Archive for the ‘Atrocities’ Category

The Chelsea Market Deal, brought to you by ULURP

Monday, November 5th, 2012

 

From right to left, Amanda Burden, Christine Quinn, Mayor Bloomberg and Boss Tweed reprise Thomas Nast’s ring of passed blame around Chelsea Market in a flyer that’s started appearing on Chelsea streets.

  

On October 19th, I and others met with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to discuss Jamestown Properties’ proposed rezoning of Chelsea Market, aimed at adding over a quarter-million square feet of office space to the historic complex. I twice asked Speaker Quinn just how she saw the proposal making sense on zoning basics of use, bulk or environmental impact. She would only say that she hadn’t completed her review, but then still had no answer when we met six days later, just before the City Council’s land-use committee voted to support the proposal, surely with Quinn’s endorsement. Only Speaker Quinn could have stopped the project, but she advanced it in the face of overwhelming community resistance and without being able to say how it was good zoning.

If Speaker Quinn is already beholden to real estate interests in her expected run for mayor next year, she promises to bring to that office a fourth term of the Bloomberg administration’s worst feature; a pro-development, anti-oversight bias. In this New York, real estate runs politics and deals trump zoning. In a New York Times article on the Council’s Chelsea Market vote, David Chen wrote that in remaining “conspicuously quiet about the issue” and failing even to attend a public hearing on it, Quinn “left little doubt . . . that she had been the driving force behind the deal.” It’s pretty official when the Times calls it a deal. (more…)

Buying Michael Bolla’s Chelsea Mansion for Dummies

Friday, October 19th, 2012

A Daily News article on Michael Bolla’s restoration of 436 West 20th Street said “the house was raised 8 inches to become more level.” It appears to be tied to the house next door by a shared party wall. If Bolla raised his house without considering this, it might explain his house’s cracked and sloping façade.  

 

436 West 20th Street, the 1835 Chelsea row house that real estate broker Michael Bolla “restored” and marketed as Chelsea Mansion is for sale. When ArchiTakes first reported on the project’s violations, Bolla swore to a judge that he’d been defamed and trumpeted legal action aimed at me in an obliging press. The press failed to report that he never sued.

ArchiTakes finds Bolla’s row house still has issues at the Department of Buildings that any potential buyer should know about. Drawings have been filed to answer the Department’s objections from an April 7, 2010, audit, but construction hasn’t been modified to match these drawings. (more…)

Is the City Building Google a High Line Skybox?

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Shown in gold at top are Jamestown Properties’ proposed additions to Chelsea Market: 90,000 square feet at Ninth Avenue and 240,000 square feet at Tenth Avenue above the High Line, which is shown in green. Below is what Jamestown’s proposal might look like, give or take a floor, if it were really about needed office space and not about raiding the High Line’s light, air and sky views. Call it Scheme B. Either option would require a zoning change to increase Chelsea Market’s floor area by 330,000 square feet, but Jamestown’s would need a zoning change that would perversely allow construction within the footprint of a public park. City approval of Jamestown’s proposal is nonetheless thought to be a done deal. (more…)

High Noon at Chelsea Market

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

 

The west end of Chelsea Market’s concourse incorporates the historic Nabisco complex’s train shed. About eighty feet of its distinctive clerestory window strip would be blocked by courtyard infill from Jamestown Properties’ proposed addition of a third of a million square feet of office space above it and the High Line. Jamestown’s proposal requires a zoning change that would only hurt Chelsea Market, the High Line and the community. The proposal is slated for city certification on March 26th. While this would technically begin the city’s review process, experience says certification would all but guarantee an addition to Chelsea Market, almost certainly including the cash-cow-in-the-sky office addition above the High Line that’s driving everything. By the time a project is certified, back-room handshakes have typically secured its ultimate approval. The subsequent “review process” merely affords limited opportunities for damage control and concession-seeking by the community.

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Jamestown’s Shady Plan for Chelsea Market

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Last Sunday’s sunshine made the High Line’s “Tenth Avenue Square” a pleasant place to relax, even in late November. The popular grandstand feature would be cast into shadow at the hour this photo was taken if Jamestown Properties builds its planned office tower over Chelsea Market. The effect would be particularly damaging to a park highlight meant for lingering rather than strolling. (more…)

Losing Ground at Chelsea Square

Monday, June 20th, 2011

 

Architect Charles C. Haight modeled the General Theological Seminary’s bell tower on Magdalen College’s, Oxford. This view of it from Tenth Avenue and 20th Street would be blocked by Beyer Blinder Belle’s proposed addition to the Seminary’s 1836 West Building. The Seminary’s mid-block grounds were designed to complement set-back garden fronts and distinguished row houses across 20th Street. Together they make one of New York’s best blocks and form the heart of the Chelsea Historic District. The addition will go before a public hearing of the Landmarks Preservation Commission at 11 AM tomorrow, June 21st.

