The Merchant’s House is Fighting for Its Survival

In April 2014, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved a plan for construction of an eight-story hotel next to the House at 27 East 4th. The threat of damage, possibly irreparable, to our fragile 1832 building during the demolition, excavation, and construction of the new building is immense.

“The fact that the city would approve this without explicitly sufficient
safeguards of the Merchant’s House’s structural integrity is,
quite frankly, shocking.”

Andrew Berman, Executive Director,
Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation,
The VillagerApril 17, 2014

The House will be damaged during construction, no question. According to studies performed by structural engineers, if our building shifts a mere ¼ inch – as anticipated by the developers, and the maximum allowed by law – our original and irreplaceable 1832 ornamental plasterwork, considered the finest extant in New York City and a national treasure, will suffer damage. “The integrity of the historic original plaster finishes is highly at risk.” But  if the settlement is more than ¼ inch, as some engineers have predicted, our structural integrity could be compromised, which would mean closing the Museum immediately.

But, wait, isn’t the Merchant’s House a LANDMARK? Isn’t it protected?

Yes, the Merchant’s House is a designated landmark – on the federal, state, and city level. In New York City, it was among the first 20 buildings designated in 1965 under the new landmarks law — and the first in Manhattan. Today, it is one of only 117 buildings (and one of only six residences) that are both an exterior and an interior landmark. Remarkably – and sadly – landmark status doesn’t guarantee adequate protection during adjacent building construction.

“In my estimation, the Merchant’s House is without a doubt the most important historic house in this city,
and unfortunately, it’s now probably the most endangered one.”

– Michael Devonshire, Director of Conservation, Jan Hird Pokorny Associates, which has overseen
all restoration work on the House since 1990.  The VillagerApril 17, 2014

In addition to consulting engineers, we now have to hire lawyers, too.

The developers claim they will protect the house, but we have nothing in writing. And given the plans they presented during two years of hearings at the Landmarks Preservation Commission, we know the safeguards are not nearly enough.

Our lawyers will try to negotiate a license agreement with the developers that will include four separate protection plans: for building settlement, vibrations, water infiltration, and for our ornamental plasterwork. We will also be developing a plan to store and protect the collections, should we have to close the museum for any reason during construction.

We can’t protect the Merchant’s House without your help! Please consider a donation.

We have had to spend tens of thousands of dollars already on engineering consulting work and studies. Lawyers’ fees and engineering expenses are well over $50,000 and will continue. The cost to shore up the plasterwork alone is estimated to be more than $200,000. Won’t you please help? Any amount will make a difference.

“… New York City has plenty of boring eight-story hotels, but we only have one Merchant’s House.”
Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director, Historic Districts Council,  The VillagerApril 17, 2014