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    Default Union Square Park

    July 19, 2004

    UNION SQUARE JOURNAL

    Where Interests and Ideals Meet - And Get Along

    By DAMIEN CAVE


    Protesters used wide banners and a lenient noise policy to promote free speech. "There's an open forum here," said one.

    Lauren Grasch strolled through Union Square Park one day recently, intending to buy flowers, when she bumped into a member of "Billionaires for Bush,'' the satirical group that, despite its name, opposes the president.

    Ms. Grasch, 25, an event planner with liberal leanings, had been looking for a way to get involved before the election, and the group's humor appealed to her. So on a whim, she volunteered.

    A week later, she was back in the park, transformed into one of the "Billionaires'' - the mistress of events for New York - complete with a flapper-era dress and elbow-length gloves.

    The inspiration for her involvement and her character came, she said, from nothing more than a stroll through the park.

    "There's an open forum here," she said on Saturday, a lengthy cigarette-holder in hand. "It allows people to hear what others are saying."

    After serving as an impromptu memorial in the days after Sept. 11, Union Square Park became a gathering spot for those affected by the tragedy. Now the park is being transformed once again - this time, into a commercial and political hub.

    On any given weekend, the 3.5-acre park is host to more than a dozen issue-oriented groups. CD vendors bump up against Jews for Jesus, as fans of Ralph Nader compete for attention with Socialist Workers Party volunteers.

    And the crowd of solicitors is growing. On Saturday, new tables with recruiters for John Kerry's presidential campaign and the AIDS group Act Up appeared, and yesterday, a wellness festival - the first ever held by Tendu magazine - swarmed the area with 30 vendors and a stage in the middle of the park for lectures and public pilates.

    "Every week, there's something else," said John Contino, founder of Mighty Mutts, an animal adoption agency that has been appearing on the park's southwest corner since 1994. "There used to be a special event once a month. Now it's all the time."

    Much of the activity echoes the park's past. In 1865, thousands gathered on the oval slice of land where Broadway and Park Avenue South meet just above 14th Street to celebrate Civil War victories.

    On March 6, 1930, 35,000 unemployed workers gathered to hear speakers denounce capitalism, and a generation later, the park played host to Trotskyites, civil rights rallies and anti-Vietnam be-ins.

    This time, however, the park has become a venue where competing ideas, groups and vendors vie for attention but somehow get along. The political activists tend to lean left, but differ on candidates or tactics.

    For example, at the south end of the park on Saturday, Claudia Logan, 52, and Karen Nachbar, 31, registered voters at a table adorned with blue John Kerry signs. A few feet away, Jerry Kann wandered with a clipboard, aiming to get enough signatures to put Mr. Nader on the ballot in November. He stood only a few feet from Ruth Robinett, 58, who hoped to grab a few signatures of her own, for local Socialist candidates.

    There were also volunteers asking for people to donate $18 a month to support a poor child abroad, and a pair of musicians trying to collect a few bucks of their own.

    By 4:30, Jason Blank was holding a 30-foot-wide banner declaring "Stop the Police State" and railing against New York Police Department officers driving by. Less than a block away, on the eastern edge of the park, two patrolmen spent the afternoon signing up recruits for the city's police exam.

    The officers, Alex Kitsakos and Israel Linares, seemed unperturbed by the park's almost circuslike atmosphere. When someone dressed as a 10-foot white bowling pin walked by - an advertisement for Bowlmor.com - Officer Kitsakos yelled, "Hey you want to do something different?"

    Both officers said they come to the park simply because it yields results. Between 100 and 150 people sign up for the exam during a typical afternoon in Union Square, they said, making it one of the most successful recruiting locations in Manhattan. "It does great," Officer Linares said, standing in front of a flag-painted van. "There are universities nearby. There's a great diversity of people who come here, and there are even tourists who come through and want to take the exam."

    Members of other groups also said that their presence was largely pragmatic. Ms. Nachbar, a neighborhood resident who decided to set up the John Kerry table a few days earlier, said that the park lets everyone piggyback on the popularity of Saturday's farmer's market, which attracts shoulder-to-shoulder crowds from all over the city. Mr. Contino, the Mighty Mutts veteran, said that the park also benefited from its location at the hub of the L, N, Q, R, W, 4, 5 and 6 subway lines. "It's not east; it's not west," he said. "People come from all sides."

    And according to vendors and weekend activists, the city's Department of Parks and Recreation also deserves some credit. In 1985, the south end of the park was expanded to include a wide concrete set of stairs - the spot occupied on Saturday by Mr. Blank's antipolice banner and a group of Brazilian dancers. In 2002, further renovations added space on the southwest corner, where artists, musicians and activists now congregate.

