South of W.T.C., older buildings in danger
By Albert Amateau
The gaggle of preservation enthusiasts ambling along Greenwich St. south of the World Trade Center on a sunny morning two weeks ago stopped at strategic corners to gawk at buildings overlooked by most of the people hurrying by.
The buildings, some of them nearly 200 years old, are on a list of historically important sites at risk of being lost in redevelopment of Lower Manhattan in the wake of the World Trade Center attack.
After all, this is a cradle of American history, said Ken Lustbader, a consultant with the Lower Manhattan Emergency Preservation Fund, a consortium of five preservation groups, which organized the Aug. 14 tour of the Greenwich St. South corridor, a neighborhood that in the early 1800s was the height of elegance.
Preservationists are anxious about the buildings because the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. last month issued a request for proposals from architects and developers for an urban design plan for the Greenwich south corridor from Liberty St. to Battery Pl. between Broadway and West St. The deadline for proposals was Aug. 4 but no designation has been made yet, a spokesperson for L.M.D.C. said.
The R.F.P. calls for plans to revitalize the area, identify opportunities to develop housing through new construction and conversion, and build a park over the entrance to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. In a policy statement at the end of last year Mayor Bloomberg also called for creating a new residential area south of the World Trade Center site.
Lustbader, however, said that historic preservation is missing from plans for the Greenwich south corridor. Buildings like these are potentially threatened, especially in Manhattan which is real estate-driven, he said.
The request for proposals doesnt ask respondents to look at historic structures, he added. We need to recognize historic properties, to include them in the revitalization of the neighborhood. That doesnt mean we should landmark everything, but historic properties should be considered. These old buildings give texture to the street, Lustbader observed.
An L.M.D.C. spokesperson said last week that the agencys original charter recognizes the value of historic buildings. The L.M.D.C. has always expressed a commitment to preserving the historic character of Lower Manhattan and the existing civic and cultural value of its cityscape, said the L.M.D.C.s Michelle McManus.
The group started at a row of buildings at 94, 94 1/2 and 96 Greenwich St. at the corner of Rector St., which were built during the first decade of the 1800s as three-story buildings with pitched roofs and dormer windows. A fourth story was added later, eliminating the dormers. The alterations are more than 100 years old, Lustbader said, noting that the original roofline is still apparent in the changed brick color on the south wall of 94 Greenwich St.
At 67 Greenwich St. at the corner of Edgar St., Francis Morrone, an urban historian, guided the tour to Trinity Pl. to point out an elliptical bay in the rear of the building. This is the last existing mansion on Greenwich St., said Morrone, pointing out the unusual width of 40 feet.
Sims, the discount mens shop nearby, was built in the 1870s as stables for Adams Express. The delivery company, like its rival American Express, whose 1885 building still stands at 83-85 Greenwich St., has changed over the years, shedding its horses and wagons for financial services.
The tour was co-sponsored by the Municipal Art Society, the Preservation League of New York State, the World Monuments Fund, The New York Landmarks Conservancy, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The five groups joined to form the Lower Manhattan Emergency Trust Fund early last year. The fund has already pledged about $150,000 to owners of Lower Manhattan historic properties for services ranging from engineering studies to facade repairs, Lustbader said.