February 2017
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Archive for February, 2017

MAS Comments Regarding the Greater East Midtown Proposal, ULURP No. 170186 ZRM Manhattan, NY


The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) has played an active role in the rezoning of East Midtown. In 2012, MAS engaged planning, preservation, and development practitioners to explore ways to maintain East Midtown as not only the city’s premier business district, but as a vital, working neighborhood. This effort culminated in the report, East Midtown: A Bold Vision for the Future, issued by MAS in February 2013, which laid out a framework for reinvigorating the area’s public realm, improving transit infrastructure, encouraging a vibrant mix of uses, protecting the area’s valuable historic resources, and fostering forward thinking sustainable design.

MAS and many other stakeholders found the 2013 East Midtown rezoning proposal to be deficient in achieving critical goals, and it was later withdrawn. Mayor de Blasio then formed the East Midtown Steering Committee, including MAS, to spearhead a stakeholder-driven effort. In October 2015, the Steering Committee issued its Final Report including recommendations that by and large frame the current Greater East Midtown Proposal.

MAS recognizes that the primary goal of the current proposal is to incentivize significant expansion of commercial office space to maintain the area’s viability as New York’s premier business district and retain its tax base. We also acknowledge the complexity of the project, as well as the effort by the city to foster and incorporate stakeholder input.

Public Realm Improvements

Mindful of the congestion in the area’s public transit stations and sidewalks, the limited open space in the area, and the expected incremental 28,000 workers, we find the proposed improvements under the Public Realm Improvement Concept Plan to be fundamentally deficient. MAS is also concerned about the role the Public Realm Improvement Fund Governing Group will play and that Privately Owned Public Space (POPS) have largely been ignored under the plan.

Public Realm Improvement Concept Plan

The current plan proposes over 300,000 square feet (sf) of ROW improvements under the Public Realm Improvement Plan, including, but not limited to, pedestrian plazas near GCT (i.e., Pershing Square, Park Ave West, East 43rd Street), pedestrian improvements along the Park Avenue median, and the inclusion of shared streets within the district. However, at present, these measures are not codified into the text amendment as the proposed transit infrastructure improvements have been. MAS urges that these improvements are included in the text to insure that they will be implemented.

Public Realm Improvement Fund Governing Group

The Public Realm Improvement Fund will be managed by a nine-member governing group, five of whom will be selected by the Mayor. The group has the responsibility of prioritizing improvements to be funded under the Concept Plan and would address the future public realm needs of the Subdistrict. MAS questions the precedent by which the group framework was conceived, particularly with regard to efficacy in executing and allocating funding, which is critical to the success of the proposal.

Privately Owned Public Space (POPS)

POPS account for 50 percent of the area’s approximately 39 acres of public open space. Although they serve as important retreats for area workers and visitors, POPS have not been considered in the current proposal. MAS remains steadfast in our advocacy for POPS as a viable option for increasing and improving open space in the project area. We ask the city to study the following recommendations:

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Monument of the Month: Die Lorelei

Thirty years ago, The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) launched the Adopt-A-Monument program in collaboration with the NYC Public Design Commission and the NYC Parks Department, to secure private funding for the rescue of public art in danger of deterioration. This program, and the subsequent Adopt-A-Mural Program (begun in 1991), preserve the extraordinary legacy of public art that MAS helped initiate at the turn of the 20th century.

The Heinrich Heine Fountain ("Die Lorelei") by Ernest Herter, 1899, Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx

The Heinrich Heine Fountain (“Die Lorelei”) by Ernest Herter was constructed in 1899 in Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx. It was restored in 1999 through MAS’ Adopt-A-Monument program.

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Letter of Support for the Designation of the Rose Reading Room and Other NYPL Interiors

Ms. Kate Lemos McHale
Director of Research
Landmarks Preservation Commission
1 Centre Street
New York, NY 10007

Re: New York Public Library Interiors

Dear Ms. McHale,

I am writing on behalf of the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) to urge the prompt calendaring and designation of the Rose Main Reading Room, Bill Blass Catalog Room, and ten other public interiors (full list attached) within the New York Public Library at 42nd Street.

Nearly three years ago, the overdue designation of the Rose Main Reading Room and the Bill Blass Catalog Room halted due to critical restoration efforts. Despite their reopening four months ago, these unique spaces and their fellow Beaux-Arts interiors remain unprotected by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Generations of New Yorkers – academics and everyday citizens – have flocked to John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings’ 1911 Beaux-Arts masterpiece. Part of what makes the monumental building a work of art is its completeness of vision. The architect duo not only designed the grand exterior, but also every detail of the interior down to the tables, chairs, lamps, and chandeliers. Work on the ornate interior, featuring white marble arches and ionic columns, plaster coffered ceilings, and painted murals by James Wall Finn, took a total of five years to complete.

In 1974, the LPC designated Astor Hall and McGraw Rotunda as interior landmarks within the library. The report stated, “The interior of this great building is as magnificent as its exterior. Among the notable interior spaces readily available to the public are: the Main Lobby, the North and South Staircases from the first and third floor, and the Central Hall on the third floor.” At the time, some of these rooms we now propose for designation had been closed to public since World War II. However, now that they are open and widely used, we feel that the interior landmark status needs extend far beyond the original designation scope. The same outstanding features seen in Astor Hall and McGraw Rotunda continue uninterrupted through the North-South Gallery and into these various exhibition halls, gathering forums, reading rooms, and stairwells.

These unprotected spaces endure as a civic beacon of the city’s democratic dissemination of knowledge to this day. In fact, the New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman singled out the recently restored Rose Main Reading Room as one of New York’s “most beloved public spaces” of 2016.

To secure these historic rooms for future generations, MAS urges the Commission to designate the Rose Reading Room, Bill Blass Catalog Room, and the ten other public spaces as interior landmarks.

Sincerely yours,

Tara's signature

Tara Kelly Vice President, Policy & Programs The Municipal Art Society of New York

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Action Alert: 175th Street Loew’s Wonder Theatre

We Need Your Help to Save a Treasure of Washington Heights!

Last month, the Loew’s 175th Street Theatre – the last of New York’s five gilded age Wonder Theaters – received approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, putting it one step closer to landmark designation after more than 45 years in limbo.

But we have just learned from our colleagues at the Historic Districts Council that the local Council Member for the 10th district, Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, plans to rescind his support for designating the theater. Without his vote, the designation will almost surely fail to pass the City Council.

interior of the ornate 145th Street Loews Wonder Theatre

The 145th Street Loews Wonder Theatre

Please call Council Member Rodriguez this week and tell him that the Loew’s 175th Street Theatre must be protected as a New York City landmark.

MAS supported the designation of the Loew’s 175th Street Theatre when the Landmarks Preservation Commission first reviewed it in 1970, and again in 2015 (see “Testimony” below). A “delirious masterpiece” in words of the New York Times, the theater’s exuberant, eclectic style incorporates both Hindu and Islamic design in a free interpretation iconic to this period of theater design.

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