    Since 9/11, police and park officials have tended to be slightly more lenient with crowd control. Noise, from megaphones or live music - which played for hours in the park during last August's blackout - often goes overlooked.

    "The advantage of the south steps is that it's not directly in front of people's homes - unlike other parks,'' said the city's parks commissioner, Adrian Benepe. The surrounding buildings are commercial, he said, making it "a space where you can let it go a little bit more than usual."

    There are critics of the lax approach, including Mr. Contino, who says that the noise makes it hard to catch the attention of pedestrians.

    But most people seem to enjoy the park as a center of public expression. Even after failing to recognize that Billionaires for Bush was a group of satirists rather than wealthy Republicans, Lynne Watson, a computer graphics designer who lives in Greenwich Village, said she welcomed the park's latest incarnation. "They need this kind of space in New York City," she said. "It's nice to know that there's a spot to come and express yourself."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    Forum Veteran krulltime's Avatar
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    Planning the Final Stages Of a Park's Makeover



    The plaza in Union Square Park where the Greenmarket operates will be resurfaced using colored paving
    stones. The pavilion, center top, is to be redesigned into a seasonal cafe in the tradition of an Italian piazza.



    By LISA CHAMBERLAIN
    Published: June 26, 2005

    THE reclamation of Union Square Park over the last 20 years has been one of the most spectacular neighborhood turnarounds in Manhattan. But its transformation is not yet complete.

    The north end of the park, where the Greenmarket is held four days a week, is still a patchwork of uses that have never been coordinated. Worse, the pavilion, built in 1932, is badly deteriorated and goes largely unused.

    Starting next spring, that part of the park will undergo a major renovation, developed in two years of planning. The Greenmarket will be improved and expanded, playground space will be tripled and the open-air pavilion will be transformed to incorporate a cafe that now operates outdoors south of the pavilion.

    The next stage of the park's transformation is being overseen by the parks commissioner, Adrian Benepe, the son of Barry Benepe, an architect and urban planner who founded the Greenmarket, which has been a huge factor in turning around the park and transforming it from a dangerous spot that few dared walk through after dusk into one of the best-used parks in the city.

    Elizabeth Ryan, whose 90-acre farm, Breezy Hill Orchard, has been in operation in Dutchess County since the early 1800's, has had a stand at Union Square from the first days of the Greenmarket 29 years ago. "I know every crack and dip in the pavement," Ms. Ryan said. "Union Square was a grim place when the Greenmarket started. Growers called it Needle Park."

    The changes began in earnest in 1984, when the current design was undertaken by the Union Square Partnership, the local business improvement district, in conjunction with the city and community activists. The central area was reorganized and renovated, adding green space. By 2002, the south end was completed, but the north end has yet to receive the same attention.

    "Everything has been done in a provisional, semitemporary, ad hoc way because accommodating so many different needs is such a hard problem to solve," said Matthew Urbanski, a principal at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the landscape architecture firm that is in charge of the redesign. "So what we're trying to do is take all three programs - the playground, the cafe and the plaza, which includes the farmer's market - and bring all those together."

    Between $14 million and $16 million - half from the Parks Department and the other half raised privately by the business improvement district - will be spent to reconfigure two and a half acres of space.

    The plaza, where the Greenmarket operates, will be elevated and resurfaced using a variety of colored paving stones. As it is now, when the Greenmarket isn't operating, it looks like an uninviting parking lot that isn't even part of the park. Along 17th Street, there will be a sidewalk added, in addition to a row of trees, which will frame the north end inside the public space.

    Best of all for the farmers - there are more than 100 stands on a busy Saturday - they will now have access to water, electricity and a newly built restroom. The Greenmarket will be open during renovation, although some operations may have to shift around.

    The playground space is only 5,000 square feet now but will be expanded to 14,000.
    Currently, there are two separate playground areas on either side of the stairs that lead down to the cafe on the south side of the pavilion. This existing cafe area will be incorporated into the playground, which will have its own bathrooms accessible only to children and their guardians.

    "We try not to focus on the equipment but plants and water, and ways to experience the landscape," said Rachel Gleeson, an associate at Valkenburgh. "That's not to say there won't be swings and other typical playground equipment, but it really needs to speak to the unique space that is Union Square Park." The architects are looking at pieces designed in Europe, like a stainless steel dome that functions as a multidirectional slide.

