The West Village is getting yet another mega-mansion. On Tuesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved an application to convert 138-140 West 11th Street from multiple dwelling use to single-family use.
The site is between Sixth Avenue and Greenwich Avenue. The two four-story Italianate style houses were built in 1855 and were part of a row of eight houses. In the 1920s, they were heavily altered and combined for use as a single multiple dwelling. Some ironwork was also removed, the windows were changed, and the stoop was removed from no. 140. They fell under the LPC’s jurisdiction in 1969, with the designation of the Greenwich Village Historic District.
The plan for the conversion comes from architect Martin Sosa of the Financial District-based Arcologica. It calls for the cornice to be raised to the height of the neighbors, new ironwork to be installed at the areaway, new windows, a new front door, and shutters on the front façade’s first through third floors. On the rear, various fenestrations would change and the tea porch would be relocated, just a bit.
On both facades, the gutters would be shifted to surround the structure, rather than bisect it. In addition, the roof would be leveled, enlarging the rear of the of the fourth floor. Brickwork would be restored.
Commissioner Frederick Bland was the first to speak, expressing concern over the loss of the separation of the two structures. The design team pointed out that the two have been essentially a single entity for most of their lives.
Commissioner Michael Devonshire said the proposal shows off neither the original structures nor the 1920s alterations. He found the idea of raising the cornice “extremely troubling.” He was also not fond of shutters being installed on so much of the front façade.
LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said raising the cornice would be “much better for the row,” but there is merit to maintaining the idea of separate buildings via a split cornice. She did agree with Commissioner Devonshire on the shutters.
Commissioners Adi Shamir-Baron and Jeanne Lutfy actually supported the proposal as presented.
“Let me speak up for gutters,” said Commissioner Michael Goldblum, who liked the idea of the functional piece being used to show that these two houses were originally constructed as separate structures. Commissioner Diana Chapin was also fond of maintaining a sense of separation.
Manhattan Community Board 2 was mixed in its support of the application. Preservation groups were also not very supportive.
“While some of the proposed changes are thoughtful and welcome, others deserve refinement in order that these row houses may continue to showcase and reflect their layered histories,” testified Elizabeth Holt of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
“Given the intent to convert two buildings into one very large house, HDC urges the applicant to consider the current streetscape in their design. While hardware was found as evidence that shutters existed at some point, our committee is concerned with their application here. The proposed use of shutters on these Italianate style houses sets them apart from their context in the row, where shutters are no longer found,” testified Barbara Zay of the Historic Districts Council. “We caution against using shutters, as such a heavy-handed intervention would only serve to draw attention to the fact that these two houses are now one oversized mansion. This is a commendable project in many respects, but the overall effect seems to erase the specificity of the two historic buildings and replace them with a pastiche of the kind of mammoth townhouse which just never existed in this community. This seems to be a case of losing the forest for the sake of the trees and could be avoided with certain design decisions. In the rear, we object to the unifying cornice, another gesture designed to erase the site’s history as two distinct houses.”
In the end, the commissioners voted to approve the proposal, as presented, with one exception. The shutters will be limited to first floor of the front façade.