Volume 22, Number 06 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | June 26 - July 2, 2009
94 Greenwhich St.
Preservationists say 1 out of 3 ain’t bad on Greenwich
By Julie Shapiro
A building that has stood at the corner of Rector and Greenwich Sts. for more than 200 years won landmark status from the city this week, but two of its neighbors will stay unprotected.
The city Landmarks Preservation Commission voted Tuesday to landmark 94 Greenwich St., a Federal row house built at the turn of the 19th century. The commission voted not to landmark 94½ and 96 Greenwich because they have been greatly altered — though they were built at the same time and in the same style as 94.
Andrea Goldwyn, director of public policy at the New York Landmarks Conservancy advocacy group, was glad the city designated 94 Greenwich but was disappointed that the neighboring buildings were left out.
“We thought the three buildings formed a really unique ensemble,” Goldwyn said.
The three Greenwich St. buildings are among the 13 Federal row houses preservationists have been fighting to landmark since 2003. The 94 Greenwich designation brings the tally to eight buildings saved out of the 13.
“We’re thrilled,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “It’s been a long time in the offing.”
Federal row houses, marked by narrow brick facades and sloping roofs, first appeared in New York around 1790.
“It was the first style to emerge from the newly independent American republic,” Berman said.
Back then, an address on Greenwich St. was among the most desirable in the fledgling city, Berman said, calling Greenwich St. “the Park Ave. of its day.” The neighborhood soon changed from residential to commercial, but 94 Greenwich survived, at various times hosting a boarding house for professional men, an alehouse, a hotel and most recently restaurants on the ground floor and apartments above, the city said. The three-and-a-half-story building was bumped up to four stories more than 100 years ago, but the peak of the characteristic sloped roof remains.
“They’re wonderful vestiges of the earliest-era settlement of New York,” Berman said of 94 Greenwich and its neighbors. Especially after the collapse of the World Trade Center three blocks north, “It’s miraculous they’re still there,” Berman said.
Today, the best known of the three buildings may be 96 Greenwich, which houses the Pussycat Lounge exotic dance bar. Next-door is 94½ Greenwich, with Cordato’s deli on the ground floor, and on the corner is 94 Greenwich, which houses Cafe Bravo and Pomodoro Pizza.
Developer Sam Chang once hoped to demolish 96 Greenwich and use the space as an entrance to a hotel he would build on the back of the lot. He purchased air rights from 94 and 94½ Greenwich several years ago, but nothing has happened on the project recently.
Given the lengthy history of all three of the Greenwich St. buildings, Berman said the city missed an opportunity this week to preserve the set. Had the city acted sooner, they could have prevented the recent changes to the storefronts and rooftops of 94½ and 96 Greenwich that make the buildings less historical, he said.
The first hearing on the Greenwich St. trio was held in 1965, but the city decided in the late 1960s not to take any action, Berman said. The L.P.C. held another hearing in January 2007 after Berman and others reanimated the issue. In the two-and-a-half years between the hearing and the decision, all three of the buildings have undergone changes.
“The L.P.C. clearly could have taken actions to prevent the alterations from taking place, but they did not,” Berman said.
Lisi de Bourbon, L.P.C. spokesperson, said the limbo period was the much longer 44 years, not two, “And we gave an answer on Tuesday,” she said.
Susan Borkow, whose father bought 94 Greenwich in 1949, does not think the building is worth landmarking.
“The entire downstairs is plate-glass storefronts,” Borkow said. “What are we landmarking there?”
Borkow worries that landmarking will reduce the value of the building because any changes and repairs will cost more.
“We just finished a renovation on the building, and we could have renovated it to eliminate the few things [the Landmarks Preservation Commission] liked about it,” Borkow said. Instead, Borkow kept the brick and marble lintels in place and maintained the building’s sloped roof.
Had she demolished the building’s distinctive features, the city likely would have been forced to drop the landmarking effort, she said. “They’re punishing us for being decent,” she said.