Neighbors fight demolition of historic building on Beekman
Civic Center neighbors are fighting Pace University’s plans to demolish the Vanderbilt Building — an 1892 McKim, Mead & White Classic Revival tower at 15-19 Beekman that never scored landmark status. But the clock is running and their efforts may be not be able to save it; the university said construction will start in early 2021 and finish two years later.
Pace’s Master Plan calls for the 14-story building and the four-story one next to it to be replaced by a 27-story structure (see below) that will house its classes and residences while it makes even bigger plans across the street on its main campus. (More on that TK.) Pace has signed a 30-year lease for the space, and the developers SL Green Realty will build it out. (Pace has partnered with them on several other projects as well.) Demolition permits were filed this summer and the building is nearly empty, but neighbors said those permits were not posted when they caught the demo starting in August.
“We think it’s a travesty that a McKim, Mead & White building will be destroyed,” said Marc Donnenfeld, a Nassau Street resident and part of the Fulton-Nassau Historic District Committee. They started a Change.org petition to lobby the Landmarks Commission to save the building. “Adaptive reuse would be the best option. We think understanding history and the past informs the future. That’s why we have to preserve buildings like this.”
There’s been some murmurings of support from within the Pace community; the student newspaper ran a story about the local residents’ fight and a couple of professors chimed in with their support for preservation. But no one on the faculty has brought it up to the Faculty Council, and with most students and professors off campus for the pandemic, it’s been hard for the issue to get traction.
(I’m just guessing here, but it seems the students’ first priority, ahead of architectural preservation, might have been the 29-year-old Beekman Pub, which is on the ground floor of the building and is now closed permanently. And it sounds like their #2 priority was Dunkin’; the university assures students in the master plan FAQs that the chain has been relocated to Pace property at 33 Beekman.)
CB1 registered its opposition to the demolition of the building with the Landmarks Commission in July — and also sounded off on Pace’s lack of transparency, saying it never brought its plans to the community board or the community as a whole. But the commission in its reply said the building never lived up to landmark status since it was neither a significant example of a McKim, Mead & White tall building (such as the Municipal Building at One Centre or the New York Life Insurance Company Building at 346 Broadway) nor did it have a place in history as one of the city’s tallest buildings (according to the Skyscraper Museum, it was the 72nd building in New York City constructed over 10 stories). You can tell in the photos that its cornice was stripped, most likely in the ’20s.
Neighbors still hope their efforts might get more attention from within the Pace community, and help them make progress with the university by acknowledging the importance of the area’s historic features. “We do want to thank the students and faculty who have spoken up in support of our efforts to save the neighborhood,” said Donnenfeld.