City officials are moving forward with a proposal to designate most of West End Avenue as a historic district—expanding historic preservation for even more of the Upper West Side.
West End Avenue from 79th to 94th streets is already part of a historic district, which means that all changes to building exteriors must be approved by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The City Council is in the process of voting on an expansion of the district to include 70th to 79th streets. Next on the agenda is a proposal to extend the district from 89th Street to 109th Street, which the LPC has agreed to hear, although it is not sure when it will vote.
The landmarking, which has won the support of local elected officials and Community Board 7, is being pushed by the West End Preservation Society, a group formed in 2007.
“It starts with something personal,” WEPS co-founder Erika Petersen said. “They were going to destroy the buildings right next door to me.”
The proposed district, which also includes buildings on Broadway and Riverside Drive, covers architecture that is characterized by row houses, mansions, large apartment buildings, schools, hotels, and religious buildings, experts say. It adds to an already approved Upper West Side historic district, which includes much of Central Park West and parts of Columbus and Amsterdam avenues.
“The architecture that lies just a few blocks away from the boundary of the historic district is just as distinctive and significant as that which lies within,” Kelly Carroll, director of preservation at the nonprofit organization Landmark West!, said. “These extensions contribute to the narrative of what makes a certain district unique.”
The expansion from 70th to 79th streets, known as the West End-Collegiate expansion, was approved by the LPC in June and is scheduled for a vote in the City Council zoning and franchises subcommittee on Oct. 22 and in the land use committee on Oct. 24. It will be taken up by the full council on Oct. 30.
The extension to 109th Street, known as the Riverside-West End Historic District Extension II, is still in the works. At a Community Board 7 meeting on Wednesday, City Council member Gale Brewer and State Sens. Brad Hoylman and Jose Serrano spoke in favor of the district.
Brewer said in an interview that both WEPS and the LPC had done an “extraordinarily good job” and praised CB7’s receptiveness.
“I have nothing but accolades, nothing but good things to say,” Brewer said, adding that she felt the process was moving smoothly. “For once, it’s all good.”
CB7 passed a resolution early on supporting the proposal.
Preservationists say that the extensions to the district are crucial to preserving the area’s historic character. This portion of the Upper West Side was built during three waves of development between the late 1880s and the late 1920s.
“The West Side is one of the most intact neighborhoods in New York,” Carroll said. “The area looks much the way it did 100 years ago.”
Andrew Dolkart, the director of the historic preservation program at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, has worked with WEPS and advocated for the preservation of the northernmost section of West End Avenue.
“The northern portion of West End Avenue is my favorite,” Dolkart said. “It has an understated charm. It’s not as busy as its southern counterpart.”
Petersen shared Dolkart’s sentiments.
“What you see is an older West End,” Petersen said. “Broadway is not as slick, and the little stores are still there.”
CB7 chair Mark Diller, CC ’80, said that the northernmost portion included “interesting houses of worship,” as well as ornately detailed townhouse façades.
“You end up in this very pleasing set of proportions that have a true residential character,” Diller said. “You get a distinct sense that they belong together.”
WEPS hopes to get the northern extension designated as quickly as possible, so that the entirety of the West End streetscape from 70th to 109th streets will be protected. Earlier this year, two townhouses on West 96th Street were demolished by development firm Sackman Enterprises.
“It was a nightmare for people living on either side,” Petersen said. “Their windows were ripped up. It took forever. The construction was shoddy.”
The northern extension still has a long way to go before it is fully realized. After the LPC vote, the proposal will go through several City Council committees before it is voted on by the whole Council.
Petersen, however, is not too worried.
“Upper West Siders are notoriously feisty,” she said. “They get out, and they make themselves heard.”
Avantika Kumar contributed reporting.