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

Villager photos by Elisabeth Robert

Representative Jerrold Nadler, right, Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P. director, standing next to him, and Village preservation activists at rally to protest demolition of 163 Charles St. last Thursday

Threat to Far West Village hits home with demolition

By Albert Amateau

A few days after Mayor Mike Bloomberg told Village preservation advocates on the steps of City Hall that he “fundamentally agrees” with their efforts to gain landmark protection for Far West Village historic buildings, a wrecking crew was demolishing a three-story 1832 house on Charles St.

Responding to the threat on the rainy Thursday morning of Dec. 23, a group of Village residents demonstrated in front of 163 Charles St. demanding that the city designate a Far West Village Waterfront Historic District to save other historic buildings threatened with demolition.

“Here it’s being demolished before our eyes,” said Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, referring to the building at 163 Charles St. “The city has been giving us some very kind words but words are no longer enough.”

G.V.S.H.P., along with The Federation to Preserve the Greenwich Village Waterfront and Great Port and the Greenwich Village Community Task Force, has been calling since last April for landmark protection for the 14-block area between Greenwich and West. Sts. from Horatio to Barrow Sts.

Landmarks Preservation Commissioner Robert Tierney and City Planning Commissioner Amada Burden have both indicated interest in protecting the area, but they have made no commitment on the timing of hearings.

“This transcends the Village,” said Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, who attended the Dec.23 Charles St. demonstration. “The Landmarks Preservation Commission was set up to make judgments about designations all over the city and to make them timely, not after it’s too late.”

Nadler’s district runs from the Upper West Side to Lower Manhattan into Brooklyn and includes historic districts and landmarks on the Upper West Side.

Stu Waldman, a member of the Federation, called the demolition of 163 Charles St. an example of “historic vandalism.” Zack Winestine, a founder of the Greenwich Village Community Task Force, declared that Bloomberg will have to be accountable to Village voters for the demolition of historic buildings. “Mike Bloomberg, Bob Tierney, this is happening on your watch. You bear responsibility,” Winestine said.

An eight-story glass-and-steel residential building with three apartments is to replace the building at 163 Charles St., according to Department of Buildings records. The owner of record is Kenny Schachter, an art dealer who lived in the building and operated an art gallery in a former stable on the north side of the lot facing Charles Ln. Schachter, however, has sold the property to the current developer, according to Berman.

Charles Ln., one of the oldest streets in the city, is a 15-ft.-wide cobblestone passage with no sidewalks between West and Washington Sts.

The new project includes the Charles Ln. property, formerly the carriage house for 163 Charles St., and will be incorporated into the new building. The property is just east of the third Richard Meier-designed glass residential tower being built on West and Charles Sts.

The main house is part of a row of three 1830 buildings. On the next block east, at 132 Charles St. is the site of the oldest building in the area, an 1820 clapboard house. Across from it at 131 Charles St. is an 1834 federal rowhouse, Berman said.

While the demonstrators called for a last-minute reprieve for 163 Charles St., Berman acknowledged that the case was hopeless. Nevertheless, he said, immediate calendaring for a landmark hearing might save other buildings slated for demolition. Among the other threatened buildings in the Far West Village are an 1885 multiple dwelling at 178 Christopher St. and two 1856 buildings at 389 and 383 W. 12th St., formerly occupied by a mounted police stable and currently the office and showroom for the designer Diane von Furstenberg, who recently sold the property, Berman said.

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