West 13th Street Gazette

V O I C E O F T H E W E S T 13 T H S T . 100 B L O C K A S S O C I A T I O N I N C ., 155 W. 13 T H S T ., NYC 10011

Issue No. 17


Fall/Winter 2008

St. Vincents 'Hardship Case' Approved
Landmarks Commission Okays O'Toole Bldg. Destruction
President's Message
By Gary Tomei The city Landmarks Preservation Commission has voted to approve St. Vincents Hospital's "hardship" application for permission to tear down the white O'Toole Bldg. at 13th St. and 7th Ave., to make way for a huge new hospital tower on the site. The 6-4 vote on Oct. 28 was a setback for opponents of the St. Vincents plan, though far from a final defeat. If allowed to proceed, the project could mean a decade or more of major construction work immediately adjacent to our block, with all the heavy truck traffic, dirt, noise, incidental damage and disruption that goes with it. The plan involves first building the nearly 300-foot-tall hospital tower, followed by demolition of the existing hospital complex on the east side of 7th Ave. and erection of a huge new luxury apartment complex by the Rudin Organization on that site. These buildings would be a wrenching blow to the heart of the supposedly protected West Village, and set a precedent that could undercut the laws that now protect not only the Greenwich Village Historic District, but also other historic districts throughout the city.
For much more on this issue, see the President's Message.

We Have Not Yet Begun To Fight
The Landmarks Preservation Commission's vote approving St. Vincent's Hospital's “hardship” application, allows it to raze the O’Toole building, which has been acknowledged by the LPC itself to be an architecturally significant building within the confines of the Greenwich Village Historic District. This building was already landmarked when it was acquired by St Vincent’s in 1973. Authorities familiar with the Landmarks Law, say the commissioners who voted in favor of St. Vincent’s apparently failed to apply the proper statutory standards regarding the “hardship”application. This decision, if allowed to stand, will ultimately mean the destruction of the character of the Village. Furthemore, it will render the Landmarks Law moot. “If a charity can acquire a building knowing that it is protected by the Landmarks Law and then turn around and demolish it by claiming hardship, the law is going to be followed more in the breach than in the observance," said Delia Guazzo, Vice Chairperson of Protect the Village Historic District. I ask, Where is the outrage? - cont. P.2

Good food & conversation at the W 13 Block Party. See P.5&6

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Fall/Winter 2008

President's Message

cont. from P.1 What has happened to our sense of duty to preserve the best of our culture for future generations? We in the Greenwich Village Historic District will not, must not, stand idly by, and let this decision go unchallenged. We will appeal this travesty of justice and make sure it is overturned. To do so we need your support. I urge you to go to the GVHD website at http://www.protectthevillage.org/ to see what you can do to help our cause. The LPC vote was supposed to be solely concerning the O’Toole building, and pursuant to the statute, O’Toole can only be torn down if it can no longer be used for its present purposes. The building is now being used for physicians’ offices and can continue to be so used. Therefore, the application should have been rejected; however, by mixing apples with oranges, those voting in favor of the application, in reaching their decision relied on the alleged financial problems of the Hospital, its professed difficulty in renovating the present hospital building, located across from O’Toole, and the question whether any alternative sites were available to St. Vincent’s. None of these considerations were relevant to the question before the Commission, yet the decision turned on just those issues. St. Vincent’s had not even applied for a financial hardship, nor had it opened its books to the Commission, which would have been necessary had it made such an application. Furthermore, St.Vincent's has always contended that the Hospital had to be one huge tower; however, prior to the October 28th meeting, the LPC had already decided that the size of the proposed hospital building was inappropriate for the Village. St. Vincent's never reapplied for a Certificate of Appropriateness, so it would appear that the Commission has granted the Hospital the right to tear down a historic building in order to erect an edifice that it has already deemed inappropriate. In view of those facts, this decision defies common sense. I have contended from the beginning of this process that the attempt by Rudin and St. Vincent’s to build two humongous buildings in the Village was driven by economic and political expediency. If those are the sole standards that we are to employ, what is the sense of having a Landmarks Law? The builders and developers would bury our historic, cultural and architectural past under a slew of undistinguished glass towers. Let me be clear: I support St. Vincent’s need to modernize, but I see no inherent conflict between that need and the preservation of our beloved Village. The St. Vincent’s catchment area is now the Westside from the Battery to 59th street. There is no valid reason that the Hospital remain here, in our limited communal

