Gut Punch! Landmarks Halts Bowery Renovation, Owner Incensed
William Alden June 17, 2010, 4:54 p.m.
Five months after the Department of Buildings approved a proposal for renovation at 135 Bowery, building owner Ricky Wong received an unwelcome letter from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The LPC wanted to designate his small, three-story building, a specimen of the early 19th-century Federal style, as a city landmark. Such a ruling would likely prevent Mr. Wong from adding four stories, a project he’d been planning since he bought the building in 2003. The DOB approved the job in August 2008, and again in January of this year. In the months since January, Mr. Wong hired an architect and gutted the structure, knocking down all interior partitions. But then, on June 7, the LPC sent a letter.
“I spent all the money already,” Mr. Wong said. “And now they turn it into a landmark. I have no idea how they want me to do it. Of course, I don’t want it to be a landmark building. Then all my money is gone.”
Essentially, Mr. Wong is in the wrong building at the wrong time. One thirty-five Bowery is on the edge of the Chinatown and Little Italy Historic District, which on Feb. 12 of this year was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The area, which traditionally hosted Chinese and Italian immigrants, is now home to buildings in a variety of architectural styles of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Since 2003, the year Mr. Wong bought 135 Bowery, the LPC has designated 18 Federal-style buildings as landmarks. Five additional buildings in the area, which include 135 Bowery and the nearby 206 Bowery, have been calendared for hearings, halting construction until the LPC rules on their landmark status. King Chun Lau, the owner of 206, couldn’t be reached for comment, though Curbed indicated he may have been in a similar situation.
Elisabeth de Bourbon, spokeswoman for the LPC, suggested the threat of demolition was a factor in the agency’s actions. All five buildings have been calendared for public hearings, a big step toward landmark designation.
Mr. Wong is not pleased. He says the building’s ancient façade, which would be protected by a landmark designation, leaks.
“The outside of the building looks ugly,” he said. “I don’t see any reason to make it a landmark. The front wall of the building is too old. The windows, the walls—they leak water. The windowpanes are all old. It’s all broken. They’ve got to change it.”