The modified new design still
is ungainly. While it is likely that its detailing will be nice
and that its "elliptical" plan might make good sense
given the current state of medical/hospital technology, this building
is not a masterpiece that will make old architecture buffs forget
the delightful eccentricities of Albert Ledner's building and
its nautical motifs floating above glass-block columns nor the
hospital's unforgiveable replacement of Greenwich Village's only
movie palace with a loading dock for its trucks. The better solution
would have been to insert a tower into the shell of Ledner's building
a la Norman Foster's Hearst Building uptown and to have shifted
some space onto the triangular block to the south occupied by
the loading dock.
The preservationists' claim
that the new building was and is too tall is not very convincing.
Would they demolish the Jefferson Market Court House Clocktower
because it is too tall. Where were they when so many white-brick
monstrosities were being strewn about? A medium size skyscraper
if properly designed can be a thing of beauty and also of context
but context is not a golden, absolute rule.
The commission, of course,
must still rule on the Rudin residential plan and unfortunately
the preservationists were successful in their campaign to have
the commission negotiate major changes. The original plan was
very handsome and the epitome of careful, contextual planning.
What we're now left with is a mish-mash of some not very glorious
red-brick institutional buildings being converted to residential
with a mix of some modest new residential construction. The Rudins
are to be applauded for perserving through all this mess and for
doing their best to help an historic institution better serve
our wonderful but troubled city. St. Vincent's can never be forgiven
its previous destruction of truly nice older buildings on its
site but there is no question that it serves a very important
role in the city. Balancing importantly institutional needs and
community interests and good architecture is obviously not easy
and sometimes major sacrifices must be made.
On June 9, 2009, the commission
was presented with a revised plan for the main Rudin residential
tower on Seventh Avenue. Its height was now reduced to 218 feet
and the commission indicated it was likely to approve it.
St. Vincent's Hospital's
expansion plan in Greenwich Village was finally approved yesterday
by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in July 2009 by a vote
of 9 to 1 after it reduced the height of the largest new residential
building in the complex by 15 feet to 203 feet.
Originally, it had proposed
a 266-foot-high residential condominium building that would have
filled the east blockfront on Seventh Avenue between 11th and
12th Streets. After negotiations lasting more than a year and
a half with the community board and the landmarks commission,
the hospital agreed to retain several existing buildings including
one on the southeast corner of Seventh Avenue and 12th Street.
Earlier this year, the landmarks
commission approved a "hardship" application from the
hospital to demolish the Edward and Theresa O'Toole Medical Services
Building designed by Albert Ledner in 1964 for the National Maritime
Union on the northwest corner of Seventh Avenue and 12th Street.
The commission previously had denied permission to demolish it
and had declared it historically important.
The hospital initially planned
to replace it with a 329-foot-high new hospital building so that
its existing complex across the avenue could be developed residentially
by the Rudin family. The commission and many community groups
including the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation
felt that the proposed new hospital tower, a curved designed by
Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, was too tall and its height was
reduced to 286 feet.
Dan Kaplan of FXFowle Architects
is the designer of the complex's residential plans for the Rudin
organization that initially offered about $300 million to the
hospital for the rights to develop its properties east of Seventh
Construction of the residential
portion of the project will not proceed until after the hospital
moves into its new building.
The entire project still
needs the approval of the City Planning Commission and the City
Council and in March some civic groups filed suit against the
Landmarks Commission claiming that it failed to follow "hardship"
guidelines established in two famous preservation cases, one involving
Grand Central Terminal and the other St. Bartholomew's Episcopal
Church on Park Avenue.
The distinctive O'Toole
building was noted for its nautical motifs and it had been purchased
by the hospital in 1977. The hospital also acquired separately
the former site of the Loew's Sheridan movie theater that had
occupied the triangular block bounding by Seventh Avenue, Greenwich
Avenue and 12th Street and which has been used by the hospital
only as a loading dock.
This part of the Greenwich
Village Historic District is also faced with new construction
in the immediate area as the Metropolitan Transit Authority plans
to put a ventilation facility on the triangular vacant lot on
the southeast corner of Seventh Avenue and Greenwich Avenue that
for many years was occupied by a gas station and a White Tower
restaurant that served scrumptious, but small cheeseburgers with
diced onions, sliced pickles and catsup for under a dollar.
An article by Albert Amateau
in the last week's edition of The Villager reported that on June
22 the MTA presented the local Community Board with several plans
for the site, which is currently surrounded by a wire fence festooned
with ceramic tile plaques commemorating the tragedy of the terrorist
attacks on the World Trade Center of September 11, 2001. The article
indicated that a spokesperson for the MTA indicated it was willing
to incorporate some of the "Tiles for America" in its