    They're also consulting child development experts at the Natural Learning Initiative at North Carolina State University. "One thing they told us is that the length of time a child plays in a playground is the amount of time that a parent is willing to stay," Ms. Gleeson continued. "So we're adding lots of sitting areas. People think you're taking away play space for kids, but in fact you're adding play time."

    The biggest transformation, however, will be the pavilion. "Right now, it's a black hole," Mr. Urbanski said. "Our idea is to turn the pavilion into a lantern that will light all the spaces around it. It will be both transparent and light-emitting."

    The neo-Classical building was originally a band shell but is now dilapidated and covered with chain-link fencing and is primarily used to store park equipment. It is being restored and redesigned by Stephen Cassell of Architecture Research Offices into a seasonal cafe in the tradition of an Italian piazza, with views of the farmer's market to the north and the park's green space to the south. Outdoor seating, which can expand or contract to accommodate the farmers' market, will be switched from the rear of the pavilion to the front. In the off-season, the pavilion will be available for public use.

    The cafe has been the focus of criticism in what has otherwise been a remarkably noncontroversial design process by New York standards. Originally, the pavilion was going to be turned into a year-round cafe, but at a recent City Council hearing some people complained about usurping public space for private use.

    While the year-round restaurant has been scrapped, according to the Manhattan borough parks commissioner, William Castro, the Parks Department is committed to having the seasonal cafe privately run for two reasons: it would be operational seven days a week, which is good for safety; and whoever runs it will have to pay at least half the renovation cost.

    Other cultural uses have been suggested for the pavilion, but they are unlikely to satisfy both of those requirements, he said. The Parks Department will issue a request for proposals for the pavilion in the fall.

    Union Square Park, which opened in 1833, is thought to be the busiest park per square foot in New York, and its redevelopment is credited with helping surrounding real estate values to soar.

    In fact, studies have shown that well-designed and maintained parks increase nearby property values. For example, a report commissioned by New Yorkers for Parks, a nonprofit advocacy group, which was conducted by Ernst & Young in 2003, studied the impact of parks on real estate in all five boroughs. Among other things, it showed that after Bryant Park in Midtown was revitalized, the value of commercial property around the park rose by 115 to 225 percent from 1990 to 2002 compared with increases of 41 to 73 percent in nearby areas.

    But just throwing money at parks does not guarantee a positive outcome. "Successful parks require four things," said Christian DiPalermo, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, "a long-term strategic vision, effective ongoing management, significant community involvement and local advocates. Union Square has all of those in spades."


    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

  3. #3

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    More great news. Already as nice in many ways as Bryant Park. Let's hope the planned Washington Square makeover turns out as well.

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    I walked by Union Square yesterday and got to see a bunch of performers drawing a crowd with their capoeira stunts. Definitely a sign that it's summer again.

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    Union Square Park — soon with takeout menu

    by amy zimmer / metro new york

    JAN 26, 2006

    UNION SQUARE — The Parks Dept. is giving the northern tip of the park a facelift: repaving the edge, expanding the children’s playground and sprucing up the deteriorating 1930s pavilion, which will house a new seasonal café. Many residents, however, have blasted the pavilion plans for taking public park space and using it for private enterprise.

    “We initially had a year-round restaurant,” said Adrian Benepe, Parks Commissioner, about the preliminary plans that Community Board 5 approved.

    Residents, however, continued squabbling over the details for the $14 million renovation — $8 million from city funds and $6 million from private sources, including $5 million from an anonymous donor — and the Parks Dept. returned to the drawing board.

    “We’ve decided to keep the restaurant seasonal with reasonably priced takeout,” Benepe said, “and we’ve moved the seating away from the southern end to give the playground an additional 5,000 square feet.” The revision enlarges the playground from an existing 5,100 square feet to 14,687 square feet.

    The playground revisions were beside the point for Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, a watchdog group that has spearheaded the campaign against the proposal.

    “That pavilion used to be a children’s area and it should be restored for that,” Croft said. “Everyone tried to push this behind closed doors. My questions is, at what point does the community have a say? It’s just like what’s happening in Yankee Stadium and Randalls Island.”

    Croft has enlisted the support of several elected officials, including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who plans to meet with the Parks Dept. today to discuss the renovation, as well as former City Councilwoman Carol Greitzer.

    “We’re absolutely opposed to any privatization of the park,” Greitzer said. “[The Parks Dept.] can’t even show the restaurant is a public amenity because any direction you look there are restaurants, from McDonald’s to the Union Square Café.”

