Gansevoort Market Historic District Avoids a Disaster
By Brian J Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
The Gansevoort Market Historic District (GMHD), aka the Meatpacking District, is a vibrant neighborhood that has greatly increased in popularity in the last several decades, attracting high-end retail stores, restaurants, offices, clubs, galleries, and apartments. When GMHD was designated in 2003, there were still an estimated 25 meatpacking companies remaining in the area (of some 200 at the peak of the industry here).
The Gansevoort Market Historic District buildings, most dating from the 1840s through the 1940s, represent four major phases of development, and include both purpose-built structures and those later adapted for market use. This mixed-use, consisting of single-family houses, multiple dwellings and industry was unusual for that period, and in fact, contrasted with nearby residential areas of Chelsea and Greenwich Village. The stretch of Ninth Avenue between Gansevoort and West 15th Streets offers the vista of a distinctive Manhattan streetscape featuring 20 buildings of the 1840s, including 44 to 54 Ninth Avenue (ca. 1845-46), and 351 to 355 West 14th Street (ca. 1842-44), a group of speculative rowhouses and three large town houses built by chemicals manufacturer Henry J. Sanford.
RKF and Tavros Capital Partners bought the 38,000-square-foot retail space for $105 million in 2014, hoping to remodel them for commercial uses, but it never moved forward until new plans with the added nine-story tower in the courtyard were announced in 2020.
There was immediate pushback from the community, Community Board and the LPC (Landmarks Preservation Commission). Revised plans were approved by LPC, with an eight-story tower of reinforced concrete extension of earth-toned terracotta and glass façade, alterations to the design of the townhomes with a darker red masonry façade, new steel frames to support the pitched roofline of slate, addition of wooden shutters and second-story balconettes, and reduction in metal paneling on the commercial frontage. Mepa Realty is the owner, Broadway Construction is the general contractor, and Tavros Capital Partners is the developer.
As soon as demolition began on the interiors, the contractor discovered that the party walls holding up the roof and floors was so badly deteriorated that they reportedly couldn’t save them. The entirety of the historic buildings may have to be lost. The community was outraged when that news broke. As Andrew Berman of Village Preservation wrote, “A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by our partners at Save Chelsea has revealed that vital information about the state of nine landmarked 1840s houses at 44-54 Ninth Avenue and 441-445 West 14th Street in the Meatpacking District was hidden from the public, elected officials, the community board, and even members of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) as they weighed an application to approve work related to demolition of the facades of these buildings. An engineering expert who specializes in historic structures employed by the LPC found that demolishing the facades of these historic landmarked buildings was not necessary to ensure safety, and that they could just as easily be repaired and public safety protected by preserving them. But this information was hidden from the public, other stakeholders and decision-makers, even when the LPC was directly questioned about it.” This evaluation was overruled by city officials.
To stop this potential disaster from destroying one of the oldest intact corners of Lower Manhattan, the community and city went to work, demanding the developer to restore (using the original bricks) the intact 19th century painted signage on the buildings which was revealed when the nonhistorical stucco was removed, and to reconstruct them with historic material as much as possible.
The current revised plans now declare that all the facades will be restored to their original appearance, all existing window opening widths will be utilized throughout and the rear (courtyard) and lot-line walls are “largely preserved and restored,” along with partial party walls restored with original brick. Copings, chimneys, roofs and dormers will be restored with matching historic materials.