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A Landmark Once Undone, Now Whole

city suburban first avenue estate

The City just won a legal victory that affirms the landmark designation of City and Suburban First Avenue Estate (at First Avenue between 64th and 65th Streets), a model tenement complex built early in the 20th century as housing for the working poor. MAS has long been a supporter of its designation.

This landmarks issue has a long and political history. In 1990, the LPC designated the full block of 15 historic tenement buildings. In 1991, the now-defunct Board of Estimates, on their last night of existence, voted well after midnight to de-designate two of the fifteen buildings that make up the historic complex. That decision was widely considered a political move and a concession to a developer who wanted to build a tower at the sister complex to the north, City and Suburban York Avenue. In 2006, at the urging of MAS, community members, and Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, the LPC re-designated the two buildings, making the landmark whole again.

In 2007, the building’s owner sued the City to overturn the designation on the grounds that the Commission’s designation was “arbitrary and capricious,” given the fact that Board of Estimates had overturned the designation. The court ruled otherwise, and upheld the LPC’s designation. The court’s decision also underscores the LPC’s authority to designate landmarks that have cultural and historical significance, in addition to architectural significance.

City and Suburban First Avenue Estate clearly has an abundance of cultural significance to the City of New York. When the complex (on First Avenue between 64th and 65th Streets) was built, between 1898 and 1915, it was one of the largest low-income housing projects in the world. The developer, City and Suburban Homes Company, was dedicated to supplying the working poor with “improved, wholesome homes,” with considerably more light and ventilation than the typical tenements of their day. The design was influential to the design of housing across the city.