    Benepe didn’t buy that. “It’s no more the privatization of public space than having 20 hot dog stands in Central Park or the two restaurants we have there,” he said, adding there are roughly 40 restaurants or cafés in city parks.

    “I’m not sure I understand what they object to,” he said, “because if you ask the same people what they think of the Greenmarket, they probably support it and much more money exchanges hands there than in the restaurant.”

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    Crabby airline hostess - stache's Avatar
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    Thumbs down

    The refuse from that restaurant generates enormous quantites of rats at night.

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    Quote Originally Posted by stache
    The refuse from that restaurant generates enormous quantites of rats at night.
    How do they handle that in Bryant Park?

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    Default They must get rid of the trash sooner.

    I never walk by Bryant park and see the trash bags like I do at Union Sq. -

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    A Union Square Restaurant Idea Faces Opposition

    BY DAVID LOMBINO - Staff Reporter of the Sun
    January 31, 2006
    URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/26721

    The Bloomberg administration's revised plans to put an expanded eating establishment in the northern end of Union Square Park is angering some lawmakers, park advocates, and area residents.

    Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Democrat who represents the area, predicted yesterday that the new Parks Department plan would fail.

    "There are some things that are wrong to sell. Selling off park land for commercial use is one of them," Mr. Gottfried told The New York Sun in a telephone interview from Albany.

    Mr. Gottfried said that the area around Union Square has one of the highest concentrations of restaurants in the city. Adding another one, he said, would be "bad public policy."

    Initially, the city's plan called for a year-round restaurant after a refurbishment of a crumbling 80-year old pavilion on the park's north end. Then, in response to neighborhood concerns, the city announced last summer that the project would house a "seasonal" restaurant between April and October. The new plan also would nearly triple the amount of space devoted to playgrounds, add new bathrooms, and upgrade the area that houses the park's famous weekly farmer's market.

    Last night, the parks committee of Manhattan's Community Board 5 and about 75 members of the public heard a detailed presentation by the Parks Department on the revised $14.5 million Union Square Park renovation project.

    The full community board is expected to vote on the project on February 9 and the city hopes to begin construction this fall.

    Several other elected officials are opposing the revised plan, including the president of Manhattan, Scott Stringer, and the City Council member who represents the area, Rosie Mendez.

    The Parks Department said the restaurant would be a welcome amenity for the community. Officials said they are hopeful it would liven up the park's north end, which they said looks dead and rundown when the farmer's market is not operating.

    Since 1994, a restaurant and bar named Luna Park has operated on the south end of the pavilion during the summer months.

    The proposed redesign would bring phase out the Luna Park site and put a restaurant inside an upgraded pavilion. A kitchen and extra storage space would be added underground and an elevator would be installed. The new space would be orientated both to the south across an expanded playground, and to the north across the plaza that houses the farmer's market.

    To illustrate what the new concession could be worth to the city, the parks commissioner of Manhattan, William Castro, said the owners of Luna Park paid the city about $183,000 for its licensing fee in 2005. Mr. Castro estimated that with the taxes it pays and its benefit to surrounding businesses, the current concession brings about $5 million a year to the city's coffers. The tax proceeds go into its general fund.

    By the end of this year, Mr. Castro said the city would put out a request for proposals for potential pavilion tenants.

    Mr. Castro indicated that the tenant would have to pay for the build out of the restaurant space, and he said the Parks Department would require that the concession offer take-away food. He also said the Parks Department could require that the food be "reasonably priced."

    Should the plan go forward, the city would pay for about $8 million of the project and a private building improvement district, the Union Square Partnership, would pay the remainder from privately raised funds. An anonymous source has already contributed $5 million for the park.

    Some park advocates and elected leaders have suggested that because the donor is anonymous, it creates the appearance that the donor is interested in securing the license for the concession.

    Yesterday, a community board member asked Mr. Castro to disclose the source of the donation, but the commissioner declined. Mr. Castro would only say that the donation was made for the entire renovation project, not just the restaurant.

    A former city parks commissioner, Henry Stern, supports the plan. He said yesterday that park defenders are often too quick to oppose encroachments, even if they are beneficial to the community. "There is opposition to everything now; there is a climate of skepticism. I'm for the restaurant. It brings life to the park. It brings people in. All the great parks have restaurants in them," Mr. Stern said.

    Mr. Stern said the revenue generated from the restaurant's lease should be reinvested in the Parks Department's budget instead of the city's general fund.

    "That money goes into the bottomless pit of the general fund, where it is commingled with $50 billion," Mr. Stern said. "When it is an outside revenue source from a business, parks should be compensated for the encroachment, no matter how minor it is."

