Volume 77 / Number 44 - April 02 - 08, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Letters to the editor

O’Toole’s a Mod masterpiece

To The Editor:
DOCOMOMO US New York/TriState is a local chapter of a national and international organization focused on identifying and protecting buildings and sites of Modern- movement architecture. Over the past 12 years our chapter has been involved in education and outreach to identify and protect some of New York’s most significant examples of Modern-movement architecture, including theO’Toole Building on Seventh Ave. between W. 12th and W. 13th Sts.

The O’Toole Building (1964), originally the Joseph Curran Building, was the capstone of a 10-year building campaign by the National Maritime Union to change the public face of the modern merchant marine in the U.S. The 14buildings of this ambitious program were decidedly modern in function and aesthetics.

The buildings, which include The Seamen’s Training School and Dormitory at Ninth Ave. and 17th St. (1966) and the adjacent Curran Annex (1967) — now the Maritime Hotel — were all designed by Albert C. Ledner. In quick succession, Ledner earned his architecture degree from Tulane University, spent time with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship, landed his first commercial commissions and was published in the architectural press. Following his work with the union, he built a highly respected practice in New Orleans, where he lives today, very actively, at age 83. He joined DOCOMOMO last fall to give a talk on his Maritime Union buildings and will be submitting testimony for the April 1 hearing at the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The Curran/O’Toole Building is a dramatic expression of Modern architecture outside the glass box. Together, the three National Maritime Union buildings put a bold face on Modern architecture in Manhattan — all with a 1960sexuberance that is relatively scarce in New York when compared with other cities such as Los Angeles and Miami. Whether historical references or free form, these departure points from the more reserved International Style wererarely minimalist or safe. Today, they are critical to documenting the architectural response to the cultural shifts that characterized the 1960s and architects’ contribution to the artistic production of the era.

In her letter to the editor in The Villager (“Hoylman ‘misunderstands,’ ” March 5), Melissa Baldock of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation wrote that “it is incontrovertible that some of St. Vincent’s buildings, especially those which are particularly new or unrelated to the context or character of the historic district, are not going to be protected from demolition by the Landmarks Preservation Commission — that’s simply the way the landmarks law works.” In choosing not to discuss the possible merits of the Curran/O’Toole Building in its testimonies and public statements and by preparing a CommunityAlternative Plan that refers to the O’Toole Building as a “site” — cleared and ready for construction — G.V.S.H.P. and others are prematurely placing thebuilding in the “not going to” category.

We would suggest the O’Toole Building is not “particularly new.” At 44 years, it was eligible for consideration as an individual landmark over 10 years ago. The Curran/O’Toole Building was included in the 1969 Greenwich VillageHistoric District designation report with the description: “a striking contemporary structure.” Positive observations about the facade design were also included. Unless one is practicing some sort of era cleansing, it is difficult to contend that the O’Toole Building is “unrelated to the context or character of the historic district.” A crop of fine 1960s buildings brought a burst of Modern architecture to the Village that continues to contribute to the neighborhood’s vibrant history.

As advocates for Modern-movement architecture, including the more difficult-to-love-varieties of the 1960s, DOCOMOMO US NY/Tri-State would liketo see the architectural and historical significance of all historic district buildings affected by the St. Vincent’s Hospital/Rudin redevelopment plan be equally considered on their merits. We trust this will happen at the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing.

DOCOMOMO US New York/Tri-State will be testifying against demolition of the Curran/O’Toole Building on April 1. We hope others in the community will do the same.

Kathleen Randall

Randall is a member of the Advocacy Committee of DOCOMOMO (DOcumentation and COnservation of buildings, sites and neighborhoods of the MOdern MOvement) US New York/Tri-State

Malpractice at C.B. 2

To The Editor:
Re “St. Vincent’s does triage, but C.B. 2 reso. passes” (news article, March 26):

As the former chairperson and a current public member of the Landmarks Committee of Community Board 2 and a longtime resident of the Village, I have followed with great interest C.B. 2’s response to St. Vincent’s proposal to build a new and modern hospital to serve our community.

Officially, the community boards have little power and can only advise the various city agencies that have the delegated authority to make actual decisions. However, community boards are our designated “advocates” through which local residents can speak loudly to those city agencies to make our desires, needs and wishes known before a decision is rendered. It is this larger and much more important function that has not been achieved by C.B. 2 in its recent St. Vincent’s resolution.

