A Call to Arms!
The 1832 Merchant’s House – Manhattan’s First Landmark – is Fighting for Its Survival!
The Merchant’s House is a federal, state, and city landmark. It was among the city’s first buildings designated in 1965, and the first landmark in Manhattan. Today, it is one of only 120 buildings (and 6 residences) that is both an exterior and interior landmark. Remarkably, landmark status does not guarantee protection from adjacent construction.
For seven years, the Merchant’s House Museum, a vital and irreplaceable New York City cultural institution, has been fighting to prevent proposed development next door at 27 East 4th Street. According to multiple engineering studies, construction would dangerously compromise the structural stability of the museum’s fragile 187-year-old building, risking complete collapse.
Irreversible Damage from Construction Is Guaranteed
Studies undertaken by several of the city’s top engineering firms have concluded that construction next door is absolutely guaranteed to cause irreversible damage, possibly catastrophic, to our 1832 landmark building. And we know from experience: the museum has a decades-long history of damage from construction at adjoining and nearby properties, making the building that much more vulnerable.
At particular risk is the museum’s original plaster work – the ornamental elements (considered by experts to be the “finest surviving” from the period) as well as the plaster walls and ceilings. Engineering studies show that the vibrations from adjacent demolition, excavation, and construction would cause the fragile 187-year-old plaster to crumble. Vibration can also cause the nails that fasten the ceiling laths to the framing to “back out,” causing catastrophic failure of the ceiling support system.
Even the most advanced, state-of-the-art monitoring systems can only track the damage – after the damage has been done.
Construction Would Force the Museum to Close to the Public for
18-24 Months, to Safeguard the Collection and Secure the Building –
at a Cost of $5 Million
The Merchant’s House Museum is bound by its mission and the public trust to preserve and protect its landmark building and original collection. Therefore, keeping its environment stable, safe, and clean is essential. Even if the Merchant’s House could survive excavation and construction next door (which is far from certain), the Museum would be forced to close to the public for at least 18-24 months.
Given the dire threat to the stability of the building structure, the museum would have to take steps to safeguard its collection of 3,000 objects from damage. Safeguarding the collection requires moving the entire collection off-site until the stability of the structure can be assured.
With the collection offsite, measures to secure and protect the building could be taken, including critical building repairs and erecting padded scaffolding to secure and cushion the interior plaster walls, ceilings, and decorative elements. Merchant’s House staff would have to secure office space to conduct museum operations.
The cost to the museum of packing, moving, and storing the collection off-site; stabilizing the plaster walls, ceilings, and ornamental plaster work; critical pre-construction building repairs; and the lost revenue due to the closure is estimated at nearly $5 million – funds the museum does not have and cannot afford.
A Victory in September; a Lawsuit in January. Our Battle Is Not Over.
In 2018, the developer applied for a series of special permits (“spot zoning”) in order to build the proposed eight- story hotel. On September 26, after a seven-month public review process, the City Council voted unanimously to REJECT the developers’ application.
Under current zoning laws, the developer can still construct a six-story building on the site (subject to approval by the Landmarks Preservation Commission). The risk of possibly catastrophic damage to the Merchant’s House remains the same. In January 2019, the developer opted to file a lawsuit to overturn the City Council’s September 26 decision. Representatives from the City, including Council Member Carlina Rivera, have assured us that the City intends to stand behind the City Council’s decision in support of the Merchant’s House.
According to Merchant’s House lawyer, Michael Hiller:
“We are vigorously defending the City Council’s decision, alongside the lawyers representing the City of New York, which is standing with us to preserve one of New York’s most venerable institutions. Bravo to the City for recognizing the historic importance of the Merchant’s House Museum!”
Development Next Door Is Both Undesirable – and Unnecessary
The proposed development is not only undesirable at this location, it is unnecessary. The developer could build a larger, thus more profitable, hotel on his property around the corner on Lafayette Street.
The community neither wants nor needs another hotel on 4th Street. Over the last seven years, opposition to the proposed development has been overwhelming from preservation and community organizations, elected officials, government agencies, and thousands of concerned citizens. At the dozens of public hearings that have been held since 2012, not a single person has spoken in favor of the project.
We Need Your Help
DONATE to Our Legal Fund
In the past two years alone, the Museum has spent more than $150,000 on legal fees and engineering studies. We can’t save the Merchant’s House without your help! Please consider a donation. Any amount will make a difference.
SIGN Our Petition — Click here.
SPREAD THE WORD! Ask your friends and colleagues to help!
“If the Merchant’s House can’t be protected, no landmark is safe.
No historic district is safe. No natural resource is safe. No community or neighborhood is safe.”
Michael Hiller, land use, zoning, and preservation lawyer
“In my estimation, the Merchant’s House is without a doubt
the most important historic house in this city, and
it’s now probably the most endangered one.”
Michael Devonshire, Architectural preservationist and
Commissioner, Landmarks Preservation Commission