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UES Residents Reject 'Grotesque' 2-Story Addition to Landmarked Building

By Shaye Weaver | February 20, 2017 4:31pm
 Community Board 8 rejected plans to add two-stories to 50 E. 96th St., known as Woodward Hall.
Addition of Landmarked Building on East 96th Street Rejected by Community
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CARNEGIE HILL — A developer's bid to expand a landmarked turn-of-the-century apartment building with a rooftop addition and glass railing was rejected by community members last week for its "grotesque" look.

A. Ruth & Sons, a real estate company with properties in the Tri-State area, filed applications with the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Board of Standards and Appeals to add two stories onto the six-story building at 50 E. 96th St. at Madison Avenue, which is known as "Woodward Hall."

Originally built in 1905 by George F. Pelham, the building is a neo-Renaissance style walk-up with a courtyard that has been largely neglected over time, according to Community Board 8 members, who reviewed the LPC application. 

It sits within the Expanded Carnegie Hill Historic District, which lies between Fifth and Lexington avenues and East 86th and 98th streets.

From the outside, Woodward Hall has a blackened and cracked facade with rusted fire escapes and peeling paint, among other issues.

"Time has affected this building, no doubt," said Marco Tamayo, a CB8 member. "Mildew and rust covers the surface everywhere, which in someway, has given a special character to the building, allowing it to retain much of its beauty."

In addition to improvements like facade repairs, a new roof, boiler, and elevator, and new fire/smoke alarms and sprinklers, A. Ruth & Sons is planning to add on 5,872 square feet to the top of the building — 4,259 on top of the existing roof and a 1,612-square-foot terrace above that with a 3-foot-6 glass railing, according to the plans filed with CB8.

The addition will be set back so it is less visible from the street, but it is modern and asymmetrical, made with limestone panels, dark bronze aluminum trim, mahogany windows and a light orange paint for the doors and window frames.

CB8's Landmarks Committee on Feb. 13 unanimously rejected the plans, saying the changes would be out of character for the landmarked building, its glass railings would be visible and reflective, and the addition would be silhouetted against the sky and not nestled among the surrounding buildings.

On Wednesday, Feb. 15, CB8's full board rejected it, with member Tamayo calling the proposed enlargement "grotesque and absurd."

"In short, this enlargement would bring this building to its architectural decline," he said. 

Bill Brothers of William Q. Brothers Architect, who is designing the building, declined to comment, but said that they are updating their plans.

A. Ruth & Sons did not respond to requests for comment.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission has not yet scheduled its hearing, according to spokeswoman Damaris Olivo.