Merchant's House Museum

Life at Home in Mid-19th Century New York City

The Ground Floor restoration is complete! Want to know more? Click here.

A Grave Threat to the Merchant’s House

A developer is planning to build a 9-story hotel at 27 East 4th Street, adjacent to and towering over the Merchant’s House Museum.  The new building would not only overwhelm the 182-year-old landmark Merchant’s House and be strikingly inappropriate to the historic residential context of East 4th Street within the Noho Historic District — but the construction process for a building of this scale is absolutely guaranteed to damage the house. 

The potential damage to our very fragile 1832 landmark building — a federal, state, and city landmark, inside and out — during demolition of the existing garage and construction of the new hotel is huge.  According to analyses performed by structural engineers, if our building shifts a mere 1/4 inch — as is predicted by the developers — our original landmark 1832 decorative plasterwork, considered the finest extant in New York City and a national treasure, will be damaged.

“… the anticipated foundation settlement of the new building will likely produce damage to the historic plaster covering the interior and exterior walls in the form of visible cracking and spalling, in addition to non-visible subsurface delaminations…. The integrity of the historic original plaster finishes is highly at risk.” (Atkinson-Noland Associates, February 2014)

 We think the risk to the house may simply be too great.

East, Now West: Dept. of History Repeating Itself

The parallels between the proposed development to the west, at 27 East 4th Street, and the tragedy that occurred in 1988, when the Merchant’s House was threatened with development to the east, is uncanny. Every effort must be made today to avoid history repeating itself.

In July 1987, the three 19th century buildings to the east of the Merchant’s House were sold to a developer for demolition and the construction of a residential building.

“All work will be performed in a thoroughly professional manner with regard to adjacent landmarked properties.” (Developers’ VP in a letter to the MHM, November 1987)

Photo: East, Now West: Dept. of History Repeating Itself<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Yesterday, February 23, 1988: "All is proceeding favorably... I participated in a meeting sponsored by the Landmarks Commission concerned with protection ... As a result we will have in writing and drawing the construction details which are to reinforce our wall structurally and in making it weatherproof."</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Protection never happened. In May, the developers bulldozed the buildings to the east, causing $1 million-plus in damages to the house.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Please, LPC, don't let this happen again.

Meeting after meeting after meeting took place, with the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Merchant’s House consulting engineers and architects, the developers’ engineers, Council members, and neighborhood groups, to discuss ways to protect the house from damage. Just as today, we made recommendations; the developers made promises; but nothing was ever put in writing.

December 25, 1987: “We will be taking these buildings down the way they went up—brick by brick—because of our desire to be a good neighbor.”  (Developers’ lawyer, interview with David Dunlap, The New York Times)

February 23, 1988:  “All is proceeding favorably… I participated in a meeting sponsored by the Landmarks Commission concerned with protection … As a result we will have in writing and drawing the construction details which are to reinforce our wall structurally and in making it weatherproof.” (Letter from Joseph Roberto, Merchant’s House Director, to Board Chair Spencer Davidson)

Protection never happened. On May 10, the developers bulldozed the buildings to the east, causing major structural damage to the Merchant’s House.

The Museum was closed to the public for most of the 2 ½ years it took to restore the house. Repairs cost close to $1 million. And the Merchant’s House continues to suffer the effects today.

Please, Landmarks, don’t let this happen again.

LPC Public Meeting Tuesday, April 8, 2014, UPDATE

Landmarks voted 6-1 to approve the eight story hotel.  Of course, we will do everything within our power to protect the house during the construction.

A “Drab on So Many Levels” Design. Despite the fact that several Commissioners openly expressed disdain over the design of the building, Chair Robert Tierney and the remaining five Commissioners voted in favor of the proposal. The only Commissioner to vote against the proposal, Margery Perlmutter (thank you!), called it “drab on so many levels.” “I feel like we’ve been exhausted into saying yes to this proposal, so I’m saying no,” she said.

The House – and Its Irreplaceable Ornamental Plaster – Face Grave Danger.  Chair Tierney and his five colleagues also disregarded the strong disapproval voiced by Councilmember Rosie Mendez and other elected officials; six engineering reports warning about the grave risk this development presents to the Merchant’s House; dozens of letters from preservation experts denouncing the inappropriateness of the size of the building; and thousands of citizens who signed our petition and wrote to the LPC.

During the coming weeks, we will be in contact with you about the steps we will be taking to secure the necessary legal and engineering protective measures.

For detailed information about the long and torturous process, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation is keeping close track.

LPC Public Meeting, Tuesday, February 11, 2014, UPDATE

Landmarks took no action at the second public meeting, sending the developers back for more design revisions to the front and rear facades.
The Commissioners also continued to stress their deep concerns for the structural safety of the Merchant’s House and for its fragile interior plasterwork.

To quote one of the Commissioners: “I can’t think of another interior that’s more important to our history than this one.”

Many, many thanks to all who attended and spread the word.

For detailed information about the long and torturous process, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation is keeping close track.

LPC Hearing, March 12, 2013, UPDATE

Some good news! The LPC sent the developers packing at today’s public hearing — back to the drawing board. The Commissioners’ (and our) concerns: their proposed protection/building plan does not sufficiently ensure the safety of the Merchant’s House; the scale of the proposed building is too great, and the design is not appropriate for the NoHo Historic District (“banal, generic 1960s midtown modern” and “the Hong Kong look” were mentioned.)

Clearly (another) victory.  The fight isn’t over yet, but a positive step.

Read all about it! And of course on Facebook and Twitter.

http://eastvillage.thelocal.nytimes.com/2013/03/12/merchants-house/

http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2013/03/12/noho_hoteliers_promise_to_try_not_to_destroy_merchants_house.php


March 5, 2013, UPDATE.