It is assumed that the very importance of St Vincent’s proposal caused C.B. 2’s chairperson, Brad Holyman, to appoint a St. Vincent’s Omnibus Committee to coordinate C.B. 2’s response. Composed of Brad as chairperson, other C.B. 2 officers, the chairpersons of the various C.B. 2 standing committees and two public C.B. 2 members, the Omnibus Committee held several public hearings.

The committee issued a draft resolution that C.B. 2 adopted three days later on March 20 as its official response to St. Vincent’s proposal. Unfortunately, the resolution is a singular homage to the limited interests of landmark preservationists. All it does is state that we need to preserve some brick and mortar. It makes no mention of the great need of our community for a modern hospital, it fails to mention the inadequacy of the current facilities, and it fails to refer to the needs of those community members who would most benefit from the new hospital, the elderly, H.I.V. and AIDS patients and young families.

I was chairperson of the Landmarks Committee for nearly two years and during that time my committee voted often to preserve meaningful and historic architecture and against construction that failed to maintain the authenticity of existing neighborhoods. But we cannot forget that our historic neighborhoods, like the Village, Chelsea, Soho and the Meatpacking District, are not just a collection of buildings but more a collection of people, both past and present, creating the environment we now want to preserve. 

C.B. 2 should not be concerned primarily with preservation. Let Andrew Berman, who is paid handsomely by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, advocate for preservation. Let’s have a “community” board whose main focus is the interests of all the people who live there, including the elderly and ill who cannot show up at public meetings to loudly advocate for their position. 

Patrick Munson

Gerson’s mission impossible?

To The Editor:
I am aware that City Councilperson Alan Gerson is preparing a new vending bill that will have some serious ramifications for artists who display theirwork in Soho and other public areas in New York City. My feeling is that some of his bill is outstanding and some of it is simply unworkable and very, very harmful.

The positive aspects include funds for training police and the vendor task force in how to recognize copyright theft and how to go about enforcement of the copyright laws. All of us have seen the endless displays of illegally copied artwork clogging up the sidewalks and forcing true artists to less-desirable areas. This is a quadruple negative: The artists’ creativity is ripped off, the neighborhoods are full of copyright thieves, the consumer is ripped off by purchasing phony artwork and artists cannot display their own real artwork because of overcrowding.

In the past, many artists, publishers, gallery owners and neighborhood activists have pleaded with Mr. Gerson and other members of the administration for relief and protection from this illegal industry. Yet, the fact is that we have seen no effect on the sidewalks of the city.

In addition, Mr. Gerson also seems to be looking for locations for craftspeople and jewelers to set up their displays. I applaud this effort. Too often talented people are shut out of the process because their work does not qualify for First Amendment protection and there are no licenses to sell as a legal vendor. As a result, the craft artists are often cited, fined and have their work confiscated. If there were areas in New York City where craftspeople could display their work without harassment, it would be a real positive for all involved.

However, the parts of Mr. Gerson’s unfinished proposal that would call for severe space restrictions and limited numbers of artists per block would kill the popular public-art scene in New York City, and I implore him not to advance this agenda. Instead, I encourage him to advocate that the existing laws are enforced and that illegal vending be the focus of his efforts. If this was done, we would see a flowering of the street-art scene instead of the chaos that artists, other First Amendment vendors and neighbors experience daily.

Artists, legal vendors and veterans deserve to have their rights protected, and the community deserves to have safe streets. By simply following the formula mentioned above, Mr. Gerson could do both and walk away from his term in office having accomplished what many thought was impossible.

Lawrence White

Singer must be fined

To The Editor:
Re “Landmarked old P.S. 64 left exposed to the elements” (news article, March 12):

Gregg Singer should be fined!

What an outrage it was to see the majestic, landmarked old P.S. 64 school’s once-beautiful dormers uncovered and exposed to the elements! This certainly does look like it was done intentionally! Not only should Gregg Singer be fined, he should also be forced to restore the terra-cotta details that he removed from around the dormer windows.

John Heliker

E-mail letters, not longer than 250 words in length, to news@thevillager.com or fax to 212-229-2790 or mail to The Villager, Letters to the Editor, 145 Sixth Ave., ground floor, NY, NY 10013. Please include phone number for confirmation purposes. The Villager reserves the right to edit letters for space, grammar, clarity and libel.



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