A Call to Arms!
The Merchant’s House – Manhattan’s First Landmark – Has Been Fighting for Its Survival … for Nine Years!
As if 2020 wasn’t difficult enough for our dear Merchant’s House, the developer filed an application in early December for a new building next door at 27 East 4th Street, one that is TALLER and MORE MASSIVE than the original proposed hotel!
Irreversible damage from the construction is guaranteed and the risk of collapse of our fragile 189-year-old landmark building is even higher.
For the third time, on December 17 Community Board 2 voted unanimously to REJECT the developer’s latest application. This vote is a recommendation to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, but is not binding. The application went before the Landmarks Preservation Commission at a public hearing on Tuesday, January 12.
Our heartfelt thanks to everyone who attended and testified at the LPC hearing on January 12. The hearing, which lasted three hours, saw testimony from over 40 individuals, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Brad Hoylman (on behalf of NYS Assemblymember Deborah Glick, too), City Council member Carlina Rivera, and representatives from Community Board 2, the NYC Parks Department, the Historic House Trust, and many others.
Over 520 letters in opposition were submitted, and our petition had more than 12,000 signatures (now almost 15,000!). As has been the case at dozens of hearings over the last nine years, not a single person spoke in favor of the proposed development.
At a meeting on February 2, the Landmarks Preservation Commission declined to vote, instead requesting the developers and their consultants work with the Merchant’s House, the Parks Department, and the Historic House Trust to develop a more comprehensive protection plan for our exterior and interior landmark building should the construction be allowed to proceed.
Although we still have a long fight ahead of us, we are heartened that the Commissioners are taking seriously the very real threat of irreparable damage to the Merchant’s House, not only structural, i.e, possible collapse, but also to our original 1832 decorative plaster, considered by many experts to be the finest extant.
How You Can Help!
Sign Our PETITION — Click here. The petition has almost 15,000 signatures!
(Please DO NOT donate via change.org — donations made from the petition site do not go to the Merchant’s House! Click here to donate or scroll down to the bottom of this page!)
SPREAD the Word! Ask your friends and colleagues to help. Post on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.
Here’s Why the LPC Must DENY the Developer’s Application.
(scroll down for more details)
1. The Landmarks Preservation Commission Has an Obligation to the People of New York to Preserve Historic Properties and Districts throughout the City.
The LPC’s mission is “to protect the special places and buildings that bring the City’s remarkable history and heritage to life, thus preserving them for future generations.” The Merchant’s House – Manhattan’s very first landmark – is among its most significant. Its very survival is at stake.
2. Irreversible Damage to the Irreplaceable Merchant’s House from Construction Is Guaranteed – and Could Be Catastrophic
3. Construction Would Force the Merchant’s House Museum to Close to the Public for 18-24 Months, to Safeguard the Collection and Secure the Building – at a Cost of $5 Million
4. The Developer has Two Open Applications for Construction on the Same Lot
5. The Proposed Building Is Inappropriate for the Noho Historic District
The Landmarks Preservation Commission Has an Obligation to the People of New York to Preserve Historic Properties and Districts throughout the City.
The LPC’s mission is “to protect the special places and buildings that bring the City’s remarkable history and heritage to life, thus preserving them for future generations.”
The Merchant’s House is a federal, state, and city landmark. It was the first building designated at the first meeting of the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965 and is one of only 120 buildings that have interior and exterior landmark designation. Its cultural and architectural significance is undisputed in the history of the city of New York.
At the dozens of public hearings that have been held since 2012, not a single person has spoken in favor of the project. It is the duty of the Landmarks Preservation Commission to vote NO to this proposal. The very survival of the Merchant’s House is at stake.
Irreversible Damage to the Irreplaceable Merchant’s House from Construction Is Guaranteed – and Could Be Catastrophic.
According to multiple studies undertaken by several of the city’s top engineering firms, construction next door is absolutely guaranteed to cause irreversible damage – possibly catastrophic, causing complete collapse – 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 1832 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 is likely to cause the fragile 189-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.
The new proposed building is taller and more massive than the developer’s previously submitted plan to construct a multi-story hotel. It would rise to a height of 94′ 5″ with an elevator bulkhead that adds another approximately 20 feet; it also extends deeper into the lot. Due to the increased height and bulk of the planned new building, it poses an even greater risk of collapse to Merchant’s House.
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 Merchant’s House 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. 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.
The Developer Has Two Open Applications for Construction on the Same Lot.
In 2018, the developer applied for a series of special permits (“spot zoning”) in order to build the proposed eight-story hotel. In September 2018, after a seven-month public review process, the City Council voted unanimously to REJECT the developers’ application.
In January 2019, the developer filed a lawsuit to overturn the City Council’s decision. Representatives from the City, including Council Member Carlina Rivera, assured us that the City is standing behind the City Council’s decision in support of the Merchant’s House. This lawsuit is still pending, which means the developer currently has TWO open applications for construction on the same lot. The developer should not be permitted to submit a new application until the lawsuit has been settled.
The Proposed Building Is Inappropriate for the Noho Historic District
The planned building would hulk over the Merchant’s House by approximately three stories, plus a separate penthouse, causing the streetscape to lack continuity. The exorbitant height of the planned building would result in an awkward mid-block transition, disrupting the look of the historic district. In addition, the floor to ceiling heights for the planned building do not conform to either of the adjacent buildings, resulting in a degenerative hodgepodge rather than a uniform streetscape.
Please DONATE to the Legal Fund to Save the Merchant’s House!
We Can’t Do It without YOU!
In the past two years alone, the Museum has spent more than $275,000 on legal fees and engineering studies. The developer’s new proposed building poses an even higher risk of catastrophic damage to the Merchant’s House.
We can’t save the Merchant’s House without your help! Please consider a donation. Any amount will make a difference.
“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