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    NY Sun
    3/30/06

    Plans at Union Square To Enhance Its Place in History as a Gathering Place

    Michael Stoler

    For nearly 170 years, Union Square has been a gathering place for commerce, entertainment, labor, political events, and recreation. The park owes its name to being at the intersection, or union, of two major roads, Bloomingdale Road (now Broadway) and Bowery Road (now Fourth Avenue). In 1997, Union Square Park was designated as a National Historic Landmark because of its significance in American labor history. For 20 years beginning in the 1970s, the Union Square area saw hard times. Over the past decade, the area has seen a resurgence and become a major hub of residential, retail, and hospitality.

    The 80,000-square-foot headquarters of the Amalgamated Bank, founded in 1923 by the Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers of America, is located at 15 Union Square. The site is the former home of Tiffany & Company. The bank has retained an investment sales company to sell the property, which may fetch close to $56 million, or $700 a buildable foot. Industry leaders expect a developer to buy the property, demolish it, and redevelop it as residential condominiums or a mixed-use hotel and condominium tower.

    The building on the southwest corner of 14th Street and University Place - a two-story yellow brick box with a fourstory tower enclosed in glass on three sides - was erected in 1949 as the Paterson Silk Building. The building was demolished last year, and was recently acquired by the Claremont Group, which plans to build a mixed-use building. The site is across the street from a building redeveloped byVornado Realty Trust, the former J.W. Mays site at 4 Union Square South. In October 2004, DSW Shoes was the first retailer to open in the five-story, 193,000-squarefoot vertical retail center. Prominent retailers at this location include Filene's Basement, Forever 21, and a 48,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market.

    Last year, McSam Hotels, one of the city's leading developers of limitedservice hotels, purchased a site at 132-38 Fourth Ave., which is also known as 76 E. 13th St., from John Catsimatidis's Red Apple Real Estate. McSam plans to build a 62,000-square-foot, 10-story boutique hotel.

    At 137 E. 13th St., between Third and Fourth avenues, is a site that was recently purchased by Emmut Properties.The developer plans to build a sixstory residential condominium. Up the street,Ultimate Realty purchased from the artist and sculptor Frank Stella a single-family and mixed-use site at 126-28 E. 13th St.

    ***

    The city's first Trader Joe's opened on March 17 in the Palladium building at 142 E. 14th St., which also houses a college dormitory for New York University. The NYU dorm was built in 2001 on the site that previously housed the Palladium, a popular dance club, and Julian's, a pool hall. East of the NYU dorm is University Hall, built in 1998 at 110 E. 14th St. University Hall was built on the site of the famous German restaurant Luchow's, which opened in 1882. In 1982, the restaurant closed and was acquired by the real estate developer Jeffrey Glick. The site was demolished in 1995.

    Adjacent to University Hall at 116 E. 14th St. is a two-level P.C. Richard's, on the site of Gramercy Gym, where box ing legends Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres trained.The site used to house a city-owned parking lot.The retail store is in a building that is home to the Genesis Robert F. Kennedy Apartments, which is owned by the nonprofit HELP USA, on East 13th Street. The apartments provide housing for about 94 low-income families, some of whom used to be homeless. HELP USA was founded by Andrew Cuomo.

    Last November, NYU entered an agreement with the Hudson Companies to erect a 26-story dormitory to hold about 700 students on a site at 124 E. 12th St.The tower will be on the site of the former St. Ann's Church. Hudson also acquired air rights from the Cooper Station Post Office on Fourth Avenue at 11th Street. The church was built as the 12th Street Baptist Church, later acquired by Temple Emanuel-El, and later acquired by St. Ann's, a Roman Catholic parish on Astor Place.

    Across from these buildings on the north side of East 14th Street is the Con Edison building at 2 Irving Place. The Apple Bank for Savings is on the ground floor of the Con Edison Building at 4 Irving Place, a famed clocktower that was built in 1929. At 145-147 E. 14th St. is a parking lot owned by Con Edison that industry leaders expect will be sold to a residential developer.

    Last year, Con Edison sold a parking lot at 101 W. 24th St., also known as 735 Sixth Ave., to a joint venture of LCOR and CalSTRS. The developers plan to build a 37-story,191-unit condo tower.A few years ago, Con Edison sold its Waterside Steam Plant and land along the East River just south of the United Nations for $670 million to the developer Sheldon Solow.

