For over half a century at the corner of 39th Avenue and 50th Street, Phipps Garden Apartments operated its famous Outdoor Nursery for tenants’ children and other neighborhood groups. Regrettably, Phipps sold this playground after it became part of the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District in 2007.
Sadly, the current owner of the property proposes to destroy the playground and put up a large housing development. But this carefully planned lot and its historic buildings are designated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission as part of the Historic District, so we have reminded the LPC of the inappropriateness of the development proposal. This is a very rare Reform Era outdoor nursery from the 1930s, and it survives as a complete, original playground lot.
Excitingly, a remarkable group of neighbors has a better idea, for a community garden that will retain the historic buildings and open up to the public. They’ve adopted the name of Marjorie Sewell Cautley, whose landscaping for Phipps may have included this playground. When Community Board 2 heard the community garden proposal two years ago, the full Board voted unanimously to support the plan, and on September 29, the Board affirmed its overwhelming opposition to the proposed development that would forever erase this park from the Historic District.
The LPC held its Public Hearing on this development proposal on Tuesday, October 15. Amplifying the voices of neighbors and preservationists, our elected representatives were unanimous in asking the Landmarks Commissioners not to approve this development: City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, State Assemblywomen Margaret Markey and Catherine Nolan, State Senator Michael Gianaris, and U.S. Congressman Joseph Crowley.
A large coalition of community groups, historical societies, and preservation advocates have joined the cause, with a definitive statement from the Historic Districts Council and a Web page at The Cultural Landscape Foundation.
As we await the decision of the LPC, see the photos below and visit Cautley Garden to read more. Then join us to save this historic playground: E-mail CautleyGarden@SunnysideGardens.us.
Gerry Perrin, Phipps Tenant Association Co-President, was “born and raised” in the Outdoor Nursery, and he has historic photographs to show for it. Photo by JFA Associates.
This photo of the Sewing Club, taken in the late 1930s, shows the two Reform Era playground buildings that survive today. At left is the open pavilion, at right the “playhouse” that contains girls’ and boys’ rest rooms. Courtesy of Gerry Perrin.
Seen through the fence today, the venerable pavilion and playhouse/rest rooms call out to be saved and re-used within a community park. Courtesy of Cautley Garden.
As if a decoy meant to divert attention from their plan to eliminate the historic Outdoor Nursery, architects for the proposed housing development are pleading to “save” the experimental, 1931 “Aluminaire House,” by installing it like a sculpture on the corner with apartments looming around it. In truth, there is no need nor precedent to import an utterly dissimilar building, one that the LPC has not designated, into a historic district that it has. Illustration from the architects, Campani and Schwarting.
The jarring aluminum and terra cotta structures would violate the extraordinary streetfront of Clarence Stein’s Phipps Garden Apartments, defying the sense of place he and his colleagues created by the consistency of their planning. A responsible home for the Aluminaire House would be a museum setting, to ensure staffing, full security, heating and air conditioning, curatorial and archival care, funding, parking or ease to public transportation— requirements that are not provided here. Illustration from the architects, Campani and Schwarting.
In considering whether to approve new construction within historic districts, the LPC Commissioners consider design, materials, and massing (size and footprint). The development proposal fails all 3 tests. Its postmodernist style is completely alien to every other building in the neighborhood. Its facades are either terra cotta panels or aluminum, neither of which was used here. And its mass far exceeds the renowned standard of reserving 70% of the land for open space. Illustration from the architects, Campani and Schwarting.
October 28, 2013
by Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance filed under