Volume 74, Number 34 | December 29 - January 04, 2004

Landmarks rules landlord must maintain E. Fourth St. townhouse

The Landmarks Preservation Commission last week won a precedent-setting lawsuit charging that the owner of the historic Samuel Tredwell Skidmore House at 37 E. Fourth St. had failed to maintain the designated landmark to the standard of good repair as required by law.

Supreme Court Justice Walter B. Tolub issued the decision on Dec. 20 after a non-jury trial, ordering the owner, the estate of real estate mogul Sol Goldman, to make all repairs required by Landmarks to stabilize the 1845 building and to maintain it in the future.

“This is the first time that the legal requirement of ‘good repair of a landmark’ has been fully litigated and upheld in court,” said Paula Van Meter, senior assistant Corporation Counsel, who represented the Landmarks Commission.

“We tried for years to get them to do the right thing by this building, but the owner refused,” said Robert Tierney, chairperson of the L.P.C. “After it became clear to us that they had no intention of taking care of this historically significant building, we sued. Justice Tour’s decision sends a clear message that ‘demolition by neglect’ will not be tolerated,” Tierney said.

Although owners of landmarks are required to maintain them, the Commission is reluctant to go to court against violators and prefers to work with landlords.

The house, built for Samuel Tredwell Skidmore, his wife and their eight children, became a city landmark in 1970 when it was described as being “unusually impressive.” The Greek Revival residence is characteristic of the Cooper Sq. neighborhood known now as part of the East Village.

Justice Tolub noted that in 1985 the building was declared to be in bad. condition and in 2002 the roof collapsed.

The Skidmore house is separated by a parking lot from Merchant’s House Museum, a designated city landmark built in 1832 for Seabury Tredwell, Samuel Skidmore’s cousin. The nonprofit museum is meticulously maintained.

The attorney for the Skidmore House owner, David Rosenberg, was out of town this week and his office would not say if the owner would appeal Justice Tolub’s decision. However, the Atlantic Development Group, which leases the Skidmore House as well as surrounding lots, plans to restore the landmark.

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