    ***

    Toll Brothers, America's biggest luxury homebuilder, plans to build a 21-story residential condominium tower with 77 units on the mid-block site of the former Variety Arts Theater at 110 Third Ave. between 13th and 14th streets. In addition to the theater site, the development includes the four-sto ry building at 108 Third Ave. The theater opened before World War I and was closed in October 2004. Across from this site is another site that was acquired about 20 years ago by Milstein Properties, owners of the Emigrant Savings Bank and numerous residential rental and condominium towers in Manhattan.

    At 421 E. 13th St. between First Avenue and Avenue A in the East Village, the Ascend Group is finishing an eightstory building with 90 condominium apartments - and cabanas on the roof. The developer paid $19.763 million, or about $295 a buildable foot, for the site.

    According to industry sources, a great little site for residential condominium development is at 57-59 Irving Place between 17th and 18th streets. The site presently houses a four-story garage that can be developed into a 35,000-square-foot, 10-story building.

    The Daryl Roth Theater, in the former Union Square Savings Bank at 20 Union Square East and 15th Street, was built in the 1840s. This landmark building was revived as a theater by the producer Daryl Roth in 1996. In 2002, the theater opened as the 99-seat DR Theatre in the former annex of the Union Square Savings Bank.

    A turning point in the redevelopment of Union Square was the erection of the four 26-story, 670-unit residential condo towers, Zeckendorf Towers, in 1987.They occupy a full block between Fourth Avenue, Irving Place, and 14th and 15th streets, including most of the S.Klein-on-the Square properties. S.Klein opened in 1921 and closed in 1975. The project was developed by a joint venture of the Zeckendorf Company, the Hirschfeld Realty Company, Kumagai Gumi Company of Tokyo, and Irwin Ackerman.The apartment towers were built atop six stories of commer cial and retail space.

    In early 1997, an investment group led by Peter and Anthony Malkin purchased the 59,977-square-foot retail condo unit at Zeckendorf Towers that includes a Food Emporium, HSBC Bank, and Federal Express. The 362,000-square-foot office condo is owned and operated by Beth Israel Medical Center, which paid about $34 million for it. The building also has a 350-seat theater and a 198-space parking garage.

    In 1999, the Related Companies completed the mixed-use building 1226 1118 1331 1129One Union Square South that occupies the block front on 14th Street between Fourth Avenue and Broadway. In addition to the 27-story residential rental tower, the property has a UARegal Cinema, a Virgin Records, and a Circuit City.

    Over the next year, industry leaders expect greater expansion of the vibrant Union Square area.

    Mr. Stoler is a television broadcaster and senior vice president at First American Title Insurance Company of New York. He can be reachedmstoler@firstam.com.

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    July 2, 2006

    Streetscapes | 15 Union Square West

    Before Tiffany & Co. Moved Uptown

    By CHRISTOPHER GRAY

    THE politest thing to say about the blocky white blob of a building at the south corner of 15th Street and Union Square West is that it's homely. Now the building, long known as the Amalgamated Bank, is in play, and investors are circling, presumably thinking to replace it with something more in keeping with the rising values of the Union Square area.

    If demolition actually comes, watch the process closely. Buried beneath the 1953 facade is the 1870 building of Tiffany & Company.

    Born in 1812 in Killingly, Conn., Charles Lewis Tiffany opened a stationery and fancy-goods shop in 1837, and by the 1850's it had become one of the leading jewelry stores in the country.

    In 1869, The New York Times observed of Union Square that "the great business firms of downtown are encroaching on the once aristocratic thoroughfares of the upper portion of the Metropolis." That was the year Tiffany's began what The Times called "a monster iron building" on the west side of Union Square, at the same time that Brentano's, the bookseller, and Decker, a piano maker, were relocating there.

    The new $500,000 Tiffany building, at 15 Union Square West, was designed by John Kellum. His cast-iron facade, chosen for its supposed fire resistance, was more elaborate than the typical loft building, many of which Mr. Kellum had also designed, but not remarkably different from them.

    The Times called the new building a "palace of jewels," with black-walnut counters and ebony cases holding watches, fans, opera glasses and other articles in wood, leather, silver, cloisonné, enamel, bronze and rosewood. The Times observed that one ornamental statue, " 'Zingerilla,' by the Spanish sculptor Klessinger, appears almost ready to speak to her admirers."

    An unidentified reviewer for The Real Estate Record & Guide scrupulously remarked that the completed building was "a fine specimen of workmanship" but painting the cast iron to resemble stone deceived no one and contributed to the building's "utter poverty of design."

