Last month, we told you about Pace University’s plans to redevelop its Lower Manhattan campus. The first phase will involve work at 41 Park Row, an individual landmark. On Tuesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission heard the proposal, but took no action.
At the LPC public hearing, Jean Gallagher, Pace’s vice president for strategic initiatives, said the university is transitioning from a commuter school to a residential one, and that is driving the changes planned for the campus. There are already have over 2,600 residential students, she said.
The building in question is located on a site bound by Park Row, Spruce Street, and Nassau Street. Designed by George B. Post and built between 1888 and 1889, it is the former New York Times Building, one of the last survivors of Newspaper Row. It started life as a five-story building, but was enlarged to 16 stories by architect Robert Maynicke between 1903 and 1905. The Times didn’t want to have any interruption of its operations, so it continued working while the additional 11 stories were constructed above it. Pace acquired the building in 1950 and it was designated an individual landmark in 1999.
Since 2000, the ground floor storefronts have been occupied by a Barnes & Noble bookstore. Now, the plan is to reprogram the basement, first floor, and second floor as a student commons, with gallery space, offices, and even a room that could support conferences or large meetings. The plan was presented by architect Sylvia Smith, a senior partner at FXFOWLE, and preservationist Meisha Huner of Li/Saltzman Architects.
The interior reprogramming is outside the LPC’s purview since the building is an individual landmark, not an interior one. The exterior, however, will involve replacing the storefronts, windows and all, on the first and second floors to make the spaces more connected, from both the inside and the outside. The primary entrance would be moved to Spruce Street, the granite base would be lowered, and signage would be reconfigured on Park Row. Mechanical equipment would also be reconfigured.
Commissioner Michael Devonshire said he was troubled by the proposed window treatments, which he said were “far too drastic” and would destroy any reference to history. Commissioner Michael Goldblum said the proposed spandrel work was nicely done, but he agreed with Devonshire. Goldblum added that the proposal would lead to the appearance of two-story retail use, not of academic use. Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron said that, these days, university use and retail use don’t appear that far apart. Commissioner Jeanne Lutfy felt more depth could be conveyed.
LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said lowering the granite base was a good approach, but said the rest missed out on an opportunity.
Manhattan Community Board 1 supported the overall concept, but not the windows proposed for the first and second floors. Christabel Gough, of the Society for the Architecture of the City, questioned the extreme elimination of the division between those floors.
“HDC finds that the proposed oversized glass windows at the base would be incongruous with the building’s historic character, and detract from its overall appearance. Changes made to this Individual Landmark in the 1950s—before the building was designated—are more appropriate than the stark changes being proposed in this post-designation application, which would erase the base’s historic window configuration completely,” testified Barbara Zay of the Historic Districts Council. “Considering that this is not a prime retail location and does not appear to be proposed for such a use, we see very little justification for this alteration.”
“The cracks in the granite base also do not justify the introduction of so much glass,” she added. “If the cracks represent an issue that needs to be remedied, HDC would suggest restoring the granite instead. In any event, an appropriate intervention should take cues from the structure’s very well documented past.”
In the end, the commissioners took no action. The university will need to revise its plan in order to proceed with the redevelopment of 41 Park Row. Work proposed for 1 Pace Plaza does not need approval from the LPC.