Thursday, March 22, 2012

Preservation League adds IRT Powerhouse to Seven to Save list of endangered places for 2012-13


Preservation League of New York State
(contact info below)

ALBANY, March 26, 2012 – The Preservation League of New York State has named Manhattan’s former IRT Powerhouse, located on Eleventh Avenue at 59th Street in Manhattan, to its list of the Empire State’s most threatened historic resources, Seven to Save.

The Powerhouse holds a unique position in the history, life and physical fabric of New York City. It was constructed to generate power for the city’s first subway line, which opened in 1904 and revolutionized transportation between the city’s neighborhoods. This massive structure—occupying an entire city block—stands as a symbol of modernity, on a par with great public buildings such as the New York Public Library, Grand Central Terminal and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1902, the IRT hired Stanford White of the firm McKim, Mead and White, among the most prestigious architects of their day, to design this Beaux-Arts masterpiece.

“Since 1999, Seven to Save has mobilized community leaders and decision-makers to take action when historic resources are threatened,” said Jay DiLorenzo, President of the Preservation League. “A Seven to Save designation from the League delivers invaluable technical assistance, fosters increased media coverage and public awareness, and opens the door to grant assistance for endangered properties.”

The rapidly growing waterfront neighborhood surrounding the Powerhouse presents both opportunities and challenges for the building’s preservation. Most of New York’s early power stations have been demolished, including four operated by Consolidated Edison (the current owner of the IRT Powerhouse) between 2005 and 2008. By virtue of its architecture and pivotal location, however, the Powerhouse has captured the imagination of developers and investors, who recognize its potential for vibrant adaptive use as a mixed-use space, with its energy functions relocated to a more efficient, sustainable facility. The inclusion of the Powerhouse on the League’s Seven to Save list will help raise awareness of this building’s significance and facilitate discussion around creative solutions for preserving the building. To foster the conversation, a blog called “Save the IRT Powerhouse” has been launched at

According to Samuel G. White, architect and great-grandson of Stanford White, “The powerhouse is a perfect illustration of Stanford White’s determination to transform every corner of New York from a featureless sea of brownstone into a capital worthy of a Renaissance prince. Here, hierarchy, scale, proportion, color, and ornament are harnessed to celebrate the power—not of a despot, however enlightened—but of technology in the service of civilization. Take a pair of binoculars over to Eleventh Avenue and enjoy the feast!”

“At the turn of the 20th century, New York City stretched out from the Battery to Hamilton Heights. But how to transport the population from the top to the bottom?” asked Mosette Broderick, professor at New York University and author of Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White: Art, Architecture, Scandal, and Class in America’s Gilded Age. “The IRT was created to move people rapidly beneath the streets and, on the forlorn bank of the Hudson River gridded by railroad tracks rose its power supply. The building, a marriage of convenience, a modern metal shed with the face of an aging actress, the utilitarian made beautiful, is our city’s Temple of Power.”

Douglast Durst, Chairman of The Durst Oranization, said, “The IRT Powerhouse is beautiful, compelling and historically significant building that deserves preservation and protection.”

The inclusion of the IRT Powerhouse on the Seven to Save list provides the opportunity for the League to work with local advocates to protect the building and its surroundings. “With this program, we provide targeted support to seven of New York’s most important and endangered historic resources,” said Erin Tobin, the Preservation League’s eastern regional director for technical and grant programs. “Whether sites are threatened by insensitive, ineffective or insufficient public policies, general neglect, and, in some cases, outright demolition, we have a proven record of working with community advocates to save a number of significant properties.”

Since 1999, publicity and advocacy resulting from Seven to Save designation has led to the rehabilitation and reopening of the Oswego City Public Library, the rebirth of Montauk Manor on Long Island, and the rededication of the once-abandoned George Harvey Justice Building in Binghamton along with successes at several other locations.

The Preservation League of New York State is a not-for-profit membership organization founded in 1974. The League invests in people and projects that champion the essential role of preservation in community revitalization, sustainable economic growth, and the protection of New York’s historic buildings and landscapes. It leads advocacy, economic development, and education programs all across the state.

FROM: Preservation League of New York State
44 Central Avenue
Albany NY 12206-3002

CONTACTS: Colleen M. Ryan, Director of Communications
Preservation League of New York State
518-462-5658 ext. 17;

Kate Wood, Executive Director

Hudson River Powerhouse Group to become working committee of LANDMARK WEST!

The Hudson River Powerhouse Group is a New York not-for-profit corporation dedicated to the landmarking, restoration, and adaptive reuse of McKim Mead & White's IRT Powerhouse on Manhattan's West Side. The HRPG focuses on educating the public about the history of the Powerhouse, gathering support for its landmark designation, and nurturing creative designs for a reimagined Powerhouse of the 21st Century. 

Begun as a two-man effort, HRPG will now become a working committee of LANDMARK WEST!, a nonprofit community organization working since 1985 to preserve the architectural heritage of Manhattan's Upper West Side.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why Save the Powerhouse?

PSA video featuring Samuel White, Barry Bergdoll, Robert Hammond, Basil Walter, Kate Wood, and more...
"Powerhouse In Film", via Hudson River Powerhouse Group

Click here for answers to Powerhouse landmarking FAQ's.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Columbia University Study

In 2009, a graduate studio in Columbia University's Historic Preservation Master's Degree program completed a study of the Powerhouse.  Under the leadership of LW! Executive Director and Columbia adjunct professor Kate Wood, the students focused on the Powerhouse's history as a mode by which to explore its potential future.

To read the Columbia studio report, click here.

Looking Back: An appeal to the LPC to stop ConEd destruction of Powerhouse smokestack

Dear Chair Tierney:

As you know, a broad coalition of experts, organizations and elected officials has expressed strong support for preserving the former Interborough Rapid Transit Powerhouse, designed by Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White and built in 1904 to provide electricity for New York City’s first subway system. The Landmarks Preservation Commission has twice considered designating the structure, in 1979 and 1990; the building is “calendared," a landmark in fact but not yet law.

Now, there is a new urgency calling for the Commission’s swift, definitive action to landmark this building. The current owner, Consolidated Edison, has begun to demolish the sole surviving 1904 smokestack, a potent symbol of the building's legacy as the engine for "a new era of electrified urban transportation, illustrating the power of technology to improve urban life" (from the Commission’s own significance statement for the IRT Powerhouse).

Regrettably, it appears that the Commission signed off on the demolition of Stack #5 last year, possibly without realizing its provenance as the last remaining original stack. I understand that ConEd claims the stack poses a public safety risk.  But, were the Powerhouse an officially designated landmark, as it deserves to be, such a significant alteration would require careful review and exploration of alternatives by the full Commission.  As it is, the building is vulnerable to continual erosion that may ultimately undermine its landmark integrity.

Please act right away to preserve the IRT Powerhouse.

Kate Wood
Executive Director