Saving Historic Park Avenue

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Park Avenue may be one of the most recognizable stretches of real estate in the world, and some Upper East Side residents are clamoring to keep it that way. With the recent purchase of two adjoining pre-Civil War properties by a developer and rumors of demolition circling, preservation advocates are reviving a campaign they've been pushing for several years to designate a lengthy strip of Park Avenue as a protected landmark district. "Like the Barbizon that was just designated, Park Avenue is one of these iconic places in New York that most people would assume is designated, and people are always shocked to find out that it is not designated in its entirety, at least the residential part of it," said Tara Kelly, executive director of Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts. Currently, only the southern portion of Park Avenue is included in the Upper East Side Historic District, from midway between East 61st and 62nd streets up to East 79th Street. Parts of the avenue fall within the Carnegie Hill Historic District, from the north side of East 91st Street to midway between East 93rd and 94th streets, but the stretch in between these areas and north of them remains largely unprotected by landmark designation. The groups Carnegie Hill Neighbors, Defenders of the Historic Upper East Side and Historic Park Avenue have all joined forces in a campaign to convince the Landmarks Preservation Commission to consider protecting Park Avenue in its entirety from East 62nd to 96th streets, which could mean expanding the Carnegie Hill district as well as creating a new district in the East 80s. "This is the second go-round," said Teri Slater, a member of Defenders. "We're having another meeting with the chair of the Landmarks Commission, because since we [last] spoke, three buildings have been torn down, and now two more buildings are threatened." The properties currently under threat of development are 1108 and 1110 Park Ave., which were recently purchased for $16 million and $16.5 million, respectively, by 89 Park Avenue LLC, a holding company connected to Philadelphia-based luxury development company Toll Brothers. The properties both come with air rights and little restrictions on what can be built there, and many assume that the company will construct one of its signature high-end condo towers; their building The Touraine on East 65th Street boasts one- to five-bedroom units, priced from $2.95 million to $20 million. "They tell a different story of Park Avenue," said Kelly of the recently purchased properties. "Most people think of these tall buildings that were developed in the teens and twenties, but prior to that [the neighborhood] was middle-class." While Park Avenue is now a pricey destination, Kelly said, at one time the railroad running through the neighborhood deterred wealthy buyers, and that if some of the buildings from that era aren't preserved, the history will be too easily forgotten. "We're very upset. We don't know what to do," Slater said. "It's probably one of the most iconic boulevards in the world." Lo van der Valk, president of the Carnegie Hill Neighbors, has been working to garner support for the landmarking effort and to spread the word about what exactly is at stake. "One of the strongest arguments for designation is that the buildings within and outside the historically designated portions of Park Avenue are similar in style, scale, and period of construction (centering in the 1920s), and are mostly designed by the same group of distinguished architects of major apartment buildings," van der Valk wrote in the group's most recent newsletter. Representatives from the preservation groups will be meeting with the Landmarks Commission this week to urge them to calendar a hearing to consider designating the missing pieces of the famous street. "There are a lot of people who think Park Avenue is worth saving, and that's why we're working on this the second time around," said Slater. "I've never lived on Park Avenue, I'm never going to live on Park Avenue, I have no desire to live on Park Avenue-but I value it as one of New York City's assets."

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