Will history trump development?

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Twin buildings with a rich past in architecture and art will now be considered for landmark designation


  • The exterior of 827-831 Broadway between 12 and 13th Streets. The buildings were constructed in 1866, and 831 was a magnet for abstract expressionist painters in the 20th century. Photo: Mihika Agarwal

  • Street scene at 827-831 Broadway. Photo: Mihika Agarwal

Earlier this summer, the NYC Department of Buildings filed proposals to turn the two adjacent historic iron-cast buildings from 1866, 827-831 Broadway, located between 12th and 13th streets, into 300 foot-tall corporate offices. After almost two years of campaigning by the Greenwich Village Historic Preservation Society (GVSHP), the City has finally decided to “calendar” — actively consider the landmark designation of — the buildings.

GVSHP’s campaign started in 2016, when developers Quality Capital and Caerus Group filed to demolish the building. Over the last two years, the cause has been joined by preservation organizations and elected officials such as the de Kooning Foundation and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

The twin buildings were the craftsmanship of Griffith Thomas, “the most fashionable architect of his generation,” according to the American Institute of Architects. The construction exhibits Thomas’ mastery of the Italianate style, with its classic elements from the Renaissance including symmetrical arched windows, fluted columns, cornices and torches.

It was Pierre Lorillard III, the grandson of the first maker of tobacco in America, who hired Thomas to build the structure. In the post-Civil War period of industrial expansion in New York, Lorillard had the structure built as a mixed space for retail, office and manufacturing. The buildings went on to host the New York offices for the manufacturing company Wheeler & Wilson.

In 1958, the top floor of 831 Broadway was rented by the Dutch-American abstract expressionist artist William de Kooning and his wife Elaine. De Kooning used the studio to create the iconic “Rosy-Fingered Dawn at Louse Point,” his first painting to be acquired by a European museum, and “Door to the River,” currently housed in the Whitney Museum. His studio attracted other artists from the movement to the building, including Larry Poons, Paul Jenkins, and Jules Olitski. The building served as the point of confluence for some of the major figures of abstract expressionism.

The previously proposed plan by the NYC Department of Buildings for the demolishment of the building is part of a larger initiative by Mayor de Blasio to turn the area between Astor Place and Union Square into “a giant ‘Tech Hub’ nearby on 14th Street that would serve as an anchor for a ‘Silicon Alley,’” according to a recent report by GVSHP. Broadway, University Place, Thirds and Fourth Avenues, previously the heart of books and art in the city, are under threat of overdevelopment by the finance, retail and tech industries.

On September 19th, the NYC Landmarks Commission voted to calendar the buildings and set preliminary protections against their demolition or alteration. In an optimistic note, Executive Director of GVSHP Andrew Berman says, “We are almost there, but take nothing for granted; we intend to work very hard to ensure that the City takes the final step and approves these buildings for landmark designation.”

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