Old NY history, why not preserve it?
March 14, 2003
3 Buildings From 1830's Threatened By a Tower
By CHARLES V. BAGLI
A dispute over how to rebuild Lower Manhattan is raging on a narrow street five blocks southeast of ground zero, where three modest Greek Revival buildings dating to the 1830's stand amid looming skyscrapers in an echo of the city's commercial and seafaring origins.
A developer wants to demolish at least one of the five-story brick buildings, on Pearl Street, to make way for a driveway leading to the garage for a 50-story apartment tower under construction behind the three buildings.
Rockrose Development, the builder of the $200 million tower, which is on Gold Street between Platt Street and Maiden Lane, has been encouraged by the Bloomberg administration, which favors residential development downtown and is desperate to promote new construction in a district wounded by the terrorist attack that destroyed the World Trade Center.
But some community groups, downtown politicians and preservationists are waging a last-ditch effort to halt the wrecking ball, saying it would be a shame to wipe out these remnants of the city's 19th-century past. They find it especially ironic that the developer has applied for tax-free federal Liberty Bonds to finance a project that would raze a piece of the city's original commercial district.
"Here are three survivors of the Great Fire of 1835, a little remembrance of what old Manhattan looked like," said Peg Breen, president of the New York City Landmarks Conservancy. "I think they deserve to stand. This is a reminder that as we plan for new development downtown, we should give consideration to older buildings and their potential. It's the mix of history down there that makes the area special. There's plenty of room for new development."
There is some talk of a compromise that would preserve the facade of the building scheduled for destruction, which is at 211 Pearl Street, although it remains to be seen whether a deal can be struck that satisfies all sides.
Some of the same issues are at play three blocks to the north in the South Street Seaport Historic District, where the Milstein real estate family wants to build a two-tower residential building with 450 apartments on a parking lot at Water and Beekman Streets. Community groups and elected officials, who fought the project in the past, have promoted a zoning change that would prohibit tall towers, which they say are incompatible with the district's smaller, 18th-century buildings.
The City Planning Commission recently adopted a compromise that neither side liked and the battle has now moved to the City Council. The Milsteins have said they may not build if the height restrictions are imposed, a prospect that dismays the Bloomberg administration.
Preservationists say they are not trying to stop the Rockrose project but to preserve the three buildings on Pearl Street. The buildings gained attention only recently, when a real estate broker and amateur historian, Alan Solomon, began digging into the past.
The building at 211 Pearl Street was erected in 1832 as a warehouse in what was then the center of the city's mercantile trade. Although it does not look very remarkable now, the handmade brick building, with granite columns, molded stone lintels and oak floors, was then an imposing structure in a city of wood-frame buildings.
William Colgate, a founder of Colgate-Palmolive, who was selling soap at his nearby Dutch Street shop, either built it or was one of several investors in the project, Mr. Solomon said. When the 1835 fire raged on Wall Street, Mr. Colgate called on his Honeybee Volunteer Fire Company to protect the warehouse.
In recent decades, the three Greek Revival buildings have been home to a series of restaurants on the ground floors, with lofts on the floors above.
Rockrose began buying parcels on the block in 1998 for a residential tower but did not begin demolition until late last year. Mr. Solomon took his research to the Landmarks Preservation Commission and won support from Community Board 1; City Councilman Alan J. Gerson; Representative Jerrold Nadler; Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker; and others.
The commission negotiated a one-month standstill agreement but ultimately took no action, because the developer already had a demolition permit. But because Rockrose applied for $200 million in Liberty Bonds, the project is under review by the State Historic Preservation Office.
"This totally took us by surprise," said H. Henry Elghanayan, a principal of Rockrose. "We were days away from demolition, without any indication from anyone that there was anything significant about these buildings. We're hoping to work something out."
Rockrose has also been meeting with state and city officials to come up with a compromise, according to one person involved in the discussions. Under a proposal, Rockrose would preserve the facade of 211 Pearl Street, using the first floor as an entryway to the driveway and garage for the apartment building.
Rockrose owns one of the other brick buildings and hopes to buy the third, for a second tower, which would be built on Pearl Street. If that happens, the fate of the two other buildings is uncertain.
Mr. Solomon said he found the compromise proposal for 211 Pearl Street interesting. "But," he said, "it involves taking out the first floor and the Greek columns, a signature piece of the architecture. It's sort of like knocking down the church steeple."
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
Old NY history, why not preserve it?
Exactly. *Dumb move, ridiculour really.
And for a friggin' driveway. *C'mon. *The guys builing the thing anyway. *I'd say sorry, they can use the street.
Construction site looking east from Gold St. 211 Pearl St is
the dark building on the right.
211 Pearl St
Pearl St itself is historic. It marks the original shoreline of Manhattan, and was named for the mounds of oyster shells the native people left on the beaches.
Great, so keep the street name, those buildings are becoming dilapidated. It's time for some new buildings in the area. Would you also like to save the teepees from the indians? Perhaps we should re-erect some of those around the city. Bring a little bit of history in.
Won't be long now.
How far is pearl from the waterfront? Looks to be in vicinity of the South Street Seaport. Regardless its impact will be minimal.