Preservationists dig in for fight on Tunnel Garage
By Lincoln Anderson
Neighbors and preservationists rallied in Soho outside the Tunnel Garage on Saturday, calling for the historic structure to be landmarked. A developer is seeking a variance from the citys Board of Standards and Appeals to build a 10-story residential building on the site.
The garage at Broome and Thompson Sts. was empty last Saturday, after the owner had told parkers they would have to remove their cars by that day. Joining the protest were members of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the Soho Alliance and Friends of the Tunnel Garage.
The garage was built in 1922 and was named for the impending construction of the Holland Tunnel, which was completed five years later. It is one of the oldest existing garages specifically built for car parking. It features proto-Art Deco terracotta detailing and a unique Model T medallion underneath its 24-Hour Parking sign.
Earlier this year, G.V.S.H.P. asked the citys Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the garage as city landmark, but the commission has not yet acted. In addition, the building has been deemed eligible for the State Register of Historic Places but not yet designated for the register.
Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P. director, said the garage is not only historically deserving of landmarking, but also important because the area has lost so much parking in recent years. For the developer to argue before the B.S.A. that he faces economic hardship and thus needs a residential variance is ridiculous, Berman said.
This site is so valuable to them as a parking garage, he said, that it is going to be very hard for them to argue hardship. This parking garage is a virtual goldmine. The only problem is the developer feels they have an even huger goldmine with a residential development.
Berman said they are calling on L.P.C. to designate the garage immediately since the owners clearing out the cars raises fears that a demolition is imminent. G.V.S.H.P. and Friends of the Tunnel Garage have gathered hundreds of letters and petition signatures and sent them to L.P.C. urging they save the building. The garage is also located at the southern end of the societys South Village Historic District Study Area, an area the organization is examining for a potential proposal to the city as a new historic district.
Also supporting the Tunnel Garages landmarking are City Councilmember Christine Quinn, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, the Historic Districts Council and the Art Deco Society of New York.
Community Board 2 has passed opposing resolutions on the garage. The Landmarks Committee voted to recommend landmarking it, while the C.B. 2 Zoning Committee backed the developers variance application, though with some modifications.
We had two conflicting resolutions, said Doris Diether, chairperson of the boards Landmarks Committee. Its a very interesting building. The new design wasnt bad. It will have a rounded corner. But why take down whats there to build a new building? My resolution was passed last, she added, as if to say her committees resolution should be taken as the boards final word to date on the subject.