Historic District Hearing Set for June

Community SynagogueGrace Maalouf

A critical hearing to determine whether a large swath of the neighborhood will be designated a historic district has been set for June 26, a spokeswoman for the Landmarks Preservation Commission just revealed.

The news sets the stage for another clash between local preservationists and the religious leaders who oppose the district on the grounds that it would create burdensome additional expenses. The public hearing is the final step before the Commission votes on the proposed district, which has Second Avenue south of St. Marks Place as its spine. The exteriors of all the 330 buildings within the district would essentially be preserved as-is.

Last month, a much smaller district on East 10th Street along Tompkins Square Park was approved with minimal opposition. However, the developer Ben Shaoul was able to get approval for a controversial rooftop addition to a building on the block literally hours before the district was given the green light.

The Commission spokeswoman added that on June 26 the former auction house at 126-128 East 13th Street will also face a separate vote to determine whether it should be designated an individual landmark. Here is the Commission’s write-up regarding the building.

A dramatic arched window, framed by a wide cove molding, crowns the entrance to the former Van Tassell & Kearney auction mart. Completed in 1904, this handsome Beaux Arts-style building is one of the last remaining structures in New York City built to hold horse auctions. Designed by the New York architects Jardine, Kent & Jardine, the red brick façade is enlivened by bull’s eye windows and limestone trim. The cornice, which curves up, echoes the shape of the central window. At the apex (about the height of a four-story building), it squares off and frames a projecting limestone element that originally held a flagpole.

Edward W. Kearney, son of the firm’s founder, commissioned this elegant building to attract the type of wealthy clientele that was looking to acquire horses for competition and leisure. Weekly auctions took place in what was described as a “commodious sales ring,” a shed-like space with mezzanine that had “comfortable seats” and electric lighting. Van Tassell & Kearney had been active on East 13th Street since 1874. Originally general auctioneers, as time passed they focused increasingly on the sale of carriages, coach horses, and “high-class show horses.” Prominent citizens patronized the business, including United States Senator Roscoe Conkling, William K. Vanderbilt, and Alfred W. Vanderbilt.

By the 1920s the firm was involved in automobile truck auctions and the building was leased to a candy manufacturer, and later, the Delehanty Institute, a vocational school that trained women for the defense industry during the Second World War.

In 1978 the building was acquired by the painter, printmaker and sculptor Frank Stella who used it as his studio until 2005. Significant in terms of its elegant design and specialized commercial purpose, this well-preserved East Village building recalls the era when New York City became an auction center and horse sales were a common activity.