Save the Tunnel Garage!
As some of you may know, I have spent much of the last six months fighting to save the Tunnel Garage, an historic 1922 structure at the corner of Broome and Thompson Streets here in Manhattan. Up until now, I have avoided burdening this blog with my cause, but the garage now faces certain demolition by developers who want to erect a ten-story luxury high-rise in its place.
The Tunnel Garage currently stands in need of graffiti removal, but beneath the years of neglect lies a building worthy of preservation. Anyone who has ever taken a minute to look it over quickly recognizes its importance and the unique aesthetics represented by the garage’s late arts-and-crafts design, tapestry brickwork, wraparound casement windows, and beautiful terra cotta detailing—including a now hidden relief of a Model T.
The garage was designed by architect Hector O. Hamilton, winner of the fabled international competition to design the Palace of the Soviets. It is historically linked to the Holland Tunnel, built as a speculative project in advance of the tunnel’s opening. And, the Tunnel Garage is an early example of a dedicated automobile garage—it was not converted from a carriage garage or stable—and is one of only a handful of these early car parks left in the city. To my mind, there are few buildings that do more to sing out their ties to the birth of the automobile age than does the Tunnel Garage.
The garage has caught the attention of the Historic Districts Council, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, the Art Deco Society, and the Friends of Terra Cotta. It has garnered the support of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, State Senator Martin Connor, State Senator Tom Duane, and Assembly Member Deborah Glick. It has been recommended for landmark status by Community Board #2, and has been declared eligible for the State and National Registers of Historic Places. In addition, I and others have collected over a hundred letters from community members advocating preservation—and hundreds more signatures on petitions to save the Tunnel Garage.
Yet, with all of this support, if this building is to survive, it will require landmarks protection from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Alas, the LPC is a less than transparent body made up of serious but overwhelmed preservationists and political appointees with ties to the current mayor and his supporters. All of the garage’s unique and historic qualities and all of the community, governmental, and organizational support have yet to break through the institutional gridlock. As of this writing, Landmarks has failed to act to save the Tunnel Garage.
Now, the developers have emptied the garage and locked its doors. A demolition permit was posted this week. Without appropriate pressure on the LPC, the life of the Tunnel Garage could now be measured in terms of weeks, maybe days.
What can you do? Well if you have a connection to Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, or LPC Chair Robert Tierney, please contact me immediately at TunnelGarage (at) aol-dot-com. Otherwise, please consider taking these actions today:
Write a letter
Write a letter to New York Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Robert Tierney telling him you support Landmarks protection for the Tunnel Garage. Point out that the garage is architecturally significant, as well as a functioning and necessary business. Send a copy of this letter to the office of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. (A sample letter can be found here.)
Call the Landmarks Preservation Commission to register your support. Tell them you are a concerned City resident who supports the preservation and protection that comes with granting Landmarks status to the Tunnel Garage. Tell them action is required immediately if the garage is to be saved. (Likely they will tell you the Commission has decided against the garage at this time. Tell them you know this is not true, that there has been no hearing or vote, and until there is a vote, this is an open matter worthy of consideration.)
Even if you have already called, call again!
Call Council Speaker Quinn
Phone New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to express your support for the Tunnel Garage. BE POLITE. Speaker Quinn is on our side, but she needs to hear that the whole community will back her on this. Ask that Speaker Quinn personally call LPC Chair Robert Tierney to request that the garage be “calendared” so that it can get a fair hearing without the threat of imminent demolition.
Even if you have already called, call again!
The garage is a precious piece of our cultural and architectural heritage, but it needs everyone’s help if it is to be spared the wrecking ball. Your assistance would be deeply appreciated. Thank you.