Preservationists, local pols hope to save 200-year-old Greenwich Village house from demolition

November 15, 2022

Photo by Spencer Means on Flickr

A 200-year-old landmarked property in Greenwich Village once home to author Ruth McKenney could soon be demolished. The city’s Department of Buildings last week ordered the immediate demolition of the rowhouse at 14 Gay Street after learning unpermitted work on the building has left it at risk of collapsing. According to The Village Sun, adjacent 16 Gay Street, also constructed in 1827, has also been compromised.

Photo of Gay Street via Wikimedia

Lionel Nazarian of Nazarian Property Group acquired the two-story building at 14 Gay Street, along with 16 and 18 Gay Street and 16-20 Christopher Street, in April for $12 million. Nazarian told Commercial Observer the group was aware of structural issues at 14 Gay Street from a 2003 fire and immediately began work on the property.

“This building was the subject of years of neglect by multiple owners,” Nazarian told Commercial Observer. “Upon acquiring the building earlier this year, we took immediate action to fix the many existing structural issues at 14 Gay Street.”

According to the DOB, the work done was not approved by the agency and the building is “compromised structurally” and is now in danger of collapsing.

Last week, the agency issued a partial stop-work order and a full vacate order on the property. According to the order, debris was falling or at risk of falling, and the foundation was “unsafe.”

A group of preservationists and local politicians rallied in front of 14 Gay Street on Monday to criticize DOB for a lack of proper oversight of the work done to these historic buildings and to call for an overhaul of the city’s process for monitoring historic properties.

According to Andrew Berman, executive director of Village Preservation, violations and complaints have been made about 14 Gay Street for many months, but no action was taken until last week.

“This house survived 200 years through the Draft Riots, nearby dynamiting for the construction of the subway and PATH trains and demolition of the Sixth Avenue El, a deadly fire in the basement, and hurricanes and superstorm,” Berman said. “But it couldn’t survive six months of ownership by Mr. Nazarian and the flimsy oversight of the NYC Department of Buildings and the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.”

The late author Ruth McKenney lived at 14 Gay Street in the 1930s with her sister. The apartment was featured in a series of stories written by McKenney for The New Yorker, which later became a book titled My Sister Eileen. The Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the Greenwich Village Historic District in 1969, which gave the building landmark status.

“The emergency demolition of 14 Gay Street in the Greenwich Village Historic District is an unfortunate situation caused by a contractor’s failure to follow plans approved by LPC and DOB for foundation work,” a spokesperson for the commission told Commercial Observer in a statement. “LPC is working with DOB and the owner of the building to minimize the impact of this emergency demolition by salvaging for reuse, when possible, bricks and other historic elements for a possible reconstruction of 14 Gay Street.”

According to Village Preservation, the demolition of 14 Gay Street would mark the 10th early 19th-century rowhouse ordered to be demolished in the district.

“It is disheartening to see the potential loss of yet another landmarked building,” Assembly Member Deborah Glick said in a statement. “14 Gay Street is a rare example of early 1800s architecture that helped to give Greenwich Village its historic charm, appealing to the local community and tourists alike.”

Glick continued: “I urge the City to halt this demolition and not reward unpermitted work by allowing miscreants to benefit from flouting the law. The City must do more to preserve our landmarks by recognizing their value to our neighborhoods and working to ensure the stability of their infrastructure even when unexpected challenges arise during construction or renovations.”


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