KIPS BAY — The onetime house of former President Chester A. Arthur deserves landmark recognition despite lacking architectural significance, according to preservationists who spoke Thursday at a hearing before the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Arthur may be better remembered for his facial hair than his presidential legacy, but his house, located at 123 Lexington Ave., between East 28th Street and East 29th Street, is one of the city’s only homes of a then-sitting president, as Arthur was unexpectedly sworn in there after the assassination of James Garfield. That should be enough to protect it as a landmark, according to supporters of its designation.
“The architecture has changed, but we feel there is history in this building,” said Gary Papush, a member of Community Board 6. “We hope Landmarks will recognize that history and the historical figure that lived there is basis for designating this building.”
The hearing was part of an initiative by the LPC to clear out a backlog of potential sites, some of which, like the Chester A. Arthur house, have been on the list for decades. The first and last hearing for 123 Lexington Ave. was in 1966.
Arthur’s home, which was built in 1855 and stands five stories tall, is a national historical landmark, but only a discerning eye would come across a small plaque, wedged between the door and an ATM, explaining its significance.
Arthur’s house is one of the only remaining homes of a sitting president in the city. The building that served as George Washington’s presidential mansion at Cherry and Pearl streets in Lower Manhattan was destroyed in 1856. The bulldozing of Washington’s home to make way for the Brooklyn Bridge should serve as a lesson to the city that historically significant buildings — architecturally unique or not — deserve protection, according to Robin Garr, of the Guides Association of New York City.
“When I want to be able to engage someone I need to be able to point out not where something once was but where something tangible still exists,” she said. “There is far more impact when a visitor can see a building, even a remnant of it.”
Since 1988 the lower two floors of the building have hosted Kalustyan’s, a beloved Indian and Mediterranean spice shop. Garr singled out the success of the store in a historical building as a quintessential American story, and for their part the owners of Kalustyan's said they are proud to sell their wares from a slice of history, according to Sayedul Alam, president of the Kalustyan Corporation.
“It means a lot that Chester A. Arthur was sworn in here,” Alam told DNAinfo New York. “This is a historical place and we’re trying to keep it that way.”
Anyone interested in commenting on the potential designation of the Chester A. Arthur has until Nov. 26 to submit written testimony, and more information is available on the agency’s website.