SECOND HEARING ANNOUNCED!
We need a strong show of support. The LPC may vote to deny or approve the developer’s application.
Tuesday, March 12 @ 10:55   (arrive 10:25 to sign in)

NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission
1 Centre St., Municipal Bldg @Chambers St, 9th fl.

Subways: 4, 5, 6 to Bklyn Bridge.  J, M, Z to Chambers St. R to City Hall.

At the last LPC hearing, in September, six months ago, dozens of preservationists, architects, engineers, historians and neighbors joined City Council Member Rosie Mendez in their opposition to the proposed 9 story hotel due to:
a) The inappropriateness of its size and scale and disregard of its distinguished neighbor and
b) Potential serious damage to the fragile 1832 Merchant’s House Museum.

Not a single person testified in support of this proposal.

Although public testimony will not be accepted at this meeting, we need a good turnout this coming Tuesday to show the Commission that the community opposes this proposal and is concerned about its impact on the Merchant’s House Museum.

We urge you to attend.
And if you haven’t already, please email Chair Tierney asking the LPC to reject the developer’s proposal. Click here for our easy-peasy template letter. And please sign our petition.

Click here for more information and for updates or visit us on Facebook.

LPC Hearing, September 12, 2012, UPDATE.
A THANK YOU TO ALL THE FRIENDS OF THE MERCHANT’S HOUSE!
A huge thank you to the legion of supporters that joined the staff, board, and volunteers of the Merchant’s House on September 11 at the Landmarks Preservation Commission public hearing on the proposed 9-story hotel at 27 East 4th Street.  Our heartfelt thanks to Council Member Rosie Mendez, the Office of Senator Tom Duane, Doris Diether/Community Board #2, NYC Department of Parks, Historic House Trust, Greenwich Village Historic Preservation Society, Historic Districts Council, Bowery Alliance, New York Landmarks Conservancy, Friends of the Merchant’s House, and the thousands of others who have signed our petition and written letters to Commissioner Tierney.

But the fight is not over! We have another hearing ahead, yet to be scheduled. There is still time for you to help.
Please email Chair Tierney asking the LPC to reject the developer’s proposal. Click here for our easy-peasy template letter. And please sign our petition.

Click here for more information and for updates or visit us on Facebook.

Here’s some of the great press we’ve gotten:

http://eastvillage.thelocal.nytimes.com/2012/09/12/at-landmarks-hearing-outcry-against-hotel-adjacent-merchants-house-museum/?smid=tw-share

http://ny.curbed.com/tags/27-east-4th-street

http://www.thevillager.com/?p=7345

http://www.wfuv.org/news/news-politics/120910/construction-hotel-threatens-one-nycs-oldest-landmarks

August 25 UPDATE: LPC public hearing and vote RESCHEDULED for Tuesday, September 11.

August 21 UPDATE: LPC public hearing and vote RESCHEDULED for Tuesday, September 4.
Cancel everything. We need you there. The Landmarks Preservation Commission will officially vote on the developer’s application. It’s our do or DENY moment. We need a strong show of support — standing room only!  Time will be announced on Friday, September 1. We’ll keep you posted, here and on Facebook  — ‘Like’ us, please (it’s also good for potential donors to see).

But we still need letters. PLEASE send a letter or email Chair Tierney asking the Landmarks Preservation Commission to reject the developer’s proposal. Click here for our easy-peasy template letter.

And please sign our petition.  And pass along to your friends to write letters and sign, too.

Have we mentioned that fighting developers isn’t in our current budget? 
Please consider sending a donation. We thank you for your support.

July 19 UPDATE.  LPC hearing scheduled for Tuesday, July 24, has been POSTPONED, for the 4th time.

June 28 UPDATE: LPC public hearing — and vote — RESCHEDULED for TUESDAY, JULY 24.

June 15 UPDATE: LPC hearing on June 19 POSTPONED.
The LPC public hearing, scheduled for Tuesday, has been laid over. We don’t know why yet. And a new date has not been set.


May 25 UPDATE
We are thrilled to report that last evening the full board of Community Board 2 approved the Landmarks Committee resolution against the proposed development of a 9-story hotel next door. We thank the Community Board for going the extra mile last night to make denial of the developer’s application that much stronger. We are deeply grateful.

May 15 UPDATE
At a meeting on Monday, May 14, the Landmarks Committee of Community Board 2 REJECTED the developer’s application citing the extreme fragility of the Merchant’s House and the critical need to ensure its structural integrity. CB2 is also recommending the Landmarks Preservation Commission look to 4 stories, not 9 stories, as a historical context for any development.

Thanks to all who came out for the cause: 75 Museum supporters (under 100 in the room), a petition with 1,300+ signatures, a daunting line-up of preservation organizations/experts who spoke — and our heroine, Council Member Rosie Mendez.

Read all about it!
New NoHo Building Proposal Could Threaten Merchant’s House Museum June 7, 2012

Effort to Protect Merchant’s House Museum Gets Ratched Up   May 25, 2012

http://eastvillage.thelocal.nytimes.com/2012/05/15/proposed-hotel-next-to-merchants-house-raises-concern/comment-page-1/

DNAinfo.com: “Bid to Add Building Beside Historic Merchant’s House Museum Voted Down”

Curbed.com: “Preservationists Fear Merchant’s House Safety With Hotel Plan”

TheRealDeal.com: “East Village Hotel Plan Nixed by Community Board.”

http://www.thevillager.com/?p=4671  “Hotel Opposition Sells CB2 on Saving Merchant’s House”