area. Let St. Vincent’s build, without constraints, outside the Historic District where it can truly best serve the entire Westside community. Finally, a personal note: Congratulations to our new President-Elect, Barack Obama! We have been privileged to witness, and participate in, a historic moment in American history. By electing Sen. Obama as president we have overcome hate and racism, restored our honor as a nation, and have again become an inspiration and a beacon of hope to the entire world. After eight years of having lost our moral compass and wandering in the desert, we have finally returned to the promised land. Frankly, I was despairing that this moment would ever come, but it has. It's our our country, and it's good to have it back!

Facelift Planned for Blighted Mid-Block Bldgs.
Block residents have long complained about the unsightly façade of 133-135 W. 13th St. This has been the location of a series of restaurants over the years (La Champignon, Mandarin House, Covent Garden, New Deal, MariaElena). Most recently, it was La Nonna, which closed early this decade, leaving the building's exterior uncared-for. Graffiti was not removed, and the front wall developed a bulge on an upper floor. Ownership of the building has changed hands a few times in recent years. The latest owners have hired William W. Suk, AIA, of the Truisi Suk Design Group. At a hearing Oct. 14 before the Landmarks Committee of Community Board 2, Suk presented a plan to restore the façade in a manner consistent with our historic district and with the original design of the buildings. The buildings apparently were constructed in the 1840's in a style one committee member characterized as "transitional Greek Revival to Italianate." One major change to be made in the buildings is to even out the top row of windows of 133 and 135, which currently do not align. The owners will not include a restaurant in the restored building, and the wisteria now climbing its front will be removed. The architects claim the wisteria has gotten behind some of the brick work, causing structural problems. Suk would not reveal the owner of the building. The owner of record is "135 West 13 LLC," managed by two brokers at the Corcoran Group based on E. 10th St. - Alan Jacobs

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Fall/Winter 2008

Tree Box Damage
On the night of Oct. 9 or morning of Oct. 10, during the Dept. of Transportation re-paving of our block, several of our recently installed treebox fences were damaged. The tree boxes were paid for by the W13BA and some individual block residents, at a cost of some $26,000. BA board member Naomi Usher is overseeing repair efforts for most of the block (the 105 bldg. went ahead with repairs to the damaged box there on its own). Whether the DOT or the city will help pay for it remains to be seen.

Real Estate Report
By Kitty Sorrel. W13BA & Corcoran Real Estate The profound slump in our economy has led the way to a depreciating real estate market with overpriced listings flooding all areas of Manhattan. As in previous years in a falling market, home prices went down and interest rates were lowered. Sellers with basic needs to sell now will continue to place their homes on the market. Many financial experts say buy low now and sell high when the market comes back. Just as the price of gold always fluctuates, so do real estate values.

The brighter side: so far, sales and rentals on our block from June '08 to now are doing fine.
At least so far, our block of W. 13th St. (along with much of the Village) is bucking the national trend. A multi-unit townhouse on our block sold for $5,500,000, another single family townhouse is in contract. Available now, a single family townhouse is asking in the high $7,900,000 range. Two-bedroom apartment sales in our fullservice bldgs. ranged in price from $1,165,000 to $1,100,000. Sold one-bedrooms ranged from $795,000 to $670,000. Studios for sale ranged in price from $569,000 to $395,000. Townhouse rentals on our block range from two full floors for $15,000 to twobedrooms for $8,000. One-bedrooms in multi-residence bldgs. ranged from $4,400 to $3,695.
For more information: Kitty Sorell, VP/Assoc. Broker, Corcoran Real Estate 212-989-0101

Parking Regs Changed
After considerable pressure from the W13BA, the city finally altered parking regulations on our block. On July 14 (Bastille Day!), daytime parking ceased on the south side of the street. Peace returned. Birds, if not angels, could be heard lifting their little hearts in song. Well, it was a little quieter, anyway.

