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231-233 West 74th Street (MVN Architect LLC for Landmarks Preservation Commission) 231-233 West 74th Street (MVN Architect LLC for Landmarks Preservation Commission)
For many townhouse owners, the idea of being able to do whatever they want to their home without seeking permission from a landlord or co-op board is a highly appealing one. However, if the house is located in one of New York's historic districts, homeowners must face a more formidable authority: the Landmarks Preservation Commission ("Landmarks"), and local preservationists may weigh in on the plans. A number of hearings pertaining to houses are on the docket for Tuesday, October 11, and we take a look at some highlights below.

40-Schermerhorn-Street KLC Architects for Landmarks Preservation Commission
When 40 Schermerhorn Street, a four-story townhouse dating back to before the Civil War and located at the edge of the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, sold for $3.1 million in May 2021 (per Acris), it was configured as a four-family rental. However, if the Landmarks presentation is anything to go on, the new owner seeks to use it as an owner's triplex with a secondary unit. The new owner also seeks to embark on a rear yard extension and add a new stair bulkhead with a roof skylight. Mock-ups show that the new roof is visible from the street, but not conspicuously so.
40-Schermerhorn-Street-02 Front details
While the docket says the applicant seeks to "alter the front facade," a closer look at the presentation depicts an endeavor to restore the facade to its former glory by repairing cracked bricks, resurfacing the brownstone, adding new cornice to match the historic shape, replacing brownstone lintels and pediments, and repairing and replacing existing mansard slate roofing.

The rear wall will have to be demolished to make way for the extension, but the presentation notes that there are no historic features on this side of the house. This will get a new stucco facade, new steel-framed folding windows and doors on the ground floor allowing for garden access, and new aluminum-clad wood windows.
In addition to the exterior work, floor plans included in the presentation depict interior renovations as well. These include a new boiler and hot water tank, new wood stairs throughout, and removing walls in some of the lower-level rooms to allow for a more open, light-filled layout.
40-Schermerhorn-Street-04 40 Schermerhorn Street, January 2021

263-West-11th-Street-01 263 West 11th Street (Steven Harris Architects for Landmarks Preservation Commission)
In the nearly 200 years since it was constructed, 263 West 11th Street has attracted an array of notable residents. When it was being used as a multi-family building in the 1920s, author Thomas Wolfe had an apartment there. Decades later, Robert Soros (oldest son of George Soros) and his wife, Melissa Schiff, bought the house in 1993. Ms. Schiff bought Mr. Soros out for $10.5 million during their 2015 divorce, and quietly sold the house for $31 million in November 2020. The buyer was identified only by an LLC, but it's clear they like to swim: Landmarks is reviewing their application to install an in-ground pool in the rear yard.
When the townhouse sold, the New York Post noted that it had not been renovated in more than 20 years. Indeed, the pool appears to be part of a backyard makeover; a Landmarks presentation by Steven Harris Architects shows a new fence, new pavers, and new plantings. Certain exterior walls will have to be removed to accommodate the pool.
Backyard pools are rare in New York townhouses (basement pools have proven more popular in recent years), but not unheard of. The presentation cites two examples in historic districts, including fashion designer Cynthia Rowley's Village townhouse, as precedent. Community Board 2 is not impressed, and has called for disapproval.

231-233-West-74th-Street-01 231-233 West 74th Street (MVN Architect LLC for Landmarks Preservation Commission)
231-233 West 74th Street, a pair of Queen Anne-style townhouses designed by William J. Merritt, were developed by William E.D. Stokes, the man at the helm of The Ansonia. However, while The Ansonia was declared a New York City Landmark and converted to a condominium popular with celebrities, the rowhouses were not so fortunate. They were slated for demolition in 1929 to make way for a 35-story hotel, but this never got off the ground, likely due to the Great Depression. Since then, the rooms inside have been offered for rent.
In 2006, architecture critic Christopher Grey said, "In the white-water rapids of Upper West Side real estate, this forlorn pair is a cool, shady little eddy, a shipwreck of time." Years later, as time continues to march on, the houses have fallen into such a state of disrepair that restoration is no longer wise or safe. Pictures in the Landmarks presentation show bay window segments coming apart, crumbling facades, masonry displaced due to the facade settling, mortar losing strength, and a mansard roof in need of repairs. The owner seeks to reconstruct them with original materials wherever possible, and new materials to match the old when it’s not.
231-233-West-74th-Street Original architectural details will be restored to their former glory
In a March 2022 conversation with West Side Rag, a representative of the owner (identified only as 231 and 233 W. 74 Corps) said the plan was to rebuild the structures and get back to renting out the apartments inside. It is not likely that even the staunchest local preservationists will object to this - neighbors have noticed problems with rodents and the homeless on the properties and are eager to see this fixed.

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