Volume 78 / Number 5 - July 2 - July 8, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

A computer rendering created for N.Y.U. by its planning consultants, showing a development option for a fourth tower, at left, added to the Silver Towers

How much of N.Y.U. superblock to landmark is issue

By Albert Amateau

There was no opposition at the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing last week to landmarking New York University’s Silver Towers complex, the three 1966 residential buildings designed by I.M. Pei for the superblock formally known as University Village.

But much of the two hours of testimony by Village neighbors on June 24 urged the L.P.C. to extend the landmarking to the entire superblock between Bleecker and W. Houston Sts. from LaGuardia Pl. to Mercer St.

The proposal calls for landmark protection for the 30-story Silver Towers 1 and 2 and 505 LaGuardia Place, as well as the central plaza with the 30-foot-tall statue version of Picasso’s Cubist “Portrait of Sylvette.”

However, the proposal excludes the low-rise Morton Williams supermarket on LaGuardia Place and the N.Y.U. Coles Sports Center on Mercer St., which is also a low-rise structure.

Neighbors made it clear that the supermarket, which for the past several years has been mentioned as a potential N.Y.U. academic high-rise site, was what they especially want to save because it serves their shopping needs and because it is only one story high.

But the supermarket is no longer a potential development site, according to N.Y.U. Lynne Brown, N.Y.U senior vice president for university relations and public affairs, told the hearing that the design team for long-range N.Y.U. planning recommended that the university not build on the Morton Williams site but instead construct a fourth tower at the northwest corner of the proposed landmark site.

“Although the discussion of possible future design proposals is not part of this designation process, we thought it important to bring this concept to the attention of the Landmarks Preservation Commissioners, since the fourth tower has been presented as an option in our public forums regarding N.Y.U. Plans 2031,” Lynne said.

For many neighbors and preservation advocates at the June 24 hearing, though, the prospect of a fourth tower was not welcome. They hooted after an N.Y.U. presentation of the potential fourth-tower scenario.

Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, derided the university’s support for landmark protection for the Silver Towers.

“For N.Y.U. to say it supports landmarking and propose another 40-story tower on the site is like saying you’re against global warming and riding around in a gas-guzzling S.U.V.,” Berman said.

However, Alicia Hurley, N.Y.U. vice president for government affairs and community engagement, said later, “We’re not building a 40-story tower. We don’t know yet what [the new building] would be like.”

Sylvette David, who posed for Picasso in 1954 for the paintings and the small sculpture that became the models for Carl Nesjar’s colossal Silver Towers statue, submitted a letter protesting that a fourth tower in the complex’s northwest corner would “almost completely hide the Sylvette sculpture from the view of the public.”

Community Board 2 on June 19 passed a resolution supporting the Silver Towers designation and recommending that the entire superblock be considered for landmark protection.

Councilmember Alan Gerson, who lives at 505 LaGuardia Place, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer testified in support of the Silver Towers landmark designation and both urged the commissioners to expand the designation to the entire superblock.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick, State Senator Tom Duane and Congressmember Jerrold Nadler also submitted statements calling for extending landmark protection to the entire superblock.

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