Demolition Set for 35 Cooper Square

35 Cooper Square 1Claire Glass City officials today approved a plan to demolish the historic site at 35 Cooper Square. Below: About 100 people held a demonstration last month to protest planned demolition at the site.
DSC05184Suzanne Rozdeba

Scaffolding has gone up, workers are busy on the roof and an application for full demolition was filed and approved today for 35 Cooper Square. Yet the new owners of the nearly 200-year-old federal-style building that preservation groups are trying desperately to keep standing told The Local three times in the past 10 days that the firm as yet had no concrete plans for the property.

Beyond erecting the scaffolding, removing the asbestos, and blocking the windows with wood as a “safety” precaution, there are no definite plans for construction, Jane Crotty told The Local today, speaking for developer Arun Bhatia, one of the new owners. Mr. Bhatia is a partner at Cooper and 6th Property LLC, which owns the building. “I don’t have any word on that,” she said.

As for the application for full demolition, Ms. Crotty said, “They’re pursuing their rights to develop the property. The application was filed today.” She confirmed asbestos removal began this past weekend, and is continuing today. “The removal will probably take a couple of days, if not a week.” In conversations on Feb. 4 and Feb. 11, Ms. Crotty had also said there were no definite plans for the site.

Over the last several weeks advocacy groups and elected officials have fought to preserve the site. The Bowery Alliance of Neighbors had gathered more than 1,000 signatures for a petition to designate the spot a historic landmark. Now, it would appear, those efforts have been dealt a significant setback.

Upon hearing news of the approval of the application for full demolition, David Mulkins, chair of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, said, “This city needs to do something very quick to preserve and protect this street before all of this historic character, all evidence of it, is gone. It does break your heart, and it also breaks your spirit.”

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, called the building “an irreplaceable and unique part of our cityscape.”

“It’s truly a shame that the City and the Landmarks Preservation Commission chose not to act to save this building,” Mr. Berman said in an e-mail message. The building “embodies enormously important layers of New York City’s history from Peter Stuyvesant to the Beats, and was much beloved.”

The property was bought by Cooper and 6th Property LLC after the previous owner sold it back to an insurance company. Ken Krasnow, managing director at Massey Knakal Realty Services, which handled the sale, said that the old owners had been threatened with foreclosure.

35 Cooper Square 2Claire Glass Plans to demolish 35 Cooper Square were approved earlier today.

A spokeswoman for the Cooper Square Hotel confirmed to The Local in an e-mail message that the hotel had at one point owned the property.

Mr. Krasnow said they had received more than 30 offers in the first month 35 Cooper was on the market.

“We had people who were interested in building a hotel, dorm and condos,” he said. “It was a very attractive site and there was desire to capitalize on the chic of the East Village.”

Preservationists said that they were notified last month that the Landmarks Preservation Commission rejected a request to landmark the building.

“The feeling of our staff was that the building is too altered to be considered a landmark designation,” said Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for the commission. “We designated more than a dozen federal buildings since 2003, and all of them are intact. They still have their original façade; this one doesn’t.”

The building’s façade has been “parged,” she said, explaining, “The original surface is coated by another substance and would be seriously damaged if that material on top were removed. If you damage the existing brickwork, there’s not much left to the building. Then what are you preserving?”

Ms. de Bourbon said that the commission would be willing to consider any information indicating that a historical figure with a “transcendent, widespread impact on their discipline, or on large groups of people” may have resided for a significant period at 35 Cooper, but as it now stands, “It’s unlikely we would reconsider it.”

Ms. Crotty said that Mr. Bhatia has made an effort to meet community leaders and get to know his future neighbors. “We met with Susan Stetzer, the district manager of Community Board 3, in December. I arranged the meeting. I was there, along with Arun and another gentleman from the firm. We went in and introduced ourselves. We said we didn’t know exactly what we would do, but we wanted to introduce ourselves and talk about the community,” she said.

1.28.11 Rally, 35 Cooper Square, East VillageSuzanne Rozdeba David Mulkins, chair of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, addresses a demonstration last month against planned development at 35 Cooper Square. In an interview today, Mr. Mulkins said he was disappointed that officials did not designate the site as a landmark.

So far, Mr. Bhatia has no plans to meet with other East Village community members. “He’s happy to meet people, he’s a gentleman,” she said. “He’s making an investment in the city. No matter how you look at it, cities have to change and evolve all the time. That’s what keeps the city alive.”

But some community leaders feel quite the opposite, and believe the building’s rich history needs to be kept intact. “There are groups that want the Bowery and Cooper Square to be preserved and protected,” Mr. Mulkins said. “And it would be a tremendously positive gesture from Mr. Bhatia to preserve the building as a gift to the community, and the future of the city. We would welcome a meeting with Mr. Bhatia.”

Local politicians are also voicing their support for preservation. State Senator Thomas K. Duane, Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick and Councilwoman Rosie Mendez have all written letters to the Commission, and Ms. Mendez told The Local she’s approached the Landmarks Commission Chairman Robert Tierney several times over the past few months about 35 Cooper.

She herself had met Mr. Bhatia about a year ago when he was considering developing a property on East 14th Street and Avenue C.

“He’d done some bigger buildings, some dorms, and luxury buildings,” she said. “Something appropriate on 50th Street might not be appropriate on 14th Street, the Bowery, or Cooper Square.”

While the Commission continues to hold their ground, Ms. Mendez and others are still hoping that new information might lead to a landmark designation.

“It’s an important and beautiful building,” Ms. Mendez said. “If there is other historical information we can bring forward, anything that we can make another argument with, it’s always worth trying.”