We just returned from the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing, where the fate of several Lower East Side buildings were considered. The most controversial matter before the commissioners: whether to give landmark status to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral (59 East 2nd Street). Members of the congregation strongly opposed the idea, saying the move could ruin them financially. The Commission will not rule for at least several weeks. We’ll have details from the passionate testimony this afternoon.
The commissioners voted to landmark the former Germania Fire Insurance Building (357 Bowery). Completed in 1870, preservationists say the row house is one of the best remaining examples of the “Second Empire” style. The Commission said 357 Bowery is an important symbol of the neighborhood’s rich German heritage. They said the building is a “great addition to the inventory we are amassing on the Lower East Side.”
In other decisions, the Commission voted to “calendar” the Loews Canal Street Theater (31 Canal) and the E. Ridley & Sons Department Store (319-321 Grand Street).
The vote to “calendar” Loews is especially interesting, since there’s a move afoot to turn the abandoned theater into a Chinese cultural center. The owner, Chinatown banker Thomas Sung, is looking into the feasibility of restoring the theater, while building apartments above the existing structure. Several weeks ago, community activist Amy Chin told us landmark status would be a big boost to her campaign to make the cultural center a reality. In introducing the proposal, commission staff said the Loews Canal Theater (built in 1927) is a rare example of the grand single-screen theaters of the time. Chairman Robert Tierney said just getting this far in the process was “a big step” and “very welcome.”
As for 315-319 Grand, the Commission agreed to reconsider the proposal for landmarking what remains of the Ridley & Sons Department Store. The business once covered an entire city block, but sections of the building were later carved up and sold off. There are now two separate owners on separate tax lots. The Commission decided it was necessary to take all of that into account (an imcomplete proposal was evaluated last year). In introducing the application today, it was noted that Ridley & Sons stayed in the neighborhood, serving an immigrant population, long after other businesses had moved uptown. Interestingly, this building is part of a development site Massey Knakal has listed for $22,500,000. The listing notes that landmarking is a possibility. It calls this parcel the “largest development site in LES (not counting SPURA, of course).