Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Various bits of VERY good news!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Various bits of good news!

We are happy to report that in December, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission calandered the proposed Lamartine Place Historic District for a full hearing, for a future yet to be determined date!

Also, whereas in October we were very worried that work on the penthouse addition to the Hopper-Gibbons house had recommenced, we were able to get a new stop work order due to the help of Assemlymember Richard Gotfried's office.

Furthermore the current owner of the building will not be allowed to build the penthouse addition as he had intended. We received astonishing news re: the Hopper-Gibbons home at no. 339 West 29th (formerly an Underground Railroad Station) from the audit of this site conducted by the Department of Buildings on 10/21. The current owner of the building will not be allowed to build the penthouse addition as he had intended, which would have disrupted the uniform line of the cornices of the row houses on the west half of this block.

According to the DOB, the following objections to this proposed construction were raised in this failed audit: "The proposed penthouse, for an existing building less than 45 feet wide in an R8B zoning district is contrary to Section 23-692 of the Zoning Resolution, and therefore not permitted."!!!

We are elated at this news!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Hopper-Gibbons home at no. 339 West 29th Street (which served as an Underground Railroad Station) has never been more gravely imperiled than now.

The Hopper-Gibbons home at no. 339 West 29th Street (which served as an Underground Railroad Station) has never been more gravely imperiled than now. The day after the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Community Board 4 held a meeting indicating that they were very interested in making 12 buildings on my block part of a historic district, a construction crew resumed work on this home. I just learned that the owner of no. 339 was granted a new building permit on October 9th for exactly the same plan as last year, i.e., to add a 1 1/2 story penthouse to this 4 story rowhouse. According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the issuance of this building permit now prevents them from doing anything to help save the building.

However, as I have repeatedly indicated to the Department of Buildings for many months, the steel girders that are now perched on top of the building were built to an illegal height and endanger the fragile bricks below it (erected from 1846-1847). A DOB inspector, in fact, told Julie Finch and me in July that this should never have been allowed in the first place and that the DOB would issue violations and take the owners to court, but this was never done. Instead, on October 2nd, the DOB rescinded the Stop Work Order on this building that had been in place since last October and issued the new building permit the following week, thus ignoring this obvious violation of the law and my warnings of the safety issues this poses. They failed to even give either myself or Assemblyman Gottfried's office any information about the new plan exam that had been approved on September 19th or to reply to my complaint until AFTER allowing the owner to resume building. This was evidently an attempt on their part to render both myself and the elected officials powerless to intervene. Not only has the owner of no. 339 been engaged in illegal practices, endangering the contiguous buildings and innocent passersby, but now the Department of Buildings seems to have been involved in some kind of cover-up by denying the community the information we needed in order to fight this.

Our last hope is to finally prevail by publicizing the zoning violation and, of course, the historical importance of this building, through newspaper articles (Chelsea Now is doing another piece on this as we speak), a press conference and/or a public demonstration, or legal advice. Best of all would be to find a wealthy donor to buy the building! Our first step should be to call 311, complaining about the illegal height of the steel girders (heightening the building to 62 ft. 10 in. rather than the 60 feet allowed).

We need to deluge the Department of Buildings, Mayor Bloombergs' Office and the Office of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn who represents the related district.

The aesthetic unity and small scale of the row houses on 29th Street, fronted by gardens and opposite what is virtually a park, make it a special place within the congested, skyscraper-filled confines of Manhattan, which should not be marred by any alterations. To keep it that way and to reclaim the right to our architectural and historical heritage, we really need to step up to the plate and do something to help ourselves, because the DOB surely isn't.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

New York State Historic Preservation Office says Lamartine Place meets the criteria for Historic District

Great news everyone,

The State Historic Preservation Office has determined that the proposed Lamartine Place Historic District (a portion of W 29th Street between 8th Ave and 9th Ave that includes the Hopper-Gibbons House a verefiable Underground Railroad site) meets the criteria for listing to the State and National Registers I'll keep you posted. Meanwhile, have a terrific Labor Day weekend.

This could potentially mean not just the Hopper-Gibbons House but also the row of which it is a part.

This would create a nice precedent, which does not alas bind the NYC Landmarks Commision to do the same but could be a positive influence on their own decision making re:the house and or the block.

We would like to thank Julie Finch for her dedication and help in preparing the application for historic district eligiblity, Kathleen Howe of the State Historic Preservation Office, Fern Luskin for her pioneering research, Laurence Frommer, and our elected officials and Community Board (Manhattan CB 4), who have supported the effort to make Lamartine Place a historic district.

Monday, February 25, 2008

339 West 29th St/Hopper-Gibbons House is featured in NY Times article about the challenge of preserving homes tied to the Undergound Railroad !

This pastSunday (Feb 24)the NY Times published an article on the challenges of preserving homes tied to the Underground Railroad, featuring 339 West 29th Street,i.e.the Hopper-Gibbons House.Below is a quote from the article. For the full article please go to:
February 24, 2008
Retracing the Elusive Footsteps of a Secretive History

ONE balmy day last April, an art and architecture historian named Fern Luskin hauled her laptop and a collapsible chair up to the roof of the Chelsea town house where she lives to work outside for a while. From the top of her building, on West 29th Street near Eighth Avenue, the view to the south is dominated by the bulky towers of the Penn South apartment complex. To the northeast, the Empire State Building pierces the sky.

But on this particular day, neither the panorama nor her laptop could distract Ms. Luskin from the scene unfolding three doors over, where workmen were attaching long steel beams and poles to a neighboring rooftop. It was the beginning of what she correctly assumed was the construction of a vertical addition to the nearby building — in other words, a penthouse.

Ms. Luskin, a professor of art history at La Guardia Community College, was distressed. Her trained eye relished the uniformity of the row of five town houses that included both her building and the one at No. 339 being readied for construction. The addition, she feared, would be what she described as an “aesthetic disturbance.”

After learning that the town houses were built in 1847, more than 50 years earlier than she had thought, Ms. Luskin decided to delve into the past of No. 339. For two months, she combed through historical archives and databases, and she discovered that No. 339 was apparently Manhattan’s first documented safe house for escaped slaves — a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Uncovering the story became something of an obsession as Ms. Luskin pieced together clues about the lives of Abigail Hopper Gibbons and James Sloan Gibbons, well-known Quaker abolitionists who lived in the building in its early years.

“It got so exciting,” Ms. Luskin said, “I couldn’t stop.”
After finding a period map that linked the Gibbonses to the house, Ms. Luskin discovered a passage in a letter published in a biography of a renowned 19th-century lawyer named Joseph Hodges Choate describing a meal he ate at the house with a young escaped slave who was fleeing to Canada.

Though buildings throughout the city are often thought to have been part of the escape route north, finding documents that provide proof is extremely difficult. “It’s incredibly rare that you can substantiate it,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “Locations were secretive by their very nature.”

Despite the documentation Ms. Luskin collected, No. 339 could not originally be considered for designation as a landmark because a building permit had been issued for the construction project. However, construction is at a standstill; according to Kate Lindquist, a spokeswoman for the Department of Buildings, the permit for construction of the penthouse is being revoked, in part because an agency review determined that the architectural plans did not comply with building and zoning codes.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission is currently evaluating No. 339 to see if it is eligible for designation as a landmark, news that will no doubt delight some local residents.

“Being one of the few African-Americans on the block, I have an emotional connection to this history,” said Curtis Jewell, a 55-year-old truck driver for the Postal Service who has lived in Ms. Luskin’s building for 10 years. “You have a lot of cultural history in New York that money seems to want to push out of the way.”