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What New Zoning Could Mean for Chelsea Market

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

The Landmarks Preservation Commission has denied a recent community request to add the Chelsea Market block to the existing Gansevoort Market Historic District. In a May 19th response to the Request for Evaluation, the Commission’s Director of Research wrote that “the properties do not appear to meet the criteria for designation . . . in part due to the fact that this block does not have a strong connection to the existing Gansevoort Market Historic District, either geographically or historically.”

This was a second attempt to have the block included in the City designated historic district. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation had earlier gotten the complex listed as part of the Gansevoort Market Historic District recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, but wasn’t able to convince the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to include it in its own smaller version of the district that the City designated in 2003. The distinction between City versus State and National designation is critical. Lacking City protection, Chelsea Market could be legally demolished by a private owner despite its State and National Register status, which only regulates publicly sponsored alterations. The website of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation states: “There are no restrictions placed on private owners of registered properties. Private property owners may sell, alter or dispose of their property as they wish.” (more…)

Saving Chelsea Market

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

David Burns of STUDIOS Architecture presented his firm’s vision of an expanded Chelsea Market, above, to a meeting of Community Board 4 last night, attended by residents wearing “Save Chelsea Market” buttons. He promptly heard one viewer’s verdict of “ugly building” endorsed by a peal of applause. The view above looks northeast from the West Side Highway. The design tries to break down its oppressive mass by collage effects which could conceivably be said to take inspiration from the accretive vocabulary of the Chelsea Market complex, although Burns didn’t seem to have the heart to even bother trying this pitch. As for fitting in, it wouldn’t be much of an issue. Chelsea Market is part of the Gansevoort Market Historic District that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but this insures State Historic Preservation Office oversight only for public development.  Somehow, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, which would oversee private alterations such as those now proposed, neglected to include the Market in its version of the District. (more…)

Where is Michael Bolla’s Lawsuit?

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

The doors of developer and real estate broker Michael Bolla’s 1835 rowhouse at 436 West 20th Street remain plastered with building notices over a year after a Daily News puff piece proclaimed it “one of the most perfectly restored homes in Manhattan.” On February 10, the Department of Buildings’ website indicated that the project was issued a Notice to Revoke its renovation permit.

In the year since this website began documenting his project’s problems, Bolla has succeeded in retaining new construction built without first obtaining required approvals, while pursuing a campaign of harassment and legal threat against ArchiTakes and of public disinformation in the press.

ArchiTakes’ experience highlights the risk run by legitimate neighborhood watchdogs: deep-pocketed plaintiffs can brandish groundless threats of lawsuits against them, aiming to buy silence through intimidation and the imposition of legal costs. Such plaintiffs run a risk of their own—that their targets will call their bluff and expose them for the bullies they are by publicly taunting them for failing to follow through on bogus lawsuits they have no hope or expectation of winning. (more…)

The Seamy Side of 436 West 20th Street

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

 

436 West 20th Street has recently added a prominent steel I-beam above its roof ridge and a large skylight on its north slope as shown in this photo taken on September 15th.  A visit that day to the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Department of Buildings found no evidence of applications or approvals for these additions to the 1835 rowhouse, which falls within the Chelsea Historic District.  The Landmarks Commission’s Rowhouse Manual specifically states that a permit is required for construction of a skylight within a historic district (although it doesn’t address big red I-beams).  One end of the new beam is supported by the building’s west gable wall, at right in the photo above.  The top of this wall was historically lower and almost flush with the roof plane.  It now extends above the roof, creating a parapet.  The wall’s profile has further been changed by the introduction of a level section at the bottom of its front slope.  The house’s brick chimneys were rebuilt to their current, and likely original, height as approved by the Landmarks Commission, but then extended by several feet with prominent sheet-metal turbine ventilators.  Even the rearmost of these is visible from the street.  ArchiTakes first posted photographic evidence of unapproved construction at 436 West 20th Street in March.  Within weeks, the Landmarks Commission issued violations and the Department of Buildings audited and failed the building’s job filing.  The building’s owner and developer, realtor-to-the-stars Michael Bolla, responded with threats of legal action aimed at silencing ArchiTakes. (more…)

Chelsea Mansion: The Art of Fiction

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

       

