The proprietor of a topless bar is attempting to prevent a hotel developer from developing his space two and a half blocks south of ground zero by invoking the Landmarks Preservation Law.
Robert Kremer, who holds the lease on the Pussycat Lounge, spoke in favor of landmark designation of one of Manhattan's oldest houses at a public hearing yesterday at the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Preservationists say 96 Greenwich Street House, along with the adjacent 94 and 94 1/2 Greenwich St. buildings, are rare examples of a row of Federal-style houses, offering a glimpse of early New York. The area south of ground zero has suffered from being blocked off from the rest of the city by the 16-acre void left at the site of the former World Trade Center. Recently, developer Joseph Moinian has begun work on a 53-story hotel and condominium nearby. Much of the financial district has seen conversion to residential from office space in the past few years as the nature of downtown has changed toward a more full-time environment.
The Pussycat Lounge, long a neighborhood watering hole for Wall Street brokers and civil servants, sits on an eclectic block that also has a boxing gym and delis. A long bar runs most of the length of the Pussycat Lounge, behind which is a stage where scantily clad women perform. A small knight and a cat are design props upon the stage. The second floor is a rock 'n' roll club.
The executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, Andrew Berman, said these structures, built when John Adams was president, were among the few surviving relics of the first era of development in New York.
At the hearing, architect Gene Kaufman, whose client is Greenwich Hospitality LLC, an affiliate of developer Sam Chang, said that because relatively little of the fabric and design of the original building at 96 Greenwich St. remain, the building did not merit designation.
Simeon Bankoff, who said he was speaking on his own behalf and not in his capacity as executive director of the Historic Districts Council, said that regardless of the alterations, the 18th-century building's significance was not diminished. He said, metaphorically, "You don't throw out your grandma just because she has new teeth."
The president of the Real Estate Board of New York, Steve Spinola, had not examined these buildings on Greenwich Street, but told The New York Sun that there was a great deal of interest in building hotels in Lower Manhattan. "There's a clear understanding that there's not enough hotel room downtown," Mr. Spinola said. He added that business is thriving downtown, and the residential side of real estate has grown there. He said that when the memorial at ground zero is built, anticipated visitors to the area will number in the millions.
Those speaking on behalf of landmarking the buildings included a vice president of Doremus Financial Printing, Thomas Tyrrel, who praised them as "monuments to our past." Lisa Kersavage of the Municipal Art Society quoted architectural critic Ada Louise Huxtable, saying these buildings were among "accidental and anonymous survivors" of the city's early years.
Mr. Kremer, who said he has owned Pussycat Lounge since 1974, has filed suit in state Supreme Court, arguing that he has an ownership interest in 96 Greenwich St. An attorney for Greenwich Hospitality LLC, Robert Davis of Bryan Cave, said his client was the bona fide purchaser of the building.
Mr. Kremer said he was prepared to fully restore 96 Greenwich St., and that he still had the original doors from Ryan's, the predecessor bar. Alternatively, assuming the LPC did not designate 96 Greenwich St., Mr. Kaufman said his client would restore the façade to the other two buildings to standards determined by the LPC. In that case, the building at 96 Greenwich St. would become part of the footprint of a hotel slated for 98-100 Greenwich St.
The commission will make its ultimate decision at a later date.
In other preservation news, the commission yesterday voted to designate as landmarks two Italian Gothic-style Roman Catholic Churches in Harlem, the Church of All Saints on East 129th Street and St. Aloysius Catholic Church on West 132nd Street. Commissioners also granted landmark status to the former Horn & Hardart Automat at Broadway and 104th Street.