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MAS Says No to Madison Avenue Demo

la goulue building

On January 22, 2008, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing on a potentially precedent-setting application to demolish the two-story building at 746 Madison Avenue (aka La Goulue building), a contributing building in the Upper East Side Historic District, and to construct a new fourteen-story building in its place.

At the hearing the Municipal Art Society joined the New York Landmarks Conservancy, Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts and the Society for the Architecture of the City in opposition to this application. Read our testimony.

746 Madison is a two-story commercial building with an elegantly detailed cast-iron storefront surrounded by brick and flanked by neo-Georgian “wings”. It was built in 1917 by Rouse & Goldstone and altered in 1937 by Kenneth B. Norton (a history recounted by Christopher Gray in a recent Streetscapes column in The New York Times. In his article he describes the building as “A modest but elegantly detailed two-story Georgian-style building between 64th and 65th Streets is just the kind of oddity that makes Madison Avenue fun.”

As far as we know, the LPC, in its 43 years of watching over our city’s heritage, has not permitted the demolition of a contributing building in a historic district under a Certificate of Appropriateness.

The last application MAS reviewed for the demolition of a protected building on the Upper East Side was at the Whitney Museum. In our testimony we opposed the demolition of that brownstone, and that application was eventually modified to avoid such demolition.

The applicants for 746 Madison Avenue may claim this is not a demolition, but it clearly is – and the LPC has correctly calendared it as such. While they plan to restore and retain the very significant cast iron storefront, it will be used only as an architectural remnant applied to a new building, completely divorced from its historic fabric. The design effectively eliminates the neo-Georgian wings, a characteristic element of the historic building, and contributes to its heavy appearance. Overall, the changes to the base create an entirely new building with little or no relationship to its former self.

If approved, this project could be a precedent-setting demolition of a protected building in order to reap larger financial gains from the property. We wonder how the commission would be able to deny other proposals to demolish designated buildings for a more profitable use?

Update: On June 24, 2008, the LPC approved a significantly modified version of this proposal.