Published by the W. 13th St. 100 Block Assn. Bruce Meyer, editor

The West 13th Street Gazette

W. 13th St. Gazette

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Alan Jacobs: Exploring our Neighborhood

500 Steps North
This is the second in a series of guides to things to see within 500 steps (according to my pedometer) of the 100 block of West 13th Street. Going north, I found God's Country: The Salvation Army Centennial Memorial Temple It's right around the corner at 120 W. 14th St. We walk past it all the time, perceive something spectacular, but never go in. I called up our local emissary from the Salvation Army, Envoy Ian Anderson, and got an amazing tour, along with a dollop of Salvation Army history. The Chapel is in an art deco style popular in the 20's, also called “Ziggurat Moderne.” Originally the national headquarters, it is now headquarters for the New York region. Its name commemorates the centennial of the birth of Salvation Army founder William Booth. Its 1600-seat auditorium resembles a lovely old movie palace. Envoy Anderson tells me that such a resemblance is intentional: the Army wanted to reach those who could not ordinarily be drawn into churches, so it often created theatrical events to entice sinners who then might be converted. So the building’s location on a block with three porn shops is appropriate: the more sinners in the vicinity, the better for the mission. h See this masterpiece for yourself at the "Christmas Extravaganza," Sunday, December 14, at 6 p.m. Admission is free and Envoy Anderson says the music is terrific! The Mormons New Yorkers are used to neighbors with exotic religions, whether it be Sufi, Sikh, or Hare Krishna. But somehow the earnest, clean-cut young Mormon men in white shirts walking the streets of our city looking for converts are jarring. They shouldn’t be: this is, after all,

the state where the Angel Moroni handed down the Latter-Day Saints’ sacred writings! And while they're headquartered in Utah, they’ve re-arrived in New York, and set up shop right in our neighborhood, at 144 W. 15th St. The building is undistinguished -- it was a convent and women’s shelter before the Mormons came about 10 years ago. But when I saw the welcoming sign over the door, I had to find out more. The church holds three services each week in its small, unadorned worship space: one for the deaf, one for young single adults, and one for its regular congregation. Rubin Museum of Art A few steps farther north, at 7th Ave. and 17th St., just within my 500-step limit (take big steps), is the Rubin Museum, featuring Himalayan art, mostly with Buddhist or Hindu themes. I can't describe the whole museum in one paragraph. But as a longtime New Yorker, I can relate to one interesting detail. The building is the former Barney’s clothing store, and the museum chose to retain a Barney's feature: the spiral staircase. You get déjà vu climbing that staircase. But instead of being flabbergasted by the number of digits in the price of a sweater, one is awed by the number of faces and arms on a representation of the divine, like Avalokiteshvara (11 faces, 8 arms). Desco Vacuum Cleaners This is the real shrine for me -- a place that embraces the vacuum. In 1978, I bought a used Electrolux from Desco that was just like the one we had when I was a kid. This store has been at 131 W. 14th St. since before World War II. Rick DeSilva's family has owned it since 1976. He says most vacuum repair businesses have closed because people throw out old vacuums rather than have them fixed! But Desco survives, sells new vacuums and does repairs, too. I really love the neon signs on the shop: beacons for lost souls in the night.

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Fall/Winter 2008

And A Good Time Was Had By All!
It was Sunday in New York, and the best place to be last October 5 was the rear dining room of Gradisca, filled with the aroma and flavors of Emilia-Romagna, good wine, convivial conver-sation and the warmth of the W13BA's annual all-are-welcome block party. Indeed, a good time was had by all, of all ages. No business was conducted as about 60 residents of our block enjoyed the hospitality of one of our favorite restaurants.

Let's do it again next year!

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Fall/Winter 2008

More pictures from our West 13th Street BA block party at Gradisca October 5th!

Block Association dues for calendar year 2009 may be paid now. Make checks to “W. 13 St. 100 Block Ass’n,” Mail to: W. 13th St. 100 Block Association, 155 W. 13th St., New York, N.Y. 10011 Resident ($10 per individual) Number of individuals: Brownstone owner ($50) Business ($100) TOTAL ENCLOSED: $ ______ Cooperative board ($100) Additional contribution (any amount) This is a renewal. Name or names: Address: Name of business (if applicable): Home phone: Work phone: E-mail: I am interested in the following issues (circle one or more): St. Vincent's / Traffic / Crime Prevention / Beautification / Community Affairs / Other (please specify):

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