Protest focuses on Leibovitzas buildings remain unrepaired

By Albert Amateau

A dozen West Village neighbors and Members of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation demonstrated in the West Village on Tuesday, charging celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz with the “demolition by neglect” of her three landmarked houses.

The demonstrators protested that the three adjacent 1830s houses at 755-757 Greenwich St. and 311 W. 11th St. have been vacant and deteriorating since October of last year when illegal work in the two Greenwich St. buildings caused an interior wall in 311 W. 11th St. to collapse.

“It’s outrageous that Ms. Leibovitz has been allowed to let landmarked structures deteriorate for so long without taking any action to protect them and leaving them open to one of the worst winters in recent memory,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of G.V.S.H.P.

When the work began, Leibovitz owned only the two houses on Greenwich St., and was renovating them. But work stopped after the collapse at 311 W. 11th St., the home of Robert Snider, his wife and their four-year-old son, who had to move out because their house was unsafe. In February, Snider filed a $15 million lawsuit against Leibovitz, which was settled in June. As part of the settlement Snider sold his building to Leibovitz and the sale — and the settlement — became final last month.

Robert Hadju, Leibovitz’s attorney, said yesterday that Leibovitz couldn’t complete work on the buildings while they were the subject of a lawsuit. “The suit has been settled and we applied for a work permit today,” Hadju said on Tues. Oct. 7, asserting that work would resume soon.

The preservation society, joined by City Councilmember Christine Quinn, state Senator Tom Duane and Assemblymember Deborah Glick, sent a letter on Sept. 19 to the Department of Buildings and the Landmarks Preservation Commission asking the city agencies to require restoration of the three buildings.

Ilyse Fink, spokesperson for the buildings department, said an inspection earlier this year determined that the buildings, which were braced earlier this year, were not in danger of collapse. She added that the department will re-inspect the buildings soon in response to recent complaints.

Berman said that Leibovitz did not brace the buildings until after the G.V.S.H.P. filed complaints last winter and the Department of Buildings imposed a $500 fine. “It’s the only penalty to date for the illegal work and lack of corrective action,” said Berman.

Aldo Radoczy, who owns and lives in a seven-story building next to 757 Greenwich St., said that rats have made their home in the derelict buildings since last year and have become a neighborhood problem.

“When the wall collapsed in 311, the Fire Department had to come because a gas pipe went too,” Radoczy recalled. He said the ground floor in 311 W. 11th St. dropped about three inches shortly after the wall collapsed, leaving a gap between the walls and the floor and making doors in the house impossible to open. Chimneys on 311 also collapsed, leaving holes in the roof, Radoczy said.

According to Snider, Leibovitz offered to buy 311 W. 11th St. when she acquired the Greenwich St. buildings, but Snider declined to sell. After the collapse, she again offered to buy the house and Snider again refused until a sale was negotiated in settlement of the lawsuit. In the lawsuit, Snider charged Leibovitz had waged a “terror campaign” against his family after he declined to sell, culminating in her workers damaging his building.