Landmarks designates the Market


By Albert Amateau

The Landmarks Preservation Commission yesterday voted unanimously to designate the Gansevoort Market Historic District, where meat wholesalers, clubs, restaurants, art galleries and high-end retailers co-exist in the low-rise neighborhood between 14th and Gansevoort Sts.

The designation on Tues. Sept. 9 came after a three-year campaign by preservation groups including Save the Gansevoort Market, The Historic Districts Council and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

“I came in from Colorado last night for my birthday present,” said a jubilant Jo Hamilton, co-chairperson of Save the Gansevoort Market, who was summoned from a vacation in the Rockies by Andrew Berman, director of the Village preservation society, who had phoned her about the impending designation on Sept. 9, which happens to be her birthday.

Florent Morellet, co-chairperson of Save Gansevoort and owner of a restaurant in the new historic district, flew in from France on Tuesday morning to be present at the designation. “Two weeks before Bill Gottlieb [one of the largest property owners in the district] died in 1999 he told me, ‘What we need is a historic district in the Meat Market.’ It made me believe that saving the area was possible,” Morellet recalled.

Robert Tierney, chairperson of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, said he was honored to preside over the designation of the district that includes an eclectic mix of 104 buildings dating from the 1840s to the 1940s. The City Planning Commission must approve the designation before it goes into effect.

“This designation is the reason why we’re here. It’s what we do every day on the commission and I’m honored to be here to carry on this work,” Tierney said right before the designation.

The district, however, was reduced from the one proposed at the designation hearing in March. Eliminated from the district are about five buildings east of Hudson St. between the south side of 14th St. and the north side of Gansevoort St. Also dropped from the district is the site of the 14-story Gansevoort Hotel, nearing completion on the block bounded by Hudson St., Ninth Ave. and W. 13th St. A parking lot on the northwest corner of W. 13th and Washington Sts. was also dropped.

Nevertheless, Berman said he was gratified at the designation and at the enthusiastic comments of Landmarks commissioners at the Sept. 9 hearing. “The designation is very substantial and we hope the area west of the High Line will be considered soon as an addition to the district,” he said.

The High Line, the derelict elevated rail line being considered by the city for preservation as a park, begins at Gansevoort St. on the west side of Washington St., angles across three blocks to 10th Ave. north of 14th St. and ends at the Javits Convention Center at 34th St. The Landmarks commission decided early this year not to consider the three blocks between the High Line and West St. as part of the historic district because of uncertainty about the fate of the rail viaduct.

Another uncertainty is a site straddling the High Line on 13th and Washington Sts., outside the current historic district boundary. The developer Stephen Touhey proposed a 32-story, 450-ft tall apartment building designed by Jean Nouvel, a prominent French architect, for the site. But the Board of Standards and Appeals last year denied a variance to allow residential development in an area zoned for manufacturing. Touhey, however, said he would build the tower as a hotel, which is allowed as-of-right in manufacturing zones.

Berman noted that although the site of the proposed hotel was not included in the district, it was part of the original proposal by Save Gansevoort and the G.V.S.H.P. He added that no construction permit has been issued yet for the project, which would incorporate a section of the High Line as an elevated promenade.

Preservationists were gratified at the comments yesterday by Landmarks commissioners who recognized that the gritty district as a whole has significance beyond individual buildings. Sherida Paulson, former chairperson of the commission and a current commissioner, said, “The importance of market districts to the history of the city can’t be exaggerated. We don’t have many other physical reminders of the markets that played such important roles in the development of the city.”

Commissioner Roberta Gratz observed that the mix of buildings and uses in the district “have been reconfigured upwards and downwards and every which way over the years.” She added, “It’s taken us a while to recognize the value of very mixed districts.”

Meredith Kane, another commissioner, said the challenge would be to regulate the kind of development that would be appropriate in the district. “We recognize the district’s remarkable sense of place. We also recognize the process of making a living, the work-a-day mundane that has taken place here over 140 years of history. It deserves being carefully stewarded,” Kane said.

Berman said later that the Gansevoort Market has faced increasing development in recent years. “Without designation the area would clearly be altered beyond recognition in just a few years,” he said. “Historic designation now means that major changes to any building in the district — demolition, new construction and alteration — will have to go to the Commission for approval on the basis of their historic and aesthetic appropriateness for the area.”

Simeon Bankoff, director of the Historic Districts Council, said, “This is a thrilling designation. It shows the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s recognition of history. It’s not just about architecture. Scale, street patterns and the long history of the neighborhood are part of the district.”