By Martica Sawin
In 2003, when there were still enough carcasses hanging along Gansevoort Street to justify the name “Meatpacking District,” the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved the designation of a “Gansevoort Market Historic District.” The designation referred to the buildings lining along the south side of Gansevoort Street as “quintessential market-type buildings,” typically having two stories and projecting metal canopies. A photograph showing these buildings was used on the cover of the report.
Thirteen years later, in June 2016, the commissioners voted to permit the demolition of two of these structures, located at 60–68 and 70–74 Gansevoort Street. They deemed “appropriate” the replacement of these structures with massive, out-of-scale buildings reaching heights of 98 and 110 feet. In doing so, the Commission removed a key feature of the historical district.
The Commission’s justification for allowing a departure that would significantly change the character of Gansevoort Street was based on the heights of several tenements that existed on the site prior to the whole area becoming a market. These tenements were demolished or converted into low-rise market buildings.
Not only does this decision undermine and counteract the earlier designation of a historic market district, but it sets a precedent for future LPC decisions that could be based on non-existent buildings from even earlier periods than that being referenced in this decision.
Michael Hiller is an attorney for Save Gansevoort, a local campaign bringing a lawsuit against the project. He recently addressed a town hall meeting of concerned citizens to explain that the LPC’s action constituted a rescission of the designation of the historic market district, which would re-designate the zone into a nondescript commercial district. Such a procedure is not specified in the Landmarks Law; Save Gansevoort is asking that the certificate of appropriateness issued by the LPC be reversed.
Meanwhile, a block to the north, opposite the Gansevoort Hotel, the former wagon shed once home to the French bistro Pastis, is now topped by a black excrescence, perhaps the framework for the glass box approved by the LPC two years ago. We are witnessing a process of attrition, one building at a time.
The function of a historic district, according to the Landmarks Law, is to promote “the education, pleasure, and welfare of the people of the City.” The Gansevoort Market has the potential to serve just this purpose.
Or, it can become another anonymous City block.
Art historian and critic Martica Sawin is a native New Yorker who has spent a half century covering contemporary art in print and in the classroom.