NEWS AND ISSUES


Testimony by New York State Senator Duane before the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission Regarding the Proposed Landmark Designation of the Interborough Rapid Transit Powerhouse

July 14, 2009

My name is Thomas K. Duane and I represent New York Statefs 29th Senate District, in which the West 59th Street Interborough Rapid Transit Powerhouse ("the Powerhouse") is located. Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony before the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission ("LPC") today regarding this remarkable structure.

As you know, this hearing is LPCfs third formal consideration of the Powerhouse; in both 1979 and 1990 it failed to confer landmark designation. LPC must not forgo another opportunity to protect this extraordinary piece of our Cityfs heritage from marring alteration or demolition. Over the years, Consolidated Edison, which has owned the Powerhouse and operated it as a steam plant since 1959, has removed the original smokestacks and the cornice. Meanwhile, development pressure is encroaching from all sides of the waterfront site. Now is the time for LPC to act.

The profound historic significance of the Powerhouse cannot be overstated. Constructed in 1904, the Powerhouse is an enduring monument of the original Interborough Rapid Transit subway line that revolutionized mass transit and, indeed, New York City. As LPC notes in its description of the proposed landmark, the plant generated electricity for the subway's signal and lighting systems. This burgeoning transit system would later expand toward the edges of the City, sparking the economic and social growth that contributed to the redevelopment of disconnected low-rise neighborhoods into the dense, urban environment that exists today.

The Powerhouse is also among the finest examples of New York Cityfs early 20th Century 'City Beautifulf movement. This utilitarian facility is adorned in Beaux Arts style which seemingly conflicts with its remaining smokestack &ndash a marvelous visual paradox. Designed by the preeminent architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, the buildingfs facade features buff-colored Roman brick ornamented lavishly with classic terra-cotta motifs and stacked atop of a base of smooth ashlar granite. Its two-story arched windows are separated by ribbed, rusticated pilasters, effecting a sense of grandeur that is accentuated by the building's magnitude &ndash the Powerhouse occupies an entire City block. The crowns of the arches project elegant terra-cotta wreathes and keystones depicting gallant figures. This building is a vestige of the Cityfs industrial waterfront and recalls an age in which a buildingfs design sought to elevate the character of its neighborhood.

Con Edisonfs opposition to this landmark designation is unfortunate. It is inconceivable that any city agency would hamper or delay its ability to make emergency modifications.

Sadly, New York has already lost many of its architecturally and historically significant powerhouses. The 2006 demolition of Con Edisonfs Waterside No. 2 Power Station on Manhattanfs east side and the 2008 demolition of Con Edisonfs Kent Avenue Power Plant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn underscore the need for and urgency of landmark protection for the IRT Powerhouse now. It would be a travesty to leave one of the last such powerhouses in New York City vulnerable to a similar fate.

Thank you for your consideration of my comments and your commitment to preserving New York Cityfs heritage.


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