While buildings in NYC seem to come and go–and with increasing expedience–it is very rare for major alterations to take place within an historic district. The Upper West Side has 12 such districts, and when word first came of demolition plans, our Certificate of Appropriateness Committee was guarded.
The West End Collegiate School had announced plans to relocate to Freedom Place in Riverside South, thus vacating their campus on West 78th Street. The West End Collegiate Church (Robert W. Gibson, 1892-3) and adjoining original school building, individual landmarks outside of the district West End Collegiate Historic District Extension scooped up the buildings to create a lot merger and hoped to redevelop the sites as a residential venture. Understanding their long-standing significant role as stewards of their congregation and as long-time UWS neighbors, they sought a proposal that would serve everyone’s interests, and with architect Rick Cook and his team, put forth a proposal that Landmarks Commissioner John Gustaffson recognized as one that was not extreme, “not excessive, not unnecessary, and not bloated”.
The process, which was approved yesterday, will entail restoring 378 West End Avenue, a former apartment hotel, converted by the school to educational uses back to residential. This will bring back wood frame windows, complete the cornice crest and recreate lost balconettes and entry doors. It would also entail demolishing the 1965-67 Ballard Todd Associates Platen Hall which received a 1990 topper by Helpern Architects. The new proposal creates a cascading residence that holds its own on 78th street, but wraps the Schwartz and Gross 378 WEA building and provides a backdrop to the Gibson church, illuminating it in the process.
LANDMARK WEST! was supportive in our testimony as were many of the other advocacy groups. Even House of Representatives Congressman Jerrold Nadler wrote in support of the project. The LPC approved the proposal which creates and interesting technicality. This building, fully within the district will be literally built as a landmark. Almost like being born into royalty, its presence in the district will afford it all of the protections of the Landmarks Preservation Commission under the law.
The COOKFOX design has staying power and looks to be a great anchor for the site, both as foreground and background building. The West End Collegiate School will stay on site into 2018 before demolition begins. We will keep you posted as the project progresses. Proceeds of the project will go to endow the church and fund a restoration of the original Robert W. Gibson buildings.