Why Landmarking Matters: Protecting 121 Charles Street & Anthology Film Archives Building
The Margaret Wise Brown House at 121 Charles Street (at the corner of Greenwich Street) and the Anthology Film Archives Building at 2nd Avenue and 2nd Street, the former New York City Magistrate’s Court, are two of the most historically significant buildings in our neighborhoods. Both contribute immensely to the unique character and sense of place of their respective West and East Village neighborhoods, and each are brilliantly reimagined remnants of our past which might easily have been destroyed, but fortunately were not. Both are also located within designated historic districts, and thus fall under landmarks jurisdiction.
But recent press reports have also indicated potential plans which could significantly alter or destroy both of them. In the case of 121 Charles Street, a 19th century (or older) house formerly located on the Upper East Side and moved to Greenwich Village in 1967 (in which the author of "Goodnight Moon" lived and wrote that book), it has been advertised for sale for $20 million with claims that it is a "potential development site" which could be viewed as a "blank canvas." In the case of the Former Magistrate's Court/Anthology Film Archives Building, it has been reported that there are plans being developed to build a 5-story addition atop the existing structure.
What both these reports fail to mention, however, is that both these structures are located within designated historic districts, which means no changes can be made to either site without a long public hearing process and ultimately the approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), which is charged with ensuring that only "appropriate" changes are allowed to historically significant sites such as these. And while the LPC has sometimes interpreted that mission by approving changes we have disagreed with or been disappointed by, the notion that these incredibly unique sites could be viewed as a "blank canvas" or more than doubled in height seems profoundly misguided.
These are sites which make tremendous contributions to our city by virtue of their historic character, and that should be preserved, rather than discarded. Fortunately the landmarks process means that should any plans be put forward to make changes to these sites, they will have to undergo several public hearings, in which GVSHP and any member of the public will have the opportunity to make the case to the Landmarks Preservation Commission as to why such changes should or should not be approved. And GVSHP considers it an essential part of our mission to monitor any applications for changes to any of the 3,000 landmarked properties located in our neighborhoods. And we of course publicize all of those applications through our Landmarks Applications Webpage, and through this e-mail list. And we alert our members and the public to any applications that we think are especially troubling, and let you know how you can join us in fighting to ensure that such changes are not approved.
No such applications have been filed for either of these sites, and if they ever are, it will likely not be for some time. However, if they are, and if they are proposals which we believe would significantly compromise or destroy the historic qualities which we have worked so hard to preserve, you can be sure that we will let you know immediately, and ask you to join us in the fight.