Friday, April 07, 2006

Harlem Fur: St. John the Supine?


� Culinary Plenipotentiaries: Patisserie Des Ambassades Main Follow-Up To Cab Sighting: Pedicab Sighting �

St. John the Supine?

Okay, it's a week old (NY TImes and Curbed), but Harlem Fur got its grubbly little paws on the text of the April 4th Morningside Heights Historic District Committee letter to the Landmarks Preservation Commission re-calling for legal protection of the entire Close at St. John the Divine. Looks like they are saying the Cathedral is laying down and taking it.
See the full text after the jump.

Of course, St. John's is best known on Harlem Fur for its annual Feast of St. Francis, the Blessing of the Animals. And I'm jones'n for photos. Does anyone have some? Joe?

The letter was sent with 1,300 signatures to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and, as it looks from the extensive 'CC' section, just about every elected official or government employee to have come within 300 miles of the campus.

The letter offers sharp words for both the Landmarks Commission and AvalonBay, the developer seeking to build a 20-story, 300-unit market-rate apartment building on the deficit-running Cathedral's grounds.

For a reasoned argument in support of developing the Close, try Starts and Fits. (Although, who calls Morningside Drive dreary, especially in the fall?)

St. John the Divine also has its statement here.

PO Box 250344, Columbia Station, NY, NY 10025
Tel/Fax 212-665-8535

April 4, 2006

Robert B. Tierney, Chair, NYC Landmarks Preservation
Commission and members of the Commission
Municipal Building, 9th floor North
1 Centre Street
New York, NY 10007

Dear Robert Tierney and members of the Commission:

We enclose with this letter copies of more than 1300 signatures on our petition-in-process which asks the Commission to reopen discussion on designation of the Cathedral and Cathedral Close of St. John the Divine, an eligible National Historic Landmark and one of the world's most significant ecclesiastical sites.

Our earlier request by letter of July 11, 2005 for reconsideration of legal protection for the entire Cathedral Close was merely acknowledged by a short form letter from the Research Department dated August 5, 2005.

Let us move forward from this stand-off to serious discussion now urgently called for by the current Cathedral administration's public presentation, March 9th, of the design for a 300 luxury rental apartment complex proposed by AvalonBay, the high-end market rental housing developer, for installation on 32,000 sq. ft. of the SE corner of the historic Close which, you will recall, was calendared for designation as an historic whole in 1979.

To review further: during your discussions with the Cathedral prior to your designation, June 17, 2003, of the Cathedral alone on its footprint, it was understood that Columbia University had been selected as developer for the two portions of the Close which the Commission voted to de-calendar. However, after the unanimous disapproval of the Cathedral's footprint designation by the City Council, October 24, 2003, Columbia withdrew its option on the SE corner and AvalonBay was then selected to develop the site for luxury rentals.

Perhaps the Commission would not have declined regulatory oversight of the Close's SE corner had it known that development here would pass to a publicly traded corporation which boasts its high-end rentals as "living in a resort." And indeed, AvalonBay's renderings disclose an all-window oceanfront resort-type glassed wedge rising 200' on the prominent SE corner of the Close as if to advertise to the world that a dollar-driven real estate deal has gained possession of the Cathedral's consecrated precinct.

This building type has no precedent within historic Morningside Heights nor can the current Cathedral administration offer any coherent justification for bringing a building entirely commercial in character onto the historic Cathedral Close. Rising 200' and stretching 240' from the Diocesan House to the corner of Morningside Drive and the Cathedral Parkway, the proposed building would wall out views of the Cathedral from the south; wall in, dwarf and darken the eastern cluster of finely executed ancillary buildings; rob these of their open horizon; irrevocably disfigure every southeast sightline within the Close.

Does the effort to "maximize revenue" by leasing 32,000 sq. ft. of the sanctified Close as commercial real estate to a profit-taking corporation strengthen the Cathedral? AvalonBay's proposed apartment complex would deflect the large donations now urgently needed for long-deferred maintenance of the Cathedral and its buildings; it would in effect cancel hope for the Cathedral's completion; it would compromise beyond repair the founders "vision of a cathedral “worthy of a great city," an architectural triumph redefining New York City at 1900, the turn of the American century, as not merely a newly worldwide financial center but the cultural wellspring able to offer the New World's highest expression of the Western Gothic through a hard-labored work of art and faith.

The Commission has legal authority to intervene in an emergency such as this, where Ralph Adams Cram�'s masterpiece is held hostage to an institutional determination to "maximize revenue" by means of the current luxury housing market.

It is in the City's interests for the Commission to use legal means to curtail such inappropriate, short-sighted but irreversible construction and to encourage the Cathedral administration instead to prepare a detailed preservation plan for the Cathedral and its ancillary buildings and then formulate a long-range plan by which to attract wide public support for re-starting the construction that will offer, rather than luxury apartments, maintenance and completion of the already soaring world monument Cathedral itself.

Yours sincerely,

Carolyn Kent for the Committee


Copies of 1300 signatures on the Committee's
Nomination of the Cathedral Church of St. John
the Divine to the National Trust's 2006 List
of America's of 11 Most Endangered Historic

Cc: Hon. Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor
Hon. Patricia Harris, Deputy Mayor
Hon. Dennis Walcott, Deputy Mayor
Hon. Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President
Hon. Inez Dickens, City Council member
Hon. Robert Jackson, City Council member
Hon. Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, Chair, Community Board #9

Hon. Charles Schumer, U.S. Senator
Hon. Hillary Clinton, U.S. Senator
Hon. Charles B. Rangel, Member of Congress
Hon. David Paterson, State Senator
Hon. Eric Schneiderman, State Senator
Hon. Dan O’Donnell, Assembly member
Hon. Keith Wright, Assembly member
Hon. Herman D. Farrell, Assembly member

Lee C. Bollinger, President, Columbia University

Henry L. King, Esq., former Chair, Columbia Board of
Trustees, President, Board of Trustees,
Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine

The Most Reverend Frank Tracy Griswold III, Presiding
Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA
The Right Reverend Mark S. Sisk, Bishop of New York
The Very Reverend James A. Kowalski, Dean, Cathedral
Church of St. John the Divine

Hon. Bernadette Castro, Commissioner and State Historic
Preservation Officer, Vice Chair of the
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
Jan Matthews, Keeper of the National Register, National
Park Service
Richard Moe, President, National Trust for
Historic Preservation
New York City preservation advocacy groups

Posted by Chris on April 12, 2006 07:27 AM

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Post a comment
If you have a TypeKey identity, you can
sign in to use it here.

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

No comments: