Jack Taylor with Rosalee Isaly, then-president of the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association, who presented him with an award for his preservation work in the neighborhood last year (also now deceased) (Photo by Andrew Garn)
By Sabina Mollot
Jack Taylor, a historic preservationist and resident of East 18th Street in Gramercy, died last Thursday, February 7, in his sleep. He was 94, and had suffered some health problems, including with his leg in recent months, making it hard for him to get around.
For decades Taylor was known for his efforts to save buildings slated for the wrecking ball in the Gramercy, Stuyvesant Square and Union Square neighborhoods and to get them landmarked.
He was involved in numerous civic groups, including the Gramercy Park Block Association, the Union Square Community Coalition, the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association and the Historic Districts Council.
He’d been retired since the 1980s, when he served as managing editor for Family Circle for several years. After retiring, he still did some freelance editing work.
His legacy of preservation began when he was inspired by the loss of Luchow’s restaurant, according to a transcript of a 2004 forum he participated in held by the New York Preservation Archive Project. The place was over a century old when Taylor learned it was at risk and got involved with an informal group aimed at saving it, headed by the USCC. The “born and bred” Manhattanite noted he had been born in Greenwich Village, not far from Luchow’s.
“Was it an architectural landmark? Was it a cultural landmark? Just what was it?” Taylor had mused at the forum. “It didn’t matter to me then, because I didn’t know the ropes very much. But it just seemed to be something that the city of New York would be the worse without. Regardless of the food, which had plummeted in the meantime. It was the philosophy of the thing.”
The former home of New York’s political machine is being renovated to house office space and retail.
By Sabina Mollot
The planned transformation of the former Tammany Hall in Union Square into a retail/office building has just gotten a little closer to becoming reality with $57.5 million in financing.
RM Capital Management, a real estate and merchant banking firm, announced on Friday it had arranged to provide that amount in first mortgage and mezzanine construction financing on behalf of the building’s owner Reading International, Inc.
The landmarked building is being gut renovated to include a total of six stories that will have a glass-domed roof, and the space will be leased for retail and office purposes. Its new address will be 44 Union Square; originally it was 100 East 17th Street.
Union Square Park on a recent afternoon (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
As the Landmarks Preservation Commission began addressing decades worth of backlog last Thursday, representatives for preservation groups expressed surprising opposition to the designation of Union Square Park as a city scenic landmark.
Jack Taylor, speaking on behalf of the Union Square Community Coalition, and Kelly Carroll of the Historic Districts Council opposed the proposed landmarking.
Taylor said in his testimony that landmarking the park as it is today would be a “historical travesty” and he noted that the idea would have had much more support if the LPC had followed through with the landmarking after a public hearing in 1977.
Since then, though, the park has been modified to the point that Taylor said it doesn’t resemble the location of various historical events, including the first Labor Day that was celebrated there in 1882. He said that in 2005, there was a deliberate effort on the part of the city and then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg that drastically changed the nature of the north plaza.
Rendering of the proposed shell dome, which would have raised the height of the old Tammany Hall building by two stories (Rendering by David Ettinger and Wei Lee, BKSK Architects)
By Sabina Mollot
The plan to add a shell-shaped glass dome onto the old Tammany Hall Building in Union Square has been turned down by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. It was during a hearing that took place on Tuesday, November 25, when the Commission declined to approve the rooftop addition for the recently landmarked building. However, the LPC left the door open for the applicant, the architectural firm BKSK, to submit another proposal — and a revised design is already in the works.
Following the hearing, BKSK’s lead partner on the dome project, Todd Poisson, said the firm is hoping to meet with the Commission’s chair informally in January to discuss it and then present it again to the entire Commission.
On the new design, he would only say, “We’re really excited about it.” He noted how the chair had said the building as it stands now “begs for enhancement.”
“Architecturally speaking, it’s a modest building. It’s Neo-Georgian but it’s not the greatest example of Neo-Georgian the city has to offer.”
The dome was intended to create room for around 20,000 square feet of office space. Half of that would have been in the newly created space while the rest would be in the existing structure. Along with the dome, which would have replaced the current slate roof and raised the building’s height by two stories, other proposed changes to the property include removing the theater, restoring the storefront infill, replacing signage and adding windows and a new entrance.
Poisson, who’d given testimony alongside partner Harry Kendall, later acknowledged, in an interview with Town & Village, the “range of opinions” from the Commission on why the proposal hadn’t gotten the green light.
“There was concern about our removal of the existing hipped roof,” he conceded, “and that the proposed replacement was not quite in harmony yet with the rest of the building.” But, he added, “They were intrigued by the proposal’s symbolic content.”
