Miracle on Fourth Street:
The ’90s to Today
Extensive Structural Damage in 1988 from Neighboring Development
The parallels between the current proposed development to the west, at 27 East 4th Street, and the tragedy to the east that occurred in 1988, when the Merchant’s House was threatened with development, are frightening.
In July 1987, the three 19th century buildings to the east of the Merchant’s House were sold to a developer, who planned to demolish them and construction a residential building.
“All work will be performed in a thoroughly professional manner with regard to
adjacent landmarked properties.” Developers’ VP in a letter to the MHM, November 1987
“We will be taking these buildings down the way they went up — brick by brick —
because of our desire to be a good neighbor.”
Developers’ lawyer in an interview with David Dunlap, The New York Times, December 25, 1987
In February 1988, protections to reinforce the east wall structurally and to make it weatherproof were promised.
That protection never happened. On May 10, the developers bulldozed the buildings to the east onto the sidewalk and street. The shock was felt blocks away. The sudden demolition deprived the Merchant’s House of vital structural support, causing it to shift, with its walls coming out and away from each other. The museum was closed to the public for most of the 2 ½ years it took to restore the house. Repairs cost close to $1 million, in large part paid for by the museum. Through the 1990s, restoration work continued, on the front façade and windows, the west wall, and the roof. The Merchant’s House continues to suffer the effects of the 1988 damage today.
Mrs. Vincent Astor and the Museum’s First Endowment
Brooke Astor was a longtime supporter of the house. Following Joe Roberto’s untimely death in March 1988, the Vincent Astor Foundation, with the help of a number of the city’s other preservation organizations, donated seed money to hire the museum’s first professional staff.
In 1997, the museum received a $1 million Challenge Grant from the Vincent Astor Foundation (the museum raised $650,000 to meet the challenge), thus for the first time securing an endowment that would help provide for its future financial security.
The Current Threat Next Door at 27 East Fourth
For the past nine years, the Merchant’s House has faced a grave threat of irreversible structural damage from construction of proposed development in the lot immediately to the west of the house.
In 2012, a developer made an application to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to build an eight-story hotel next door, a building so tall it required a change to the city’s zoning laws. Over the following six years, the museum endured countless hearings before city agencies and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on engineering studies and legal fees. Finally, in 2018, the City Council unanimously rejected the developer’s application for rezoning, a huge victory for historic preservation.
However, the fight continued. In January 2019, the developer filed a lawsuit attempting to overturn the City Council’s decision. Then, in December 2020, they filed plans for a new building, one that is even larger than the previous design, making the risk of catastrophic damage to the Merchant’s House even more severe. The new development is currently before the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
If the LPC approves the plan, the Merchant’s House – Manhattan’s first landmark – will be forced to close to the public to safeguard the house and its original Tredwell collection.
After 85 years as a museum, one decision by the LPC could be the end of the Merchant’s House. Click here to learn how you can help.
Miracle on Fourth Street: 85 Years as a Museum
..The Early Years..
..The ’90s to Today..