New York Times: City and Suburban
Two Buildings, Once Stripped of Landmark Status, Regain It
By SEWELL CHAN
New York Times, Published: February 3, 2007
When a New York City building becomes a landmark, it generally stays one. So it is highly unusual that two six-story buildings on the Upper East Side -- part of a Progressive Era model tenement complex that offered airy and light-filled apartments to poor workers -- have become landmarks again, for the second time in 16 years.
The City Council voted unanimously on Thursday to protect the two buildings from demolition or alteration, reversing a 1990 decision by the Board of Estimate -- which no longer exists -- to strip the buildings of their landmark status.
The twin buildings, 429 East 64th Street and 430 East 65th Street, are part of the First Avenue Estate, a pioneering development built by the City and Suburban Homes Company from 1898 to 1915. Built in 1914 and 1915, they have central light courts; tan brick facades with stone, marble and terra cotta trim; original wrought-iron fire escapes; and stone portals framed by large brackets, carrying cornices that support the fire escape balconies. The two buildings share an enclosed side court.
Preservationists who tried for years to have the board's decision reversed recently found a champion in Jessica S. Lappin, a freshman Council member who represents the area and is chairwoman of the Council's landmarks subcommittee.
'It seemed to me a great opportunity to right a wrong and save an important piece of our history,' she said. 'You don't get too many chances in government for a do-over, and that's what this is: a rare opportunity to fix what was a bad back-room deal.'
In April 1990 the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the First Avenue Estate a landmark, along with another model tenement, the York Avenue Estate, between 78th and 79th Streets, built by City and Suburban Homes from 1901 to 1913.
Peter S. Kalikow, a real estate developer who owned the more northern complex and wanted to build a luxury tower, objected. That led the Board of Estimate in August 1990 to strip two buildings in each complex of their landmark designation, one of its final acts before being abolished.
After a lawsuit filed by tenants and neighborhood residents, the two Kalikow buildings won back their landmark designations in 1992, but the two in the First Avenue Estate remained unprotected.
After a hearing last year, the landmarks commission voted on Nov. 21 to restore the two buildings' landmark status -- the decision the Council ratified this week.
A spokesman for Stahl Real Estate, owners of the complex since 1977, said: 'The owners feel that the buildings were not landmark-worthy and were undistinguished. They currently intend to litigate.'
Light-court tenements, often modeled on European apartments, were alternatives to the dark and unventilated tenements common at the time. James E. Ware, known for luxury buildings, designed most of the First Avenue Estate. Philip H. Ohm, who took over the company's architectural work in 1906, completed the project with the twin buildings just redesignated as landmarks.
The commission called the First Avenue Estate an 'important achievement in the social housing movement' and said the project set an important precedent for the birth of federal housing policy in the 1930s.