    "Monotony and insipidity are stamped upon every square inch of the surface," the reviewer said. He also objected to Mr. Kellum's use of "the same caps, the same brackets, the same rustications, cornices and moldings" that had been current two decades before. He did not question the need to paint the facade, given that iron requires such protection. What he wanted was more creativity — why not "boldly polychromize our iron structures," imitating the ancient Greeks with their stone buildings?

    Such calls for a more considered treatment of cast iron were almost uniformly ignored by architects throughout the period.

    At the building's opening in 1870, The Times described security so tight that "a 50-cent pin can't enter or leave the establishment without its history being fully known and recorded."

    But such security was fleeting. The next year The Times reported that a man named Francis Brode got in through an upstairs window one night, collected a large amount of booty and was arrested only because he inadvertently alerted a watchman. Similarly, in 1873, The Times noted that a salesman, Henry E. Murray, had been sentenced to prison for stealing at least $10,000 worth of goods.

    In 1892, a fire next door prompted the store to put its entire inventory — with an estimated value of $2.5 million — into the vault for safekeeping.

    By this time the Tiffany name was also associated with the enterprises of one of Charles's sons, Louis Comfort Tiffany, who had established a separate company for decorative glass and other items.

    The prominence of the Tiffany name made the jewelry company an easy target for shoplifters like Alfred (Toothpicks) Britton. In March 1903, he was arrested for stealing $200 worth of what The Times described as silver plate from the store, apparently by diverting a salesman's attention.

    "Tiffany's is easy," he told The Times, but whatever the truth of that statement, there was definitely hyperbole in his claims of having made off with a foot-high ivory statue, half a dozen clocks and two "large bronze elephants," each worth $100.

    The next month Tiffany's decided to leave Union Square and bought the site for its next building at 37th and Fifth, where it moved in 1906. The earlier building was rented out to underwear importers, shirtwaist makers and other garment companies. A 1911 photograph shows a giant sign for Star Skirts on the second and third floors.

    Union Square became a center of trade union activity, and by the end of 1925 the Amalgamated Bank, founded by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America two years earlier, had taken over the building. A billboard was erected on top, but the union made no other significant changes to the 1870 structure until an accident in 1952. On July 15 of that year, Moses Weickselbaum, a salesman who lived in Brooklyn, was hit by a piece of iron that had come loose from the facade. He died from his injuries the next year, and the bank retained an architect, Eugene Schoen, to make sure such an accident never happened again.

    This Mr. Schoen achieved by stripping off every projecting piece of cast iron and encasing the remains in a simple — some might say brutishly simple — packing case of white brick. Since then, the bank has been just one part of the polyglot assortment of Union Square's architecture, which mixes Romanesque, Queen Anne, Federal, postmodern and other styles.

    But this spring the bank put its building on the market, and the tall buildings on other corners of Union Square make it unlikely that it will remain much longer. Zoning favors some sort of condominium use, so perhaps trade will now give way to residence, at least on this corner.


    Charles Lewis Tiffany founded his store in 1837. In 1953, the building assumed its present appearance, top, after its cast-iron facade was stripped away. By 1911, Tiffany's had moved on, and the building had been rented out as commercial lofts, above.


    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  12. #12

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    Reproduce the original facade and build a skyscraper above.

    Here's an appropriate setting for facadery.

  13. #13
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    I always wondered why that particular building was so homely.

    Tiffany was originally at 259 Broadway (1837) -- then 271 Broadway (1847) and 550 Broadway (1853 -- see LETTER from August 21, 1858 below and silvermark on attached images) before starting work on their new Union Square building in 1869.

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  14. #14
    The Dude Abides
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    Union Square: The ‘Epicenter Of the City's Energy'

    BY DAVID LOMBINO - Staff Reporter of the Sun

    September 25, 2006

    URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/40241

    In 1979, architecture critic Paul Goldberger wrote that Union Square "can accommodate flamboyant showoffs and it can accommodate derelicts, but not genteel matrons."

    The vibrancy of earlier decades, he wrote, had died down, leaving a "dreary park" and a surrounding area that was "tawdry with no particular charm."

    Today, the area's bustling streetscape, thriving retail and residential real estate market, popular restaurant scene, and animated park environment are evidence of New York's ongoing regeneration.

    A professor of urban planning at nearby New York University, Mitchell Moss, said Union Square has "now become the epicenter of the city's energy."

    In the last decade, Mr. Moss said, the area has absorbed some of the diversity and creativity of the surrounding neighborhoods, including Greenwich Village to the south, and some of the city's younger areas, such as Williamsburg and the meatpacking district, each connected to Union Square by the L train.

