Controversy is brewing in the West Village, as last week it was revealed that nine landmarked buildings would be partially demolished at the intersection of 14th Street and 9th Avenue as part of a tower and revitalization project at the heart of Gansevoort Market Historic District in Manhattan.
A revised version of the scheme by BKSK Architects to transform the 1840s-era buildings at the intersection and add a nine-story office building was approved last August by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). After a meeting in June where community groups protested that a glass tower would be inappropriate for the northeast corner of 9th Avenue and 14th Street, BKSK slashed the infill tower’s height and changed course from an all-glass curtain wall to one wrapped in a terra-cotta-banded grid.
Now, more than a year later, the Greenwich Village Society For Historic Preservation is sounding the alarm after the Department of Buildings (DOB) ordered the demolition of nine historic row houses at the site. On Friday, October 8, the society sent out an email revealing that the 170-year-old homes at 44-54 Ninth Avenue/351-55 West 14th Street were to be dismantled, even though the LPC’s earlier approval of the project built behind, and connected to, the structures required that the buildings be largely preserved.
“Apparently once work began on the project, the developer [Tavros Holdings, LLC] and the City decided that the nine landmarked buildings were in dangerous, unsafe condition, and needed to be dismantled — a stunning loss of landmarked, historic properties,” reads the plea from last Friday. “Village Preservation has challenged this decision, and questioned the actions of the developer, Department of Buildings, and Landmarks Preservation Commission which led to and allowed this tragic situation to unfold.”
The notice was followed by a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sarah Carroll, chair of the LPC, and DOB commissioner Melanie La Rocca, in which Andrew Berman, executive director of Village Preservation, asked the city to hold the developer accountable and charged them with shoring up what remains of the structures.
However, according to the DOB, the demolition stems from the severely degraded state of the buildings, something not evident when the LPC made its determination last year. The agency told Patch yesterday that the brick facades of the houses had separated from the structures and needed to be demolished as soon as possible to prevent a collapse. Emergency shoring was ordered to prop up the failing facades, and the emergency demolition order reportedly only applied to that section of the historic landmarked homes—and elements of the removed facades would be salvaged and reintegrated back into the final project. The rest of the row houses, built between 1842 and 1847, would remain.
Dov Barnett, founding partner of Tavros, provided the following statement, explaining that the demolition was required on account of deterioration missed during initial surveys:
“Tavros Holdings LLC, the developer of 44-54 Ninth Avenue and 351-55 West 14th Street, has been and continues to be fully committed to renovate, reconstruct, and restore the facades of the historic buildings as part of their work on this site. This work has been conducted in compliance with all laws and regulations and in accordance with all necessary permits and approvals. During the process of non-structural controlled interior demolition, it was discovered that the exterior walls and building structure had deteriorated substantially more than the initial investigations had indicated; this deterioration was preexisting, and not the result of recent work. The engineers on site reached out to the NY City Department of Buildings ( NYC DOB) to immediately alert them to these findings. NYC DOB stopped all work that had potential to affect the historic facades. Tavros is working closely with the NYC DOB and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to be able to proceed with the work responsibly with regard for public safety, the safety of workers, the integrity of the buildings and the original intent of all approvals.”
However, as Patch also pointed out, Village Preservation likely won’t be happy with that outcome even if the damage dated back before the initial survey; in the aforementioned letter, Berman wrote that: “Should demotion move ahead, we urge in the strongest of terms that the owner be required to carefully deconstruct the buildings, maintain the historic material, and faithfully reconstruct the buildings as they were.”