Archive for the ‘Landmark’ Category

Service of Leave it Alone, Already II: Why Buy a Landmark if You’re Going to Destroy It?

Thursday, June 27th, 2019

Booth Cottage Photo: chicago.curbed.com

I complained, in the 2016 iteration of this title, about the person who bought a Brooklyn brownstone I once coveted that had all of the original plasterwork that they tore out. “Couldn’t they have bought another house?” I thought after I visited the remodeled, stripped down atrocity on a house tour. That post addressed physical attacks on public buildings—The Waldorf Astoria and Grand Central Terminal.

Photo: curbed.com

I had a similar sinking feeling when reading Michael J. Lewis’s article, “Bulldozing a Modernist Landmark” with subhead “The looming demolition of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Booth cottage is the latest example in a long history of our culture’s disregard for its architectural past.” The owner’s complaint about the Glencoe, Ill. property: it’s a small house on a big lot. So pick on another property!

Lewis wrote: “People are usually surprised to learn that America’s historic buildings, no matter how significant, go unprotected unless there is a local preservation ordinance. Even those ordinances are typically toothless, since they can be overruled for reasons of ‘hardship,’ a category so elastic that the inability to maximize the profit potential of your property can count.

Photo: 6sqft.com

“As it happens,” Lewis continued, “there is a preservation ordinance in Glencoe, but the Sherman M. Booth cottage has been given only ‘honorary’ landmark status. That means that demolition can occur, but the town can mandate a 180-day stay of execution. For the moment, the cottage still stands; behind-the-scenes negotiations might save it yet.”

Lewis cited statistics kept by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy which report that only two of Wright’s structures have been demolished with 380 existing, so losing a third may not be the big deal I think it is. Your thoughts? Why are Americans so blasé about their architectural history?

Photo: travelandleisure.com

Service of Leave it Alone, Already

Monday, July 11th, 2016

Waldorf Astoria

Waldorf Astoria

I thought, “Why did they have to pick on this house to ruin?” I’ve written before about the Brooklyn Heights house that had one thing going for it: All of the original plaster and woodwork were intact, which was unusual. We didn’t get the house but revisited it during a house tour. The new owners had stripped away every trace of original architectural element and transformed the 19th century brownstone into a 20th century monument to the innocuous and bland.

Wall Street Journal Urban Gardner columnist Ralph Gardner Jr. similarly mourned the news of the Waldorf Astoria’s conversion to condos and reminded us of the Plaza’s—that took the soul out of the place. In “Another Condo-Conversion Casualty The Waldorf Astoria is going the lamentable way of the Plaza,” he spells out his prediction.

He pointed out that Paris and London have their grand hotels and now New York no longer will have any. Like fortunate people of a certain age who grew up in NYC or visited, he reminisced about having lunch at the Plaza with his father when he was a child. I remember tea with my mother.

Vintage photo of Plaza Hotel. Photo: boweryboyshistory.com

Vintage photo of Plaza Hotel. Photo: boweryboyshistory.com

“These days the Plaza feels like the victim of some genteel version of a neutron bomb—the property remains intact but the people are largely missing.” Gardner wrote, and he asks: “Aren’t there enough shiny new billionaire condo developments rising along 57th Street and Central Park South to satisfy demand? Must we squander our inheritance?”

A few days before Gardner’s article, the New York Post covered the demise of the Campbell Apartment. In “Cocktail Shakeup at Grand Central Terminal,” Julia Marsh and Laura Italiano reported that the 1920s glam office-turned vintage bar–and Mark Grossich—lost the lease after 17 years. Grossich’s rent was $350,000/year and he offered $800,000 on a 10-year lease, but  Scott Gerber, who said he was approached by MTA advisors and didn’t seek out the property, will pay $1.1 million/year. Grossich said he’d counter offer on the highest bid plus 2.5 percent. He said the MTA told him: “They way overbid you. We can’t do that.”

The reporters wrote that last year “the MTA began aggressively overhauling Grand Central’s restaurants and bars hoping for higher rents and ever-more-high-end lease holders.”

Campbell Apartment. Photo: alamy.com

Campbell Apartment. Photo: alamy.com

After years of neglect, Grossich restored the space almost two decades ago. It had served for a while as a “pokey; a cell for all the wastrels and drifters that came through Grand Central.” He spent $millions. Marsh and Italiano described him as a “master of the timeless, intimate cocktail lounge, temples to single-malt scotch, fine cigars and tufted upholstery.”

The new lease holder “plans to modernize.” Marsh and Italiano described what Gerber—who runs “hip, jangly and galvanic lounges”—has in mind. It will be “something less Brooks Brothers, more limited edition sneakers and Gucci-T-shirts.” He caters to athletes, musicians and celebrities who don’t wear jackets. The space is landmarked, so he can’t touch the walls, ceiling or windows. “But he’s installing a costly new stone bar top, new bar and kitchen equipment, a new heating and air conditioning system.” He’ll add chandeliers, high-tech lighting and instead of big band tunes Gerber promises “eclectic music.”

Funny. Americans travel the world to visit and admire ancient ruins, churches, mosques, estates, chateaux and celebrated historic landmarks but they don’t seem to have the same sensibility about their own history. Increasingly the past is considered fuddy duddy and proponents are fatally old fashioned and terminally wrong. And there are fewer and fewer places for them to enjoy around here. Why is this? Will we eventually be sorry? Will you miss NYC’s last grand hotel? Does the city need yet another luxury condo?

Fendi leather Bugs, $1,000

Fendi leather Bugs, $1,000

 

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