Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced former Governor of New York, has received a stamp of approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission to tear down an apartment building at 585 5th Ave. and replace it with what he calls a “whimsical” 19-story tower.
Spitzer acknowledged that the site’s history made his proposal somewhat ironic. “It is perhaps a bit odd for me to be here today,” he said by way of introduction at the July 25th meeting of the LPC. He went on to explain why: “Not only because my family helped build the building that we are hoping to demolish, but [because] we also hope to replace it with something that we believe will be much more appropriate.”
Spitzer added that he believed the new design would be “whimsical in its detail,” and would further match the “manicured” and “exquisite” aesthetics that he claims are in style. He also pointed to a resolution adopted by Community Board 8 blessing the building swap, which notably describes the current 1970 structure as a “non-contributing building within the historic district.” CB8 clarified that the rebuilt structure will use the “classic Fifth Ave. prewar vernacular for design details.” In other words, lots of limestone.
The current building, designed by Wechsler and Schimenti, is made of glass and glazed brick. As per the LPC, it in part replaced one of the “mansions” designed by Charles F. Rose for Isaac Vail Brokaw’s family between 1905 and 1907. Brokaw was an influential clothing magnate. His son Irving Brokaw, a professional figure skater (not to mention a lawyer that reportedly chose the sport over a white-collar existence), lived in 985 Fifth Ave. with his fellow figure-skating wife.
According to the LPC, the original Spitzer building also replaced townhouses at 986 and 987 Fifth Ave., which were not Brokaw mansions”. The former was reportedly owned by a Simon H. Stern, with the latter belonging to a William B. Leeds.
The replacement building, which will be nineteen stories instead of twenty-five, will be spearheaded by the architects Ward Dennis of Higgins Quasebarth and William Sofield of Studio Sofield. Spitzer is involved through Spitzer Enterprises.
Naturally, some residents Zoomed into the LPC hearing to denounce the spectacle of the Spitzer family demolishing one apartment building to erect a smaller one in its stead.
“Given that the greenest buildings in the world are those that already exist, we see no compelling reason to take down one building and replace it with another,” said historic district council rep Lucy Levine. “Add the new facade, add the new bulk, rework the interior, but don’t tear down a perfectly good structure,” she pleaded.
Nuha Ansari, who has recently opposed the project in writing on behalf of Friends of the Upper East Side, jumped in to echo Levine’s argument. “From an environmental/sustainable perspective, we wonder why the existing building cannot be retrofitted to update it to contemporary tastes,” she offered. She also observed that the “net loss of apartments would have a trickle-down effect, squeezing more residents out of the Upper East Side as housing costs rise ever higher.”
Despite these objections, it appears that Spitzer’s pet project will not truly be derailed by local opposition.