‘Meier City’grows on waterfront


By Lincoln Anderson

If it works once, why not try again?

Three weeks ago, demolition began on the four-story, red-brick Pathfinder building at Charles and West Sts., just south of the new Richard Meier-designed, twin luxury residential towers flanking Perry St. The new building is also being designed by Meier and will likely be the same height and similar design as the existing buildings.

The development group is led by Stuart Marton and Izak Senbahar. Applications for a 16-story, 180-ft.-tall building with 31 apartments and 100,000 total sq. ft. were submitted to the Department of Buildings in May but were disapproved, though such applications are frequently disapproved on technicalities and resubmitted, said Sid Dinsay, a D.O.B. spokesperson.

The fast-disappearing Charles St. building was once home to Pathfinder, a socialist publishing company, and at another point, to a succession of gay bars. Glenn Bristow, a former Community Board 2 member, recalled a mural of revolutionary leaders on the building’s south side, which, she said, was blocked from view by a yellow wall put up a few years ago because a neighbor didn’t want to see it.

Lisetta Koe, a spokesperson for Richard Meier & Partners, said the project is still being designed and that it’s “really, really early” in the process, but it’s likely the building will be similar to the two already standing.

“Knowing the way that Richard works, he likes to keep things in context. The top line will probably be the same” height as the existing buildings, she said.

Meier’s Perry St. condominium towers, developed by Richard Born, were completed in June, but the apartments’ interiors are being finished, in most cases by the residents themselves, meaning it could be another year before most move in. Only about two apartments in each tower are occupied. Condo owners include Martha Stewart — according to Koe, despite rumors, Stewart didn’t flip her apartment — Calvin Klein, Nicole Kidman and Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and Java software developer.

Koe noted that having a new “private park” on the Hudson River is a big plus for the tenants.

“I don’t know if the tenants will use it, but it’s nice for them to be able to look at a nice landscaped park,” she said.

Plans for a restaurant by Jean-Georges Vongerichten in one of the towers are on hold, because “he’s been pretty busy,” Koe noted.

The new residential development is as-of-right, meaning no variance was necessary. A variance was needed further south at Morton St., where a 14-story, square-block, luxury project is rising in a manufacturing-zoned area. The community had fought this project and filed an Article 78 lawsuit against the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals for granting the variance, but the lawsuit was denied.

The Charles St. project is in an area unprotected by landmarking, west of the existing Greenwich Village Historic District and south of the newly designated Gansevoort Market Historic District.

In between the new Meier site and his two existing towers is Charles Lane, a historic, cobblestone street, though the cobblestones are rapidly becoming the street’s only historic element.

“It’s not landmarked,” Albert Bennett, of the Greenwich Village Community Task Force, said of the new site. “That means Charles Lane [will have] 16 stories on the south and 16 stories on the north.”

The Greenwich Village Community Task Force has pushed for the landmarking of the area along the waterfront, which it calls the “Maritime Mile.” But so far the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has not bitten.

Sherida Paulsen, the immediate past Landmarks chairperson, had been interested in certain areas outside the Village Historic District, including the area around Weehawken St. and part of the Printing District in Hudson Sq.

Hoping to block further development, residents and Councilmember Chris Quinn recently fought off an attempt by the city to rezone a section of the northern part of Hudson Sq., between Barrow and Leroy Sts. and Hudson and West Sts., to allow residential development.

When Paulsen was Landmarks chairperson, Aubrey Lees, then-chairperson of Community Board 2, convened a Board 2 task force on landmarking that met with Paulsen regularly, which helped bring about designation of the Gansevoort District and the extension of the Noho Historic District. C.B. 2 and preservationists are eager to establish a similar relationship with new Landmarks Chairperson Robert Tierney.

Jim Smith, C.B. chairperson, said he wrote Tierney shortly after Smith became chairperson in June, but hasn’t gotten a response. Similarly, Lees, who Smith has designated to continue the board’s landmarks task force, said she tried to call Tierney when she was still board chairperson, but he was always unavailable.

“Why he doesn’t want to continue the task force, which I felt was incredibly successful, I just don’t know,” Lees said. “There are many areas [in the city] that need to be designated, but the West Village should be high up on the list. If the Landmarks Preservation Commission isn’t interested, I think it’s really bad.”

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said the society, even while focusing attention on the Meat Market designation, has tried to advocate for other at-risk parts of the Village and will continue to do so. The society recently did a report on the importance of preserving neighborhoods on the edges of historic districts and how zoning can help, he noted.

Similarly, Katy Bordonaro, co-chairperson of the G.V. Community Task Force, said a wall of buildings on the waterfront would jeopardize the existing Greenwich Village Historic District.

“I think everybody in the Village is pretty solid with the idea of not walling off the Village,” she said. “We don’t want to create a wall along the river or along the edge of the existing historic district.”

Last Friday, Kaier Curtain, 65, was pointing out the new Meier tower to his cousin, Suzanne Bostick, 41, from Connecticut, as they were standing on the traffic median on West St. as cars whooshed by noisily. Things had changed a lot along the waterfront since Curtain, an authority on gay theater, lived in the Village in the 1960s. He recalled when the Village waterfront “was rough gay bars. It was like leather bars and motorcycles, very tough dykes.” And there was the cruising seen on the dilapidated piers.

But now he looked across to the park, which they had just toured, where a waterfall gurgled tranquilly at Christopher St. in the late afternoon’s golden sunlight.

“In the next five years, this’ll all be expensive apartments,” he predicted. “It’s amazing how fast this has gone up,” he said of the park.