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Carter's View

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission found the expansion plans of St. Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village inappropriate and told it today to go back to the drawing boards.

The hospital wants to erect a new, 21-story, hospital building designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners new building on the site of the nautically-styled Edward and Theresa O'Toole Medical Services building on the northwest corner of 12th Street and Seventh Avenue and it wants to demolish nine of its existing buildings on the east side of Seventh Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets where Rudin Family Holdings wants to develop about 500 housing units in a 21-story building on the avenue designed by FXFowle and townhouses with stoops on the two side streets. The FXFowle plan is shown at the right.

The sites are in the Greenwich Village Historic District.

A coalition of neighborhood organizations had proposed an "alternative" plan that would lower the height of the proposed new hospital building from about 330 feet to about 190 feet and called for a second new hospital building on the east side of the avenue that might be connected to the one on the west side by a tunnel.

On February 20, 2008, Henry Amoroso, president and CEO of Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, wrote to Community Board 2, whose committee on the plans unanimously voted in opposition to them, that the hospital had reviewed the "alternative" plan and found that it "is not feasible and lacks the tools necessary to ensure that this community has proper healthy care infrastructure."

"The existing hospital assemblage...has so many significant architectural, mechanical, and structural systems issues that no amount of renovation work can satisfy the demands of 21st Century healthcare," he wrote, adding that the alternative plan "divorces inpatient beds from emergency, surgical, and imaging services, violates health policy, would not receive Certificate of Need approval from the New York State Department of Health, and would cause a complete shutdown of hospital operations during demolition and reconstruction."

The hospital is the only trauma center on the West Side from the Battery to 59th Street.

The architecture critic of The New York Times, Nicolai Ouroussoff, has criticized as "most troubling" the hospital's plan to tear down "the 1963 O'Toole Building, one of the first buildings in the city to break with the Modernist mainstream as it was congealing into formulaic dogma."

"Designed by the New Orleans architect Albert C. Ledner, it is significant," Mr. Ouroussoff wrote. "It was built to house the National Maritime Union," he wrote, and "its glistening white facade and scalloped overhangs, boldly cantilevered over the lower floors, were meant to conjure an ocean voyage....Its glass brick base, once the site of union halls, suggests an urban aquarium."

Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, told today that the commission "told the hospital that most of the proposed demolitions were completely unacceptable and that the proposed new buildings were massively out-of-scale for the neighborhood and inappropriate in their designs."

"Today," Mr. Berman said, "the City roundly rejected this unprecedented plan which would have so severely damaged the character of one of the city's oldest historic districts."

Mr. Berman said that some of the commissioners called for preservation of the O'Toole building and several said they would be open to a hospital tower on top, albeit a smaller one than currently proposed.

Mr. Amoroso issued a statement after the meeting that said the hospital "will move forward with a hardship application" to demolish the O'Toole building, adding that "The reality is that the O'Toole site is the only location where we can build a fully efficient, state-of-the-art green hospital."
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Architecture Critic Carter Horsley Since 1997, Carter B. Horsley has been the editorial director of CityRealty. He began his journalistic career at The New York Times in 1961 where he spent 26 years as a reporter specializing in real estate & architectural news. In 1987, he became the architecture critic and real estate editor of The New York Post.