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Landmark Push May Be Too Late to Save Century-Old Fifth Ave. Building

By Shaye Weaver | July 21, 2017 6:13pm | Updated on July 24, 2017 8:34am
 316 Fifth Ave. is slated for demolition to make room for a 40-story condominium building, plans show.
316 Fifth Ave. is slated for demolition to make room for a 40-story condominium building, plans show.
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DNAinfo/Shaye Weaver

MIDTOWN SOUTH — Preservationists may be too late in in their effort to landmark a century-old Fifth Avenue building.

Earlier this month, developer Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates filed plans to build a 539-foot-tall condo tower at 316 Fifth Ave. before applying on July 12 to demolish the 1903 Kaskel & Kaskel building currently standing at the site.

Upon hearing the news, neighbors expressed frustration that the building — which originally housed a men's clothing store that catered to the rich and famous — was going to be razed.

"It's the only structure of this kind on this stretch of Fifth Avenue, between 23rd and 34th streets," said George Calderaro, a representative of the 29th Street Neighborhood Association, noting that the building is "an extremely rare, small-scale purpose-built store and an incredible example of the Beaux Arts style."

"Unfortunately, it's not surprising [that a developer has plans to demolish it], because if you look around the area, almost every block in that vicinity from Sixth to Madison avenues is losing buildings seemingly on a weekly basis."

The 29th Street Neighborhood Association has been trying to get the Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the building since 2009 as part of a proposal to expand the Madison Square North Historic District. But because of a number of issues with the proposal, including its length, it took until last year to get the LPC to review it.

Despite the association revising its proposal based on recommendations by the LPC, including trimming its length, the commission rejected it this year, Calderaro said.

However, the LPC received two separate proposals to individually landmark the Kaskel & Kaskel building on July 6 and 10 that are currently under review, LPC spokeswoman Damaris Olivo said.

Councilman Dan Garodnick also sent a letter to the agency on July 11 in support of a landmark designation, urging that it be done before it is demolished.

But according to landmarks rules, property owners that have demolition permits issued prior to designation would have that work grandfathered in and would be allowed to proceed — spelling certain doom for the Kaskel & Kaskel building, since the demolition permits have been submitted with no designation in sight.

"I call it inexcusable," Calderaro said. "We don’t want to give up on the outrageous, potential loss of this building, and the interest that it’s inciting gives us hope there could once again be a review. This is the fourth time we’ve requested this. If or when the wrecking ball hits this building, hopefully there will be another outcry and call to action among members of the commission and the general public."

A spokeswoman for KPFA and Cottonwood, a Southern California real estate asset management company that is also involved in the new development, did not answer questions about the timing of the demolition and the community's efforts, but said the companies would release more information about the project in the future.

“Cottonwood Management LLC. has submitted public project filings to the New York Department of Buildings," the company said in a statement. "Cottonwood will be contributing further information as the project evolves.”