Fifth Avenue's Oldest Townhouse in Peril
Upper East Siders are divided on whether or not the unremarkable but historically significant building is worth saving
The oldest building on Fifth Avenue is in danger of becoming almost unrecognizable. The small, landmarked townhouse at 815 Fifth Avenue between 62nd and 63rd Streets is only five stories high and 25 feet wide. The building is actually one of the few old structures on the Upper East Side to still have its original façade. But the owners, along with T.P. Greer Architects, have submitted an application to completely demolish and redesign the façade and expand the site into a 14-story building.
"They will be tearing down a piece of history," said Phyllis Weisberg, an attorney representing the condominiums next door at 817 Fifth Avenue. "It deserves to be preserved."
Community Board 8 voted last week, almost unanimously, against approving the application to redesign 815 Fifth Avenue. In response to the board's vote, Timothy Greer and T.P. Greer have decided to revise the application and re-present their plans for the building at the March meeting. Landmarks Committee Chair David Liston said the decision to revise an application is highly unusual.
"We think that could be a good thing; it means the applicant is taking seriously the community's concerns," said Liston. "The original application was totally out of character of the community. Our job as the committee is to protect and preserve the character of historic districts and landmark buildings."
The original application specifically called for large windows in a limestone grid, and a sleek modern design with a glass rear wall. This, argue residents, would completely alter the original look of the historic building.
The brownstone townhouse, built in 1871, was designed by well-known architect Samuel A. Warner. The building was only altered once, in 1923, before the Landmarks Preservation Commission existed.
Charles Roos, who lives at and used to own 817 Fifth Avenue next door, explained that when he owned his building, which is also a landmark, he had to tip-toe around landmark regulations. To him, the request to add nine stories is an outrage.
"815 is the last townhouse left; it's a landmark," said Roos.
Residents at 817 Fifth Avenue are also concerned because apartments on the upper floors would lose their views of the cityscape if the building next door was built up.
Although the community board is almost unanimously against the proposed changes, members have to wait for T.P. Greer to revise the application in March. After that, the applicant will present it to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which will decide the fate of 815 Fifth Avenue.
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