Strand owner’s cautionary tale on landmarking

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | The owner of the Strand Book Store is calling for the Landmarks Preservation Commission to scrap its plan to landmark her building, warning the designation would devastate the 91-year-old company.

The 11-story building, at 828 Broadway, two blocks south of Union Square, is under consideration for landmarking along with six other buildings after an uproar from preservationists about the approval of a 21-story “Tech Hub” on E. 14th St. between Third and Fourth Aves.

But the Strand’s owner, Nancy Bass Wyden, is fighting the designation to protect the bookstore from the “bureaucratic noose of the Landmarks Preservation Commission,” as she described it at a public hearing on Tuesday.

“We care deeply about [the building],” said Bass Wyden. Her father, Fred Bass, who died in January, saved money for decades to buy the building — anticipating the bookstore would not survive rising rents unless he owned the building itself.

The owner of the Strand Book Store, who also owns the 11-story building that contains it, is fighting the effort to landmark the address. Photo courtesy G.V.S.H.P.

Landmarking would burden the company with the extra process of getting additional L.P.C. approvals for any changes or upgrades needed for the building, she said. It has already taken nearly two years for the store to make repairs after a manhole explosion right outside of it in early 2017, she noted. Since then, the Strand has replaced all its front windows and front columns, and restored the facade with its original granite — which Bass Wyden said L.P.C. has lauded them for doing.

“There’s an irony, right?” she said.

The L.P.C., which has been chaired by Sarah Carroll since September, will hold a second public hearing on the Strand in January.

“The Landmarks Preservation Commission will continue to work with the owner of 826 Broadway, home to the Strand Book Store, to address her concerns and ensure that this cultural institution endures,” the commission said in a statement. “L.P.C. successfully regulates thousands of commercial buildings across the city and we are sympathetic and responsive to their needs.”

An L.P.C. spokesperson countered Bass Wyden’s argument, saying technical expertise provided to building owners is provided at no cost. The spokesperson added that 95 percent of L.P.C. permits can be processed within 10 days.

Councilmember Carlina Rivera, who requested that L.P.C. survey the blocks south of Union Square for buildings to designate, still supports landmarking the Strand building.

“When we and neighborhood groups asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission to study potential historic designation of the area south of Union Square, I was excited to see this collection of seven buildings listed among their recommendations,” she said, in part. “Now that the landmarking process is underway, it is important that all buildings on this corridor are considered together because it acknowledges the shared history and identity that we are striving to preserve.

“I continue to meet monthly with the Landmarks Preservation Commission on further landmarking options for Council District 2,” Rivera added, “and I look forward to bringing further designations…that recognize and preserve our history.”

Bass Wyden said the company needs flexibility — such as if the store wants to expand its events space or add an interior cafe — particularly amid the city’s rocky retail environment and with competitor booksellers, like Amazon, which Bass Wyden pointed out just got a $3 billion tax break.

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, accused L.P.C. of “cherrypicking” the seven buildings it plans to consider for designation from some 200 that his group has recommended as landmark worthy, which included the Strand. He urged L.P.C. to take a “holistic” approach to preserving the neighborhood’s historic architecture.

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