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MAS Supports Amendment to City & Suburban Homes First Ave. Estate

Testimony of the Municipal Art Society Before the New York Landmarks Commission on City and Suburban Homes Company, First Avenue Estate, 429 East 64th Street and 430 East 65th Street.

MAS strongly supports the amendment of the boundaries of the City and Suburban First Avenue Estate to include the 429 East 64th Street and 430 East 65th Street, which were removed from the original boundaries by the now-defunct Board of Estimates.

These buildings were found by the commission to be eligible for designation in 1990 and we believe they remain just as important today. While the significance of the buildings is derived in part by its architecture, we believe there primary importance are their historical and cultural associations. When the First Avenue Estate was built, between 1898 and 1915, it was one of the largest low-income housing projects in the world. The developer, the City and Suburban Homes Company, practiced what was then considered “benign capitalism,” in which they built privately-financed housing for a limited return. The company was dedicated to supplying the working poor with “improved, wholesome homes,” that had considerably more light and ventilation than the typical tenements of their day. That translates architecturally into buildings with generous light courts, an abundance of windows, and a relatively low height. It is these features that are the most architecturally significant.

Some neighbors have reported that the property owner has started work under an alteration permit received prior to the LPC calendaring the building for designation. This is clearly an unscrupulous move undertaken to avoid designation. That being said, we have looked at the details of the permit and do not believe the work irreparably harms the features for which the significance of the building is derived. Instead, the permit allows for work, that if completed, makes these attractive buildings less so, but does not impact the architectural features that are most significant.

I wish we had an answer for how to address the problem of owners pulling permits for inappropriate work in order to avoid designation, a situation that seems to be growing rampant. It most certainly warrants study. Until we come up with a solution, we urge you to make the difficult decision to designate, even with the permit.

The Commission has the opportunity to right a politically-motivated wrong and make this landmark whole again. Given the present circumstances, with the owner doing destructive work on this important building, we urge you to designate these buildings today.

The writer is MAS Director of Advocacy & Policy.