Volume 74, Number 26 | October 27 - November 03 , 2004

Two years later, Leibovitz repairs slow developing

Villager photo by Jennifer Bodrow

Three buildings, all now owned by Annie Leibovitz, on Greenwich St., the rightmost two of which were seriously damaged by her construction workers two years ago.

By Nancy Reardon

Repair work has started in three landmarked buildings in the West Village that have been the focus of protests and lobbying efforts by neighbors and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation for two years.

“We are glad repair work seems to be going now,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of G.V.S.H.P. “This was a case of great concern to us where we felt there was a great deal of negligence that set a very poor example.”

Illegal construction work inside 755-575 Greenwich St. in October 2002 caused a common interior wall with the adjoining 311 W. 11th St. to sink several inches, making the buildings unsafe. The owner of the Greenwich St. buildings, celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz, settled a $15 million lawsuit in June 2003 with the owner of the damaged neighboring building, which she purchased as part of the settlement agreement.

Leibovitz’s attorney told The Villager last year that no work could be done while the lawsuit was pending, and the settlement did not become final until last September.

Interior structural repairs have been completed and work is about to start on the buildings’ facades, said spokeswoman Diane Jackier of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which she said has been working closely with Leibovitz’s architects.

The work completed so far has focused on the buildings’ foundations, but Berman said the exteriors are his chief concern. G.V.S.H.P., like other preservation societies, works to protect the external integrity of historic buildings in the city, generally not the interior space.

After the wall sunk two years ago, cracks appeared in the buildings’ facades and several bricks fell off. These have not been repaired yet, and Berman said he fears their condition worsened that first winter when the buildings were left open to the elements.

“Our greatest concern is to ensure that the repairs are done as quickly as possible and that as much of the historic material is maintained and repaired,” said Berman. He wants to make sure that the original appearance is restored without the use of mimicking structures.

Jackier said that the facades will be restored using original bricks. “The building itself will be the source for materials,” she said. Jackson could not provide a timetable for the repair work.

While repairs have started, neighbors seem most irritated by the work’s slow pace, as well as other negative effects.

Aldo Radoczy, who lives next door at 759 Greenwich St,, said he redid his entire home in the two years since the accident at Leibovitz’s buildings. “At the rate they’re going now, they’ll be doing this for another two years,” he said.

Part of the scaffolding on Leibovitz’s building leans against Radoczy’s property, but he said his biggest complaints are the homeless people who find shelter under the scaffolding and the trash that collects there.

Laura Stein, who lives around the corner at 90 Bank St., walks her dog by the buildings every day. “It was such a charming spot before,” she said, “but now there’s garbage and human excrement there.”

The three Greek-revival buildings were built in 1837 by a butcher named Henry Pray, who lived in one of them until 1851. Some changes were made later in that century to the cornices and doorway lintels — or decorative beams — and these structures are still present today.

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