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December 2007
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Archive for December, 2007

Miracle on 32nd Street

After more than a decade of dreaming, it may still take a miracle to build a new Pennsylvania Station in New York City. The odds would increase if Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s development team presented their proposal to the public as soon as possible. Then everyone — especially the people who use the station — could push to make this much-needed project happen. Pennsylvania Station is now the busiest rail station in the country. It also ranks among the dreariest public facilities anywhere. Members of a group called Friends of Moynihan Station recently went there to distribute sketches of plans to rebuild the station and name it for the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. It was like handing out a flagon of holiday cheer to downtrodden commuters who had no idea there was a possibility for something better. To get the public involved, Governor Spitzer’s development team, led by Patrick Foye, will have to unveil their plans for the project, as long promised. Once details are aired, commuters and others should make sure that this private-public partnership gives the public its due. One worry is that the James A. Farley Post Office building — the site for part of the new station and a grand example of Beaux-Arts architecture — is properly preserved when Madison Square Garden also moves inside. In recent days, some of the planners have hinted at another possibility. They talked about transplanting Macy’s into the section of the new Moynihan station that would be east of Eighth Avenue. At this point, this move seems like another complication for a project that is already about as complex as public works can get. For one thing, the old Macy’s building has national landmark status and needs to be protected. Also, moving Macy’s to 32nd Street raises new questions about whether that part of the Moynihan complex would become more shopping mall than railroad station. There are still many threads that need to be woven together. Right now, there are important negotiations going on about how to pay for the project, and whether the state, city and developers are contributing enough to pull in the necessary federal funds. If such negotiations must continue behind doors, that still does not mean the state and the developers can delay letting the public see detailed plans and proposals. Veteran commuters deserve some hope that the new Moynihan complex is not just another urban fantasy.

Urban Genealogy: An Introduction to Researching Buildings in New York City

February 20 & 27, March 5, 12, 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. & Field Visit Curious about one of New York’s wonderful buildings, or maybe an entire neighborhood? Unleash your inner Sherlock Holmes. New York boasts more resources for tracking building histories than any other American city. Join our Urban Genealogy seminar and learn how to uncover architects’ names, construction dates, clients, tenants, photos, maps, and more. Instructor: Anthony Robins, former Director of Survey at the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Continue Reading>>

Metro: ‘Operation Santa’ May Collide with Transit Hub

metro paper coverThe cover of today’s Metro features a story by Amy Zimmer about the future of Operation Santa in the new Moynihan Station. The MAS is working to ensure that the Post Office retail function – and Operation Santa – can continue to operate in Farley’s landmark lobby as it has for nearly a century.
”The idea to get people in this hard-hearted city to do this in the Christmas season for kids who aren’t getting much under the tree is moving,” said Kent Barwick, president of the Municipal Art Society, which is hoping to convince the Empire State Development Corp., the state agency overseeing the project, to retain the post office’s retail functions in the lobby of the new station. “What we hear is MSG felt it would be a nice place to sell tickets,” Barwick said. But the post office “is not just a great building, it’s a great institution.”
ESDC says it would “never be the Grinch who stole Christmas,” according to a spokesman. However, the project’s Draft Scope is quite explicit about the possibility of relocating the Post Office retail operations:
USPS Operations The proposed Expanded Moynihan Project would directly affect one community facility, the U.S. General Post Office, because it may involve the relocation of some or all of the remaining USPS facilities and offices in the Farley Complex. Administration and postal operations would be relocated to the Morgan Annex and some or all of the retail operations may be relocated to the Penn Station Block or another location(s).
Stay tuned for more information about Operation Santa…

Is Moynihan Station “Losing Its Civic Luster?”

In the December issue of Metropolis Magazine, Karrie Jacobs reviews the history of the Moynihan Station project and assesses its current status in her outstanding article, “Madison Square Station?” Jacobs writes:
I want to believe that Moynihan Station, West and East, will be everything it’s supposed to be: “iconic and monumental,” as the scoping document puts it, with not one but two Grand Central–size daylight-flooded public concourses. I want to believe in the civic goodness of this massive undertaking, not just because it’s pivotal to the future of New York, as the linchpin in a series of transportation and development schemes for Manhattan’s West Side, but also because it’s the role of New York City—and other major cities around the world—to be an engine of progress. I would hope that whoever is running this country in 2011 or 2018 is farsighted enough to invest in our transportation infrastructure and, as in Europe, develop high-speed rail as a cleaner, saner alternative to our overstressed air and ground transportation systems. But at the moment there is no such federal leadership, so local governments must take up the slack. At its best Moynihan Station could be a symbol of renewed investment in rail transportation.
But Jacobs questions “whether the Garden’s desires will further or trump the public good” and MAS president Kent Barwick wonders “who’s going to push back on the Dolans?”