    "The southern part of the square has become the equivalent of the Spanish Steps in Rome, where people just gather together," Mr. Moss said. "There is no better place for people-watching."

    The chairman of Prudential Douglas Elliman's retail division, Faith Hope Consolo, said rents around Union Square have tripled in a little over a year. Storefronts that used to rent for about $100 a square foot are now going for $250 to $300 a square foot, comparable to parts of Midtown and SoHo, she said.

    "It's like spandex now. The area is moving a couple of blocks west, a couple of blocks east, and down Broadway," Ms. Consolo said. "There is incredible foot traffic, so people are open there until midnight. It's every age and every economic group. The icing on the cake are the tourists."

    Real estate analysts say one of the pioneers of the area's revitalization was developer William Zeckendorf Jr. His son, Arthur, also a developer, said Union Square's great access to transportation and central location had tempted his father to build there as early as the mid-1970s.

    "But it was run down, the park was derelict and full of drug dealers. It was a dangerous location," Arthur Zeckendorf said. "With the existing zoning, you couldn't really build an economical building."

    A 1984 report by the city's department of planning describes how crime, drugs, a high vacancy rate, and underutilized development sites led to the area's decline.

    The Planning Commission upzoned the area in the mid-1980s, and in 1987 Mr. Zeckendorf built four towers with 600 luxury condominiums on the site of a former department store that had sat vacant for 10 years on the southeastern part of the square. Within 18 months, Arthur Zeckendorf said, they were sold out.

    Other important turning points include the conversion of the landmarked Guardian Life Insurance Building into the trendy W Hotel in 2000, and restaurateur Danny Meyer's success at turning the square into a culinary destination, beginning with his flagship, the Union Square Café, which opened in 1985. Mr. Meyer is now a chairman of the square's business improvement organization.

    The area has since attracted some of the city's biggest developers, including the Related Companies, which manages One Union Square South, a luxury rental building that contains a Virgin Megastore and a Circuit City. Vornado Realty Trust controls 4 Union Square South, a retail complex that contains Whole Foods, Filene's Basement, Forever 21, and Jamba Juice.

    The southern plaza of Union Square Park, along 14th Street, underwent a $6.3 million reconstruction in 2002, and a renovation of the northern end of the park is in the works.

    Real estate analysts said there is a lack of developable sites surrounding the square, but that the area could expect an increasing amount of conversions to residential from office space.

    In one of the last developable lots on the south side of Union Square, a 15-story luxury condominium, 8 Union Square South, is now rising at the corner of University and 14th streets. The site was formerly home to a low-rise building designed by Morris Lapidus that contained a discount store. Preservationists failed in an effort to preserve the building last year.

    The marketing agent for the condominium project, Michael Shvo, said Union Square's evolution, which began with the Zeckendorf Towers, has been advanced by the popularity of the farmer's market and the arrival of Whole Foods and major retail brands, transforming the area into "a lifestyle destination."

    "This next phase of evolution for Union Square will involve new residential projects, but also continued rethinking and revitalization of the area's retail businesses," Mr. Shvo said.

    "We've seen a lot of young, design-savvy couples who want to start families visit the sales office," Mr. Shvo said. "We've also seen buyers who at one point lived in the area, don't now, and want to return to Union Square."

    The executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, Andrew Berman, said the transformation makes the area almost "unrecognizable" to its former self.

    Much of that, he said, comes from an influx of students. New York University built two dormitories near the square, and several other universities share the neighborhood, including campuses of the Parsons School of Design, Baruch, the New School, and the School of Visual Arts.

    "It is clearly becoming chicer and trendier probably than it ever was," Mr. Berman said. "Union Square has become what Washington Square was 20 years ago."

    An architect and a board member of the Union Square Community Coalition, Leo Blackman, said the area's rebirth is commendable, but it is taking a toll on the neighborhood, particularly the park.

    "The demand on that little piece of green has really doubled," Mr. Blackman said. "The park is absorbing more people with more commercial activity on the southern edge."

    Mr. Blackman described a growing tension between the community group he serves and the area's business improvement organization.

    "From a business point of view, you want to jam people in the park," Mr. Blackman said. "At a certain point it becomes unpleasant and less of a resource for people who live in the neighborhood."

    © 2006 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC.

  15. #15
    Jersey Patriot JCMAN320's Avatar
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    I love Union Square. It's amazing to me how with all the great parks in Manhattan people are just drawn to it more so then any place else. It really is the energy epicenter of New York.

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