Owners didn’t want to horse around with Landmarks


By Albert Amateau

Chelsea preservation advocates who have been trying since last summer to get landmark protection for a charming four-story red-brick building that served in the 19th century as a Sunday school and later as a horse stable lost out to a wrecking crew last week.

Neighbors who had made requests for landmark designation last June and sent photos to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission were surprised on Tuesday March 7 to see scaffolding and mesh surrounding the building at 127 Seventh Ave.

“I asked two guys who looked like they might know what was happening and they told me they were cleansing it,” said Lee Zevy, a W. 17th St. resident for nearly 30 years. “Later that day they were taking bricks from the facade and rubble out of the interior. Somebody is pulling a fast one,” she added.

Pam Wolff, a manager of residential real estate in Chelsea, said she believed the building dates from the middle of the 1800s. She remarked on the medallion with a horse’s head in high relief that graced the center of the facade near the top of the building.

“They were working on the facade about eight years ago and they knocked an ear off the horse’s head,” recalled Wolff.

Bill Borock, another W. 17th St. resident and president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations who wrote to the L.P.C. in June about the building, and Ed Kirkland, a Chelsea preservation advocate and head of the Community Board 4 Landmarks Committee, were both outraged at what they believed was the owners’ move to destroy anything of historical significance in order to forestall landmark designation of the building.

A week earlier, on March 1, Community Board 4 had sent a letter to the L.P.C. saying the building had “exceptional architectural and historic significance. It is unfortunately currently liable to demolition and replacement,” the board said.

Sure enough, on March 6, the architects, Isaac & Stern, filed for an Alt. 2 (major alteration) permit from the Department of Buildings to replace the facade of 127 Seventh Ave., which is owned by Rose Realty Group. The permit was self-certified by architect Isaac Ramy and issued the same day.

“It was issued in record time,” commented Kirkland, who questioned the self-certification process. Alt. 1 permits are issued for minor alterations and Alt. 2 permits can be issued for alterations involving most of a building except the foundation. Before self-certification began several years ago, the permit process could take weeks, Kirkland noted.

But Ilyse Fink, spokesperson for the Department of Buildings, said this week that self-certification was intended to result in a permit in a day or two, “if everything goes right.” Fink noted that the certified plans for replacing the facade of 127 Seventh Ave. are on file and available for public inspection.

Borock recalled that he sent photos and a description of the building to Landmarks on June 28 and received an acknowledgement from Mary Beth Betts, L.P.C. director of research, on July 18. “Staff will review the material and keep you informed,” the acknowledgement said. But Borock said that at the end of last year, he learned that the L.P.C. had not scheduled a hearing.

Diane Jackier, a Landmarks spokesperson, told The Villager on Tuesday that the commission had decided not to consider the building for landmark designation.

Rose Realty Group did not return phone calls inquiring about future plans for the building, which has been vacant for a little more than a year since Le Madri, an upscale restaurant, left the premises.

A marble stone set in the facade above the first floor had the words “Mission School” on the first line and a second line with the barely readable words “Presbyterian Church 5th Av 12th St.” with a date on the last line that appeared to be “AD 1874.”

A history of the First Presbyterian Church on Fifth Ave. at W. 12th St. indicates the church operated a mission school from 1868 to 1885 but does not say where. In the 1870s, when department stores dominated Broadway and Sixth Ave. from 14th to 23rd Sts. forming the Ladies’ Mile district, carriage houses and stables came into the area. Five former carriage houses on 18th St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves. have been designated as landmarks.

“We told Landmarks that 127 Seventh Ave. was overlooked when they landmarked Ladies’ Mile, but it looks like it’s too late now,” Borock said.