MAS Urges City Council to Examine Columbia Expansion Thoroughly Before Voting

columbia university expansion new york eminent domainToday, MAS urged the City Council through testimony and individual letters to take the full extent of the time for review of the Columbia University expansion allowed under ULURP in order to fully examine the complexities of the plan. MAS’ effort comes as the City Council scheduled a vote that appeared to cut short a full public approval process. The announcement of the vote was made without ample notice to the public and with time still available for review of the project under ULURP. To read the full press release, click here.

MAS Releases Map of Historic Resources in Moynihan Station Subdistrict

The MAS recently conducted a windshield survey of the proposed Moynihan Station subdistrict and found it contains over 60 historic buildings, including part of the city’s Madison Square North Historic District. The area includes nine New York City Landmarks, over forty buildings listed or eligible for the National Register, and 1 National Historic Landmark (Macy’s). The list includes a collection of historic churches, hotels, and garment and printing industry loft buildings designed by such reputable architects as Cass Gilbert, McKim, Mead & White, and Henry J. Hardenbergh. map historic resources moynihan station neighborhood Click here to view a pdf of the map The map contains all historic resources:
Designated or determined eligible for NYC Landmark
Designated NYC Historic Districts
Listed or determined eligible for State and National Register of Historic Places
Listed as a National Historic Landmark
(Click “read more” below for more info on unprotected buildings in the subdistrict). A few of the unprotected, but NYC Landmark-eligible buildings include: st michaels catholic church midtownSt. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church Complex: During the construction of the original station (1905-06), the Pennsylvania Railroad built St. Michael’s a new church complex at 409 W. 33rd St. after acquiring and demolishing the old church one block south. Napoleon, LeBrun & Sons was the architect. The limestone Romanesque Revival church is surrounded by a rectory, vestry, convent, and school designed in a unique blend of Gothic and Romanesque elements. The LPC has determined the church is eligible for NYC landmark designation. Fur Art Building: This 14-story garment loft building was designed by William I Hohauser and constructed in 1927-28. The building served a number of furriers by providing showroom and factory space. The tripartite arched entrance gives way to a series of setbacks crowned by stone turrets on the upper floors. It has been determined eligible for NYC landmark status. The Fur Art building is indicative of the garment loft type found throughout the subdistrict. william sloam memorial ymca nycWilliam F. Sloan Memorial Branch of the YMCA: Located at 360 W. 34th Street this building (pictured at right) was intended to provide sleeping accommodations and social facilities for men in the armed services passing through the city. It was designed by Cross & Cross and built in 1929-30. The brick Neo-Georgian style building contains some fine stone detailing on the upper floors. The LPC has determined it to be eligible for NYC landmark designation. Former Manhattan Opera House: Oscar Hammerstein built this nine-story brick and stone building at 311 West 34th Street between 1901 and 1907 to compete with the Metropolitan Opera. Then in 1923 it was altered to serve the New York Freemasons. The LPC has determined it to be eligible for NYC landmark designation. This is by no means a complete list. In fact, we believe there are many more buildings in the subdistrict that could be determined eligible for landmark designation. It is critical that the sprinkling of bulk does not impact historic resources in and surrounding the subdistrict. We propose the following three guidelines for the approval process:
1. The state needs to survey and adequately identify all historic buildings in the Moynihan Station subdistrict.
2. The city should designate eligible landmarks before the approval of the rezoning, including Macy’s, a National Historic Landmark.
3. The boundaries of the subdistrict ought to be modified so as not to include the Madison Square North Historic District.
Please email us if you have questions or concerns about historic buildings in the subdistrict and sign up above for our email updates.

Roundup of Recent Press Coverage

First, on the subject of open and transparent public process, the New York Observer reports on its Freedom of Information request from ESDC. The results: “a whole bunch of opaque black marker over text.” Follow the link to see what they mean. moynihan station esdc memo
“ESDC on Moynihan: [Redacted]”
New York Times editorial by Lawrence Downes on the “dumpy, dismal heart” of the LIRR:
“The Suburban Life: Stuck in a Penn”
Jennifer Lee of the New York Times City Room on opening Santa’s mail in the future home of Moynihan Station:
“Opening Santa’s Mail (and Answering It)”
In a feature for New York, Anthony Weiss and Alec Applebaum provide an excellent overview of Moynihan Station as they untangle the mess and identify the major players in “West World.”
“West World: Who stands to make a killing as a new midtown goes up”
The Slatin Reports offers a sober analysis of the financial aspects of the design proposals for Hudson Yards.
“Dollars and Dreams on the West Side”
Charles Bagli at the New York Times asks if “New York is ready for a miracle on 33rd Street” in a story about the possibility of moving the National Historic Landark Macy’s to Moynihan East.
“An Effort to Tempt Macy’s from a Century-Old Home”
In an op-ed for the New York Post, Christine Quinn, speaker of the City Council, calls on citizens to seize the opportunity to build a new rail station.
“All Aboard Moynihan Station: Let’s This Chance, New York”
An AP story by Amy Westfeldt on the new Penn Station recently appeared in USA Today.
“New Plan for NYC’s Penn Station Chugs Along”