In February, a Daily News article by Jason Sheftell described 436 West 20th Street as “one of the most perfectly restored homes in Manhattan.”  Cracked and displaced bricks and window lintels are now features of its façade, following restoration by its owner, the real estate broker Michael Bolla.  ArchiTakes first reported on the building in a March post, “436 West 20th Street Rises Above the Law.” Bolla is now marketing the 1835 rowhouse as “Chelsea Mansion.”   It stands within the Chelsea Historic District. (more…)

436 West 20th Street Rises Above the Law

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

White stains of efflorescence mark new brickwork at 436 West 20th Street.  The gable end of the 1835 rowhouse has been raised several feet and given a gambrel profile.  The original peaked roofline is clearly legible in darker-looking brick, about four feet down from the new roofline.  “You have to pay attention to history,” the building’s new owner and co-developer, Michael Bolla was quoted in the Daily News last month.  “It tells you everything.  Here history told us to spare no expense to return the house to its original form.  This house has all kinds of history.”  The house in fact falls within the Chelsea Historic District, and its exterior is therefore the equivalent of a designated landmark.  In raising its roofline, Bolla has violated the permit his renovation was issued by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.  With the raised gable end, Bolla appears to be setting the stage for a raised roof, and maximum exploitation of a penthouse he clearly views as a cash cow. (more…)

Robert A.M. Stern, part 2

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Stern’s presumptuousness may owe something to the huge attention and acclaim that attended upon 15 Central Park West, the luxury condo he designed for the Zeckendorf Brothers.  Based on classic prewar apartment buildings by Rosario Candela, the project is probably the biggest real estate phenomenon New York has ever seen.  Quarterly New York real estate reports had to be adjusted to factor out the distorting influence of its astronomical sales.  The website Curbed took to calling it the “limestone Jesus”.  At a time when New York developers were finally hiring serious architects like Richard Meier and Jean Nouvel to generate appeal, 15 CPW might have been seen as the ultimate vindication for architecture’s claims to create value.  For architects who take their profession seriously, though, it was disappointing that what made the project so successful wasn’t the kind of quality that imagination can make out of thin air, but Stern’s accurate sense of what investment bankers want, and how many times over the building’s limestone cladding paid for itself.    

 stern

For a Vanity Fair article on 15 Central Park West, Stern posed atop its concierge desk, weakly mimicking the classic image of an urbanely macho Robert Moses poised on an I-beam over the East River.  Stern shares Moses’ ego, if not his public mission, a distinction emphasized by this photo’s gated setting.  What lies beyond is for the privileged few.    

 moses

 Arnold Newman’s 1959 photo serves as the cover for Robert Moses and the Modern City.  Moses famously said “you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”  Unlike Stern’s, his omelets were for everyone’s consumption.  What lies beyond is a public realm.  (more…)

Robert A.M. Stern, part 1

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

 

x-bushlib1

A rendering shows the main entrance of Robert A.M. Stern’s George W. Bush Presidential Center.  “I’m not considered avant-garde because I’m not avant-garde,” Stern says, “but there is a parallel world out there – of excellence.” (more…)

Here Was My City

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

bridge

A sketch of the Brooklyn Bridge by Lewis Mumford

On the eve of another 9/11, a love letter to New York from Lewis Mumford comes to mind.  His autobiography, Sketches From Life, describes a youthful walk across the Brooklyn Bridge when he caught ”a fleeting glimpse of the utmost possibilities life may hold for man.”

Yes: I loved the great bridges and walked back and forth over them, year after year. But as often happens with repeated experiences, one memory stands out above all others: a twilight hour in early spring – it was March, I think – when starting from the Brooklyn end, I faced into the west wind sweeping over the rivers from New Jersey. The ragged, slate-blue cumulus clouds that gathered over the horizon left open patches for the light of the waning sun to shine through, and finally, as I reached the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge, the sunlight spread across the sky, forming a halo around the jagged mountain of skyscrapers, with the darkened loft buildings and warehouses huddling below in the foreground. The towers, topped by the golden pinnacles of the new Woolworth Building, still caught the light even as it began to ebb away. Three-quarters of the way across the Bridge I saw the skyscrapers in the deepening darkness become slowly honeycombed with lights until, before I reached the Manhattan end, these buildings piled up in a dazzling mass against an indigo sky.  (more…)

Plug-in Architecture Loses an Icon

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

 

nakagin-scarletgreen

With Kisho Kurokawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower (photo: Scarletgreen/Flickr) headed for demolition, the world will lose not just one of the few executed works of Japanese Metabolism, as noted earlier this month by Nicolai Ouroussoff in the New York Times, but a rare built example of plug-in architecture.  The Capsule Tower might at first appear no more than a quaint, dated vision of the future, but a look at its durable influence and vital legacy show an icon of growing historic significance whose loss will loom larger in the years to come.  (more…)