Why Landmarking Matters: Protecting 121 Charles Street
The Margaret Wise Brown House at 121 Charles Street (at the corner of Greenwich Street) is one of the most historically significant buildings in our neighborhood. It contributes immensely to the unique character and sense of place of the West Village, and is a brilliantly reimagined remnant of our past which might easily have been destroyed. It is also located within a designated historic district, and thus falls under landmarks jurisdiction.
But recent press reports have described potential plans which could result in its destruction. 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), 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.” Many press reports have perpetuated the misimpression that this house could simply be torn down and replaced at will.
What these reports fail to mention, however, is that because this structure is located within a designated historic district, no changes can be made to it without a long public hearing process and ultimately the approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). The Commission is charged with ensuring that only “appropriate” changes are allowed to historically significant sites such as this. While the LPC has sometimes interpreted that mission by approving changes we have disagreed with or been disappointed by, the notion that this incredibly unique site could be viewed as a "blank canvas" seems profoundly misguided.
Buildings like 121 Charles Street make a tremendous contribution 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 this site, 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. GVSHP considers it an essential part of our mission to monitor applications for changes to any of the 3,000 landmarked properties located in our neighborhoods. We 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 applications for any changes have been filed for this building, and if any ever are, it will likely not be for some time. However, if they are, and if they are proposals which would significantly compromise or destroy the historic qualities of this or any other site which we believe are important, you can be sure that we will let you know immediately, and ask you to join us in the fight to preserve them.