Madison Realty Capital Wants to Destroy Historic Greenwich Village Building

In the middle of a luxury condo glut, the developer aims to build yet more luxury condos in its place

14-16 Fifth Avenue, the third building from the corner. The photo shows the comparatively low height of the other buildings on the block – Photo by Google Streetview

(NEW YORK, NEW YORK)— Madison Realty Capital has set forth unprecedented plans to build a 21-story tower of luxury condos in the middle of historic Greenwich village, demolishing a historic 19th century building at 14-16 Fifth Avenue, Gothamist Reports. The new luxury development will have fewer units than the destroyed building, which was 50% affordable, rent-regulated units.

Local preservation activists are understandably opposed to the plan, not just because it will require the destruction of a historic New York Building, but because the proposed tower will also destroy the historic aesthetic of rest of the neighborhood, particularly due to its height. Andrew Berman, head of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, explained that “No building of this scale has ever been approved in a historic district.” Greenwich Village has mostly low-rise buildings, with an average height of 140 feet, while the proposed tower will be 244 feet. The average height of the buildings on the same block is only 62 feet, making the aesthetic difference of the new development even more egregious.

The one notable exception is One Fifth Avenue, which was built in 1927, and stands at 340 feet. It remains an exception to the rule only because it was built before Greenwich Village was designated as an historic district, and as one of the first art deco sky scrapers in Manhattan, it is practically a historic landmark itself.

Developers often justify building enormities for the extremely wealthy with the argument that it will ameliorate New York’s housing shortage. However, the proposed development would offer little in the way of relief for either the wealthy or the middle class: despite being nearly twice the size of the existing building, the proposed development will only be 18 units (some will span multiple floors). The current building at 14 Fifth Avenue is 20 units, half of which were rare, affordable rent-regulated units, before tenants were either bought out or forced out. The city is also still in the midst of a luxury condo glut. While developers seem to count on the fact that they will still turn a profit, it is hard to argue that the proposed development would be a positive asset for society at large.

14 & 16 Fifth Avenue in 1925, when the two residences were not yet combined and much of the original Gothic Revival Details remained – Photo Courtesy of NYPL via Greenwich Village Historical Preservation Society

Berman stated in a press release, “the plan to replace rare affordable housing units with a smaller number of super-luxury ones that will likely only serve as third or fourth home to international jet-setters is deeply troubling.”

The original structure was first built in 1848, and despite its unassuming façade, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation argues that it is important for its historic significance. It was originally built in Gothic Revival Style, although little of the external ornamentation has been preservation. The building reminds us of a unique moment in New York where 19th-century elites were moving from lower Manhattan higher and higher on Fifth Avenue. When the Washington Square Park area fell out of favor for the further North Upper East Side, the once prestigious townhouses were eventually converted to rooming houses for the poor. The 20-unit structure was originally two distinct homes for a pair of wealthy families, and, in its best year, its occupants included politicians, prominent merchants, and a French Baroness.

Any plans for new developments or demolitions in an historic district must be approved by New York’s Landmark Preservation Committee. The plans will also be put forth before Greenwich’s local community board.

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