Hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman and his plans to build a two-level glass penthouse atop an Upper West Side building are making the rounds once again in New York City real estate news. It began last October when he submitted a proposal to build a glass structure on the rooftop of a nearly 100-year old co-op building at 6-16 West 77th Street, where he happens to own an apartment. After winning the approval of the Community Board 7’s preservation committee, which came as a surprise to many, he presented it in November at a public hearing which also garnered media attention and protests alike.
After a series of public hearings and plan revisions, Ackman got approval last week from the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to move forward with the Norman Foster designed structure, inspired by Philip Johnson’s Glass House in Connecticut. The co-op building itself is a neo-Renaissance style property designed in 1927, which is a sharp contrast to Ackman’s ultra-modern penthouse. According to the LPC Chairperson, the commission received 34 letters opposed and 32 letters in support of the project, yet the plans were still approved.
This begs a couple of questions. One, does adding a modern structure to a century-old building compromise the integrity and taint the rich history of the original building itself? And two, how much say do neighborhood associations really have in these types of matter? The founder of the Central Park West Neighbors Association clearly is not happy about this.
This brings to mind a somewhat similar scenario back in 2015 when Manhattan residents were protesting about the supertalls going up along 57th Street, because they would be casting shadows three-quarters of a mile wide onto Central Park. The developers obviously came out ahead, but at what cost to the residents of New York City?
As we see the face of neighborhoods change over time and the city skyline continually evolving, should we just consider it par for the course? What does this mean for the preservation of the architecture and history of our great city founded in the 1600s? And does money ultimately have the final say in what this city’s landscape will look like, as city leaders must also consider economic growth?
I don’t have the answers, but I do find it an interesting topic of conversation which is why I chose to touch on it this week. Occasionally I hear from clients, who have an opinion on it, one way or the other. I think most everyone tends to be nostalgic to some degree. By changing the façade or tearing down these centuries-old buildings, only to build new developments, may feel to some like we’re erasing history. What are your feelings?
By the way, for you history buffs who have an affinity for New York, here is a great 10-minute YouTube video that animates the evolution dating back to 1624.