MAS Honors Wade Thompson and Elihu Rose at Annual Benefit

Wade Thompson Elihu RoseOn December 10, 2007, the Municipal Art Society awarded its highest honor – the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal – to Wade F.B. Thompson and Elihu Rose in recognition of their outstanding efforts in saving and restoring the historic Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue. Today, the organization they formed in 1993, the Seventh Regiment Armory Conservancy, is restoring and revitalizing the armory to allow full public access to one of the most important collections of 19th century interiors in the city. To watch a slideshow of the event, click here.

Margaret Sanger Clinic – Vanguard of Planned Parenthood, A Place that Matters

Margaret Sanger’s first birth control clinic, at 46 Amboy St. in Brownsville, Brooklyn, was the city’s first clinic promoting birth control. For 9 days in 1916, women and men thronged the sidewalk outside of a 3-story tenement at 46 Amboy St., waiting to learn about contraception from Margaret Sanger and her sister Ethel Byrne, both nurses. Learn was the operative word. Just disseminating information about birth control (a term Sanger later coined) was then illegal. Continue Reading>>

Read MAS Comments on Draft Scope for Moynihan Station

Moynihan StationYesterday, the MAS submitted written comments to ESDC on the Draft Scope for the Moynihan Station project.  This process allows public input in defining the scope and methodology of the environmental review. For more background on the Draft Scope for Moynihan see “What’s in the Draft Scope.” Recognizing the critical importance of this project, the MAS comments reinforced our principles and raised concerns about the general lack of conceptual plans or detailed information for Moynihan East and the Moynihan Station Subdistrict Option. Click here to read our comments on the Draft Scope.

Brendan Gill Prize Celebrates Diversity

sarah jones playwright brendan gill prize winner 2007The 2007 Brendan Gill Prize was awarded on Monday evening, December 3, to actor, playwright and poet Sarah Jones, for her Tony-award winning one-woman show “Bridge & Tunnel.” The newly built Diker Pavilion in the National Museum of the American Indian, a transformed landmark — formerly the U.S. Custom House built by the legendary Beaux-Arts architect Cass Gilbert — on Bowling Green, was the stage for the presentation. In an exhilarating performance, Ms. Jones selected excerpts from her play which celebrates the city’s diversity with all its idiosyncrasies, conflicts and humor through the voices of fourteen immigrant characters. Continue Reading>>

MAS Testifies at First Public Hearing on Moynihan Station

Last night the Municipal Art Society testified at the Empire State Development Corporation’s public hearing about Moynihan and Penn Station Redevelopment project. The hearing, held in the Farley Post Office building, was focused on the draft scope of work for the environmental review. According to the ESDC, 25 people testified (click here to read testimony of some of the members of Friends of Moynihan Station). In the testimony Lisa Kersavage said the redevelopment of The Farley Post Office to create a new Moynihan Train Station and a new Penn Station are the most critically important civic projects in New York City today. Kersavage noted that in this public-private partnership, the state needs to be the guardian of the public’s interest and also actively engage the public in the process. Kersavage said that one fundamental and overarching problem MAS had in analyzing the scope is that the document was not accompanied by a detailed general project plan or conceptual renderings. The lack of conceptual plans makes engaging the public in a meaningful way challenging at best, she said. Other points in the testimony included:
  • MAS support for the “Moynihan Station Subdistrict” alternative.
  • The necessity to keep excess bulk off the Moynihan East block, in order to ensure adequate space for the train station and to limit major train disruptions during construction.
  • The need to Safeguard the Farley Post Office building and retain the post office use.
  • The need for the state to adequately identify historic buildings in the Moynihan Station subdistrict. MAS released a map of historic buildings in the subdistrict. Click here to download the map.
  • The need for an East/West transportation system that would connect Sixth Avenue and Penn Station to the River. With the Hudson Yards Rezoning, Hudson Yards East and the proposed Moynihan Station subdistrict, nearly 55 million square feet of potential development rights will be created between Sixth Avenue and the river – larger than downtown Seattle or San Diego. There are currently no transportation systems to connect Penn Station to the new city that will rise to the east.
Click here to download the entire testimony.