Volume 76, Number 17 | September 13 - 19, 2006

This E. 13th St. building was a horse show room before later becoming artist Frank Stella’s studio.

Preservationists ride to defense of Stella studio

By Albert Amateau

Preservation advocates, East Village neighbors and elected officials last week urged the Landmarks Preservation Commission to grant landmark protection to a former horse showroom on E. 13th St. that last served as a studio for the artist Frank Stella.

Landmarks held a Sept. 7 hearing on the former Van Tassell & Kearney horse auction mart at 126-128 E. 13th St. at the behest of preservation activists because the property was recently acquired by a development group that proposes to replace the 1904 building with a seven-story apartment house.

Robert Tierney, L.P.C. chairperson, announced, however, that the owners have agreed to hold off on demolition until the commission has a chance to consider the building.

Jay Segal, attorney representing the owners, said at the hearing that they contracted to buy the four-story building last year at market rate and spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars to plan using all the floor-area ratio available.” The purchase price was about $12 million.

Segal said the owners and their architects would consult with the commission’s staff to see if the current building could be saved as part of a future development. Segal said later that the owners would give the L.P.C. at least 20 days notice before applying for a demolition permit.

A parade of preservation groups, including the Landmarks Conservancy, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, Municipal Art Society, Society for the Architecture of the City, Metropolitan Chapter of the Victorian Society in America and the Union Square Community Coalition, spoke up for landmark designation of the building, where the Vanderbilts, Belmonts and Whitneys came to buy polo ponies and racehorses.

Although other barns still exist in the city, the Van Tassell & Kearney building designed by the architects Jardine, Kent and Jardine, is the only one that remains that was built to show horses for sale.

After the horse era, the building became a machine shop, and during World War II served as a center for training women for work in factories. Frank Stella acquired the building in 1978 and used it as a painting studio until 2005.

“How many structures in New York can conjure up images of Vanderbilts purchasing polo ponies, Frank Stella creating masterpieces of 20th-century art and Rosie the Riveter fighting the war on the home front?” said Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P. director.

Elected officials, including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Councilmember Rose Mendez, also urged landmarks designation for the building.

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