By Carter B. Horsley
The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
held a hearing January 22, 2007 on plans to demolish the two-story
building at 746 Madison Avenue and replace it with a 14-story,
mixed-use building planned by Friedland Properties.
Friedland Properties is also asking the commission to issue a
report to the City Planning Commission relating to an application
to waive mid-block transition height limits for the project.
The proposed building, which is between 64th and 65th Streets,
has been designed by Page Ayres Cowley and would contain 12 residential
condominium apartments and four floors of commercial space that
connect to a townhouse, shown in pink in the above rendering,
designed in 1897 by Grosvenor Atterbury on the southwest corner
of the avenue and 65th Street that is also owned by Friedland
The apartments would have an entrance through the townhouse on
The proposed, red-brick building would have
a 15-foot setback above the 5th floor to honor the street-wall
context on the avenue. It has oculi at some of its corners and
would utilize less than the site's available development rights.
Several preservation groups testified that they could not support
the demolition of a "contributing" or "style"
building within an historic district. All buildings in such districts
are separated into "contributing" and "non-contributing"
categories that relate to their architectural and historic significance.
"Although this application is proposing to salvage the storefront
of the existing two-story structure and reincorporate it into
the proposed building, what we will have is a new 14-story building
with a historic remnant. This is not a 12-story rooftop addition;
it is the demolition of a style building," declared the spokesperson
for the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts.
"The demolition and addition to the two-story building divorces
the cast iron facade from its historic fabric and transforms the
reading of the building. As a result, the restored storefront
looks applied rather than preserved. Many committee members felt
the three-story addition directly above the historic facade overwhelms
and flattens the base of the building," declared Lisa Kersavage,
director of advocacy and policy for the Municipal Art Society.
The building originally was a four-story school erected in 1917
and its top two floors were removed in 1937.
"While we admire much about the architect's design,"
Roger Lang said, speaking on behalf of the New York Landmarks
Conservancy, "This survivor deserves better than just a recycle
storefront as mitigation. To be sure, the 1937 alterations were
unfortunate; but they could just as readily be reconstructed instead
of forgotten." Mr, Lang also said that "we think the
height of the proposal is excessive and inappropriate."
"The added bulk will interfere with views
of a picturesque French Renaissance Revival building to the south,
and of the tower of the Pierre beyond," declared Christabel
Gough, the secretary of The Society for the Architecture of the
"The application...avoids contemporary styling, but is a
pale imitation of the Georgian, in decoration, not in form, due
to its curious embrace of the corner building and its rather humble,
half-hidden entrance around the back, on the side street,"
A letter signed by 229 residents of 64th and 65th Streets and
Madison Avenue was entered into testimony in opposition.
Robert Propp, a resident in the area, however, said he would "love
to see the new building" rather than the "ugly"
rears of buildings to the east, adding that he was "sorry
for people that might lose views," but that that was not
a legitimate "concern."
John Tashjian, another nearby resident, described the proposed
building's design as "quite appealing" and representative
of "strong, responsible architecture."
Robert Shapiro declared that the proposed building was "good
architecture" that would "certainly enhance the neighborhood."
An article by Christopher Gray in the January
6, 2007 edition of The New York Times noted that in 1885
Temple B'nai Jeshurun erected a Byzantine-Moorish-style synagogue
on the site designed by Rafael Gustavino and Schwarzmann &
Several years later, John Jacob Astor wanted to build a stable
on the adjacent corner lot but withdrew his plans after synagogue
officials and residents in the area protested, according to Mr.
Gray, who added that the town house on that site was built by
In 1917, the synagogue was replaced by a four-story school that
was erected by William H. Chesebrough and designed by Rouse &
In 1937, the top two floors the building were
removed in an alteration designed by Kenneth B. Norton and in
the 1940s the Navy League of the United States, according to Mr.
Gray, occupied the upper floor as a workroom where women sewed
cloths for the children of enlisted Navy men.
Friedland Properties, of which Lawrence and
Melvin Friedland are principals, proclaims on its website that
it is "the largest landlord on the gold coast of Madison
One of the retail tenants now on the site is La Goulue, a popular
The arguments of the preservation groups opposing
the proposal are based in large part on concerns that it would
set a precedent to demolish a building in an historic district
that has been characterized by the commission as contributing
to the district's architectural and historical importance. That
argument, however, is not very strong inasmuch as the building
had been radically altered with the removal of its top half in
1937. Furthermore, the "glory" of the "remnant"
is its nicely styled cast-iron two story storefront that will
be transferred to the new structure. The commission has on many
occasions authorized restorations of important elements and the
new plan does not really violate any aesthetic or preservationist
aesthetic as it streetfront would retain its bright and cheery
charm only now beneath three stories rather two extra floors of
red brick at the street wall that closely matches its immediate
neighbors, a good and sensitive touch.
The opposition, then comes down to the question
of the project's height, which, at 14 stories, is not out of context
with much of Madison Avenue. The criticism that it may be the
only block in the special preservation district that would have
a "tower" not at its corners but mid-block is a far-fetched
stretch of logic even if true as it is mitigated greatly by the
setback at 63.5 feet.
Mr. Propp's comments that many of those in
opposition are probably only concerned about having some of their
views obstructed and that such a concern has no weight in the
argument about its appropriateness and that the proposed "tower"
would block some less than magnificent vistas of the non-limestone-clad
backs of several buildings are right on the mark.
The project's design obviously tries to recall
quality. traditional, mid-rise, pre-war apartment building designs
and succeeds to a great extent although it might consider a slightly
stronger rooftop treatment. This project definitely is not as
prominent and attention-getting as the one that the commission
failed to approve for 980 Madison Avenue where Sir Norman Foster
designed a 22-story apartment building of cylindrical forms and
reflective glass atop the existing 5-story building across from
the Carlyle Hotel (see The City
Because of the late hour when the application
came up at the commission, the commission decided to continue
the hearing at a later date when comments could be made by the
commissioners and the applicant could address their comments and
The landmarks committee of Community Board
8 voted unanimously June 16, 2008 to recommend that the Landmarks
Preservation issue a certificate of appropriateness for a revised
and downsized plan by Friedland Properties to develop a site at
746 Madison Avenue between 64th and 65th Streets.
The revised plan would add three stories
to the existing 2-story structure that now houses La Goulue, the
The previous plan called for a 14-story,
mixed-use building with 12 residential condominium apartments
and four floors of commercial space that would have connected
with a townhouse designed in 1897 by Grosvenor Atterbury on the
southwest corner of the avenue at 65th Street that is also owned
by Friedland Properties.
The new design by Page Ayres Cowley, who
also designed the previous plan, would contain only commercial
space and would not connect with the adjoining townhouse building
at the corner. In the earlier plan, the proposed apartments would
have an entrance through the corner townhouse building.
Ms. Cowley told the committee that the existing,
two-story, cast-iron facade on the building would be restored,
as it would have been also in the previous plan, and that the
red-brick facade of the upper three-floors of the building would
be closely related in color to the existing base.
The new design conforms to existing zoning
and building regulations.
The landmarks commission has not yet rescheduled
a second hearing on the project. (6/17/08)