O’Toole Building post-hearing update
August 19, 2011
On August 2, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission approved North Shore LIJ/Lenox Hill Hospital’s plans for alterations to the O’Toole Building. By granting a Certificate of Appropriateness the commissioners helped pave the way for the building’s transformation to a comprehensive care medical facility providing hospital emergency room services, diagnostic imaging, ambulatory surgery and physicians’ practices. The public hearing was held July 26, at which organizations including the Historic Districts Council and Recent Past Preservation Network, as well as DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State, testified generally in support while requesting some design modifications.
DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State has been watching over and taking action on the O’Toole Building, originally the Joseph Curran Building of the National Maritime Union (Albert Ledner, 1961-1964), for the past five years. The building is an essential example of outside-the-box 1960s Modern architecture in the city and a standout in the Greenwich Village Historic District, from which it earns its protections (The O’Toole Building is not an individual landmark.)
DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State’s testimony at the July 26 hearing was generally favorable to the proposed plans presented by Perkins Eastman, architects for the project. On the plus side, the precast façade will undergo comprehensive restoration and emerge sans mosaic tile with a smooth elastomeric coating matching the original 1963 color. The non-original zoo-like fences at street level will be replaced with low railings and most important, the office building will be sensibly—maybe even miraculously—retrofit to meet high-tech hospital and health care standards, providing a new use and hopefully a long future as an architectural landmark.
The chapter’s testimony did call out several less-welcome elements of the plan that the advocacy committee felt could be improved upon without derailing the project and that should be addressed by the Commissioners. These are covered in more detail in the testimony, but basically related to the flattening of the circular glass block walls enclosing the first floor volume in three places; an awkward new fire stair exit punched into the glass block along the 12th Street curve; a rather jarring cut out in the overhanging façade panels along 12th Street; street corner signage of a size and placement that visually interfered with the dramatic cantilever of the upper floors; and massive roof-top mechanical equipment that will alter the balance of the building’s distinct volumes. Many of the commissioners agreed with the various criticisms raised by DOCOMOMO and other groups, and the applicant was directed to work with the LPC staff on further design refinements; the hearing was closed without final action.
The architects did make some changes before returning to the Commission and garnering LPC’s approval at the August 2 Public Meeting (no further testimony was accepted). On the north façade the new western portion of the wall was given a slight curve and revised to glass block; the “bite” in the façade on 12th Street was reduced in length by half; the new fire exit door was made less obtrusive; and the pesky corner-post signage was lowered and made more horizontal. While the rooftop mechanical equipment remains, enclosed in a perforated metal screen, rooftop ductwork was lowered to be less obtrusive. While some of the commissioners recommended additional revisions such as landscaping the corner “plaza” areas and further refining the signage and the 12th Street fascia cutout, the C of A application was approved and highly lauded by Chair Robert Tierney.