Landmarks trims height off Washington St. addition


By Albert Amateau

The Landmarks Preservation Commission put its stamp of approval at the end of last month on yet another change in the fast-changing Meatpacking District.

The commission voted 8 to 2 to approve a four-story, glass addition on top of the two-story building at 837 Washington St. between Little W. 12th and W. 13th Sts. across Washington St. from the Standard Hotel.

Built in 1938 when the district west of Hudson St. from 14th to Horatio Sts. was dominated by meat wholesale businesses, 837 Washington St. has been vacant for more than two years.

In 2009, the owners applied to the Landmarks Commission for approval of a seven-story glass addition.

But preservation groups, including the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and Save the Gansevoort District, opposed the application, saying that it was far too tall and out of character for the Gansevoort Market Historic District, which the commission designated in 2003.

The proposed addition was reduced to four stories and reduced again to four shorter stories.

Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P. executive director, said, “We’re glad the advocacy over the last couple of years has resulted in the size of the proposal being reduced significantly.” He characterized the the design by Morris Adjmi Architects as “thoughtful.”

Berman, however, was anxious about a potential precedent that could affect all historic districts.

“We still have a fundamental concern of turning buildings in historic districts into pedestals for larger developments,” he said.

Two members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted against approval of the addition on July 19.

Michael Devonshire and Elizabeth Ryan said they thought the proposed addition was still too tall and would overwhelm the 1938 building.

But the other commission members agreed with Vice Chairperson Pablo Vengoechea, who praised the proposal for its “interplay between the old and the new” and because it “respects the identity of the Moderne building while echoing the industrial history of the district with its horizontality and window patterns.”

Adjmi Architects, the firm that designed the restoration of the Provincetown Playhouse on MacDougal St. two years ago, said the addition to the Washington St. buildings was conceived “to fit in with the fabric of the neighborhood while also helping to forge a new architectural identity for the Meat Market District.”

The twisting shape of the proposed addition was generated by the angular street pattern of the building’s location near where it interlocks with the more regular Manhattan grid north of 14th St., Adjmi said.

The future occupant of the building and its recently approved addition has not yet been decided, according to the architect. The building definitely won’t be residential, though, because of the district’s manufacturing zoning. There is no date yet for the start of construction.

James Ortenzio, a meatpacking executive and property owner in the district, formerly owned 837 Washington St. A few years ago Robert Isabell, the designer and event planner acquired the building, but at his death in July 2009, it passed to the control of the lenders, Taconic Investment Partners and Square Mile Capital.