West End Historic District Set to Expand Dramatically

A map of the proposed historic district on the Upper West SideWest End Avenue is home to some of the most regal buildings in all of Manhattan, and soon those buildings might be off limits to the real estate developers who are constantly looking to transform Manhattan with new construction. A few years ago, the West End Preservation Society submitted a proposal to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to expand the historic district on West End Avenue, thereby preserving a huge swath of the area. If approved, the proposed district will extend from West 70th Street all the way up to West 109th Street between Broadway and Riverside Avenues, a 2-mile stretch on the Upper West Side that encompasses 745 buildings in all. This change would eliminate new construction on West End Ave, although it would still allow developers to convert existing buildings into condos. Nonetheless, in a neighborhood that attracts very affluent buyers and renters, it's safe to say that developers will not be happy about being forced to give up such a valuable part of Manhattan.

The case for preservation is strong. Built largely between 1880 and 1920 by renowned architects such as Clarence True, George F. Pelham, and Charles T. Mott, West End Ave largely consists of classic French Flats, mansions, apartment hotels, schools, and large apartment buildings. These buildings – crafted in styles such as new-Grec, Queen Anne, and Romanesque/Renaissance Revival – capture the height of creative architecture in Manhattan. Many are made from terra cotta, copper, and molded brick, materials that are rarely used anymore. Additionally, it is easy to find buildings adorned with classic ornamentation such as limestone sculptures and decorative metalwork. Most buildings stand at 12-stories or less, so the avenue is very light and airy. Construction on West End Ave basically ended after 1929, so it stands out as a largely untouched remnant of a bygone time.

What this means for residents depends upon who you are. Typically, historic districts lead to both higher property values and higher rents, so if you’re an owner you’re in luck, but if you’re a renter expect to pay more in the future. What this means for developers is obvious: they must look elsewhere to build new condos. As of right now, the proposal is still just a draft and the LPC has not approved it yet, so it’s possible that it will not actually be implemented. After all, it will be one of the largest historic districts in Manhattan, so it is a momentous decision. However, it is now entering public review, one of the most crucial stages for a proposal, and it does look likely to pass.

The next public hearing on the proposal will take place on October 25th from 2:30 – 4:30pm at the LPC offices on 1 Center Street in downtown Manhattan.