Support Park Avenue Historic Designation
August 3, 2010
Hon. Robert Tierney
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
One Centre Street
New York, NY 10007
Dear Chair Tierney,
CIVITAS supports the nomination of Park Avenue between 79th and 96th Street to be designated a New York City historic district
Park Avenue is one of the world’s most famous thoroughfares and is well regarded for its central median, lined by stately apartment buildings, low-rise nineteenth century buildings and houses of worship. Yet almost half of the avenue on the Upper East Side is not protected by New York City landmark status. Except for a few blocks of Park Avenue located in the Carnegie Hill Historic District, most of this corridor between 79th and 96th Street does not fall within a New York City historic district.
Park Avenue is best known as a twentieth century streetscape as it rose to prominence in the 1910s and 1920s. Yet it has a significant nineteenth century layer as well, including several buildings that pre-date “Park Avenue” itself and were constructed when this thoroughfare was known as Fourth Avenue, before the railroad tracks were covered. The avenue’s predominant scale – 12-17 story apartment buildings that follow a uniform street wall—is mostly protected under the Special Park Improvement zoning district. But this offers no protection to the nineteenth century layer, which is increasingly threatened. At least two of these structures have been demolished in recent years.
The architectural character of Park Avenue is not just about scale. The architects who designed many of the proposed district’s greatest buildings—George and Edward Blum, Rosario Candela, J.E.R. Carpenter, and others—followed a relatively uniform bulk in designing the luxury apartment houses. Much of the designers’ individual expression is articulated through architectural details, such as windows, decorative medallions and door surrounds. The structures present a wonderfully eclectic face to the avenue, evoking Renaissance Revival, Art Deco and Georgian references. Designation of Park Avenue as a New York City historic district will protect those details for future generations to enjoy.
As part of our support, CIVITAS raises the following issues for consideration by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
First is the historical condition of the Park Avenue median. When the railroad tracks were covered in the 1880s and the landscaped median was created in the 1910s, it was a wide park with seating and meandering paths located in the middle of the avenue. Over the course of the twentieth century, the median has been whittled down to its current width, a “park” meant to be looked at but not entered and enjoyed. As the current movement in New York City continues to reclaim green space and public space in previously overlooked spaces, we would like to see additional thought given to restoring Park Avenue to its historical plan and configuration with a public park in its center. Designation on as a New York City landmark district should call special attention to the avenue’s original plan and not act as an impediment to possible restoration of the median.
Further, there is much discussion on the local and national level devoted to incorporating energy efficient components into historic structures. Preserving the “embedded energy” expended in constructing the historic buildings on Park Avenue represents the greenest a pproach there is, but we would like to see continued dialogue between the preservation and environmental communities to support eco-friendly upgrades that respect the aesthetics and historic integrity of Park Avenue’s buildings.
We encourage the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to move quickly in designating the Park Avenue corridor between 79th and 96th Street.
Hunter F. Armstrong
Hon. Carolyn Maloney, U.S. Congresswoman
Hon. Scott M. Stringer, Manhattan Borough President
Hon. Liz Krueger, NYS Senator
Hon. Jonathan Bing, NYS Assemblymember
Hon. Daniel R. Garodnick, NYC Councilmember
Manhattan Community Board 8
Michele Birnbaum, Historic Park Avenue
Lo van der valk, Carnegie Hill Neighbors