The content he was referring to was inspired by Tammany, the Native American chief of the Lenape. Poisson said the symbol of Tammany’s clan was a turtle, which was from a creation myth of a great turtle rising from the sea and creating land and putting mud on its shell. The idea behind the shell concept at the property, said Poisson, was to “re-brand” Tammany as not just a name synonymous with a corrupt political machine but the chief who helped develop peaceful relations with the European settlers.
“Early colonists use Chief Tammany as a uniquely American symbol and many Tammany societies sprang up,” he said. “The height of irony is that the only Tammany society to make it into the 20th century is Tammany Hall, only to be known for its corruption. We’d like to remind people of the story no one remembers.”
However at the November hearing, not everyone was moved by the historical reference. The few speakers who came to give testimony in support of the proposed alteration were outnumbered by over a dozen in opposition of it, with most saying they thought the contemporary design was inappropriate.
One in the latter group was Jack Taylor of the Union Square Community Coalition. Taylor had been involved in the USCC’s fight for the landmark designation of the building, which was finally approved last year after 29 years of consideration. At the hearing, he argued that the current hipped attic roof of the building, which is opposite Union Square Park’s East Side at East 17th Street, “is so visible that it defines the contours of the building.”
Removing it, he said, “would be to demolish a protected architectural element of the designated structure.” The building, he continued, had been designed to look like the Georgian-inspired architecture of the old Federal Hall on Wall Street. Federal Hall, where George Washington took his oath of office, also had a hipped attic roof.
Others who either gave testimony in person or via written statement against the dome proposal were Council Member Rosie Mendez, the Historic Districts Council, Community Board 5, Gramercy Neighborhood Associates and the New York Landmarks Conservancy.
Rendering of dome design from the side (Rendering by David Ettinger and Wei Lee, BKSK Architects)
In support of the plan however was Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership, who gave her testimony in person. She later explained that she did so because the building was very much in need of attention, and the BKSK plan would have added something “bold” to the roof while restoring the rest of the property.
In a written statement, she said, “We applaud BKSK Architects’ bold design, which complements the history of Union Square as a vital and active, contemporary civic space. The removal of the overabundant existing signage, as well as the slate, mansard roof will greatly improve the overall look of this highly-visible property. The streamlined signage plan is simple and elegant, and the addition of a glass-domed roof provides a contemporary element while honoring the building’s Colonial Revival-style.”
Falk added that the USP looks forward to seeing how the design evolves.
Taylor, meanwhile, said he couldn’t help but point out that while the USP supported the new roof, it didn’t lend its support to the landmarking effort.
“For the first time in my memory, which goes back to the days of when the BID and the LDC (now the Union Square Partnership) were first formed in the 1980s, it’s a reaction to a landmark issue, a preservation issue,” he said. “Which,” he added, “the Partnership, as now it’s called, has never spoken anything about. And now there’s a reaction to an issue involving preservation and landmarking and of course it’s on the wrong side.”
In response, a spokesperson for the USP said the Partnership had been in support of the designation. However, since the effort wasn’t facing opposition once the building owner decided to support a designation, the organization didn’t feel it was necessary to send anyone to testify.
Other people who testified in support of the dome included Barry Benepe, co-founder of the Union Square Greenmarket, and Margaret Cotter, president of Liberty Theaters and the building’s owner.
Along with needing the LPC’s blessing to move forward with a plan to create office space, Cotter would also require a special use variance to build the dome. Poisson said this is because the eastern most portion of the property falls into a different zone than the rest of the building, and the eastern zone is residential.
Re: Former Council Member Carol Greitzer’s letter, “No place to play for the disabled,” T&V, June 19
Ms. Greitzer is on to something about the lack of facilities in Union Square Park’s playground of children with disabilities. In fact, there are no facilities or space in the park for people with disabilities, seniors or teenagers. Nor is there appropriate play equipment for every child in the playground.
Since 2004, all planning for the playground and pavilion (at final cost of $20M dollars) merely privileged arrangements for a commercial restaurant in the pavilion disregarding needs of residents, young and old. Yet, Union Square Community Coalition’s (USCC) ten-year campaign and litigations helped to achieve a maximum-size playground (15,000 square feet — double the original plan of only 8,000 square feet). But our hard-fought efforts to reclaim the pavilion for its traditional use by the community were ignored in favor of a seasonal restaurant.
USCC recognizes the unequal access to park facilities suffered by certain residents. Now it’s time for the mayor to justify the taxpayers’ enormous investment in our pavilion as a public good. He has the power to act to ensure free access to and use of the pavilion as a year-round community center with programs and activities for our under-served teenagers, seniors and people with disabilities. Attention must be paid to their needs. They cannot continue to be deprived of public space in their park.
Eadie Shanker, Union Square Community Coalition member