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Preservationists Push for West End Avenue Historic District

By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — The recent destruction of elegant architectural details on two Upper West Side buildings has preservationists strengthening calls for a new historic district to protect older buildings.

Preservation groups are urging the public to attend a hearing scheduled for 1:45 p.m. on Tuesday where the Landmarks Preservation Commisssion will weigh whether to create a massive historic district along West End Avenue, between West 70th and 109th streets.

It's the second of three hearings on the proposed historic district, which would landmark more than 800 buildings.

Cristiana Pena, of preservation group Landmark West, says two recent incidents underscore the need for the historic district, which has been criticized by some property owners and real estate groups.

The marble columns in front of 235 W. 75th Street, before they were removed recently as part of a renovation.
The marble columns in front of 235 W. 75th Street, before they were removed recently as part of a renovation.
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Courtesy of DeAnna Rieber

In May, residents of 333 W. 86th Street were horrified when ornamental urns were sawed off their building with no warning. Earlier this month, neighbors were shocked to see marble columns removed from 235 W. 75th Street, which was built in 1901.

"They're perfect examples of historic resources in the neighborhood that we've taken for granted for too long," Pena said. "We've assumed we all hold the same values in terms of historic stewardship, but that's not necessarily the case. The historic district designation would put us all on the same page."

In both cases the alterations were made using the proper permits, but the two incidents prompted an outcry from locals, who say their neighborhood's historic charm is disappearing before their eyes.

DeAnna Rieber, president of the West 75th Street Block Association, said she was already a supporter of the proposed historict district, but the removal of the ornate marble columns that once graced the entrance to the West 75th Street intensified her commitment.

Rieber said she would attend Tuesday's hearing because she felt like she'd been "kicked in the gut" when she peeked behind a plywood construction barrier earlier this month and saw the marble columns scattered in pieces on the ground.

"When you chip away at a person's home and their neighborhood, it has a psychological effect that nobody can measure," Rieber said. "It felt like a huge slap in the face to the community."

The columns were removed as part of a three-year renovation of the building that will update the lobby, said a spokesman for the property owner. The construction started in late 2008, and permits for the work on entrance were filed in July 2010, before the historic district was proposed, the spokesman said.

Under the proposed historic district, changes such as removing the West 86th Street urns and West 75th Street columns would be more difficult, because they would require more public review and approval by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The historic district would encompass buildings along West End Avenue, as well as on side streets and parts of Broadway.

Supporters say historic districts enhance property values and benefit the community, but the real estate industry has criticized the proposed historic district, saying it would stall economic growth.

Mike Slattery, senior vice president with the Real Estate Board of New York, said including Broadway in the new historic district would make it too costly for shopkeepers to renovate stores.

He also said that some sites included in the proposed district weren't worthy of landmarking.

"Some of those sites may have development potential which will never realized, and that’s lost revenue and lost jobs," Slattery said.