Campaign Underway to Landmark the Provident Loan Society Building on East Houston Before this 12-Story Addition Happens

Posted on: November 2nd, 2015 at 5:00 am by
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The Provident Loan Society building on East Houston is threatened. Threatened by developers who wish to drop a 40,000 square-foot addition atop the 1912 treasure.

As earlier reported, the owners of 223-225 East Houston – Elsa and Dunnie Lai – have proposed a twelve-story vertical addition to the property. The protrusion was made possible thanks to their acquisition of 9,238 square-feet of air rights from the Mercury Lounge building next door. That transaction was valued at $2.25 million, per city records.

The previously-referenced landmarking effort is now a race against time (when is it not?).

While no permits are filed yet with the Department of Buildings for the project, the wheels are in motion. You saw the renderings courtesy of Bluarch Architecture. The grassroots effort to protect the building began in earnest last week: a petition was circulated and, in just a few short days, already exceeded its initial goal of 100 signatures. More importantly, the Request for Evaluation was officially sent to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for consideration; Councilmembers Margaret Chin and Rosie Mendez were reportedly notified of the endeavor; and Community Board 3 will hear the case on November 17.

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Photo: Bluarch Architecture

This pitch to preserve the Provident didn’t originate with any of the usual suspects on the Lower East Side, though. Instead “an independent preservationist” named Christian Emanuel decided to lead the fight. A self-proclaimed preservation “cowboy” who roves around the city identifying potential candidates for saving. His last work was landmarking the Clocktower of Long Island City a few months ago.

Emanuel is now in scramble mode. “[Preservation] is a triage mentality,” he tells us, meaning the identification of the most threatened properties is exteremely important. “We’re hemorrhaging our historic buildings … that made NYC great.” 225 East Houston is one of them, and is almost entirely intact. A rarity.

In a positive sign, at least one of the local community organizations – Friends of the Lower East Side – has thrown their weight behind the effort. “We will support [the landmarking],” co-founder Linda Jones told us in an email.

The Provident Loan Society, for which the Classical Revival-style building was erected in 1912, is a non-profit organization born in response to the financial panic of 1893. Its founders included group of prominent New Yorkers, including J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt. Their specialty was providing short-term loans at a lower rate than loan sharks. It’s still around today.

The bank operated this branch for decades but divested in 1966. A year later, abstract artist Jasper Johns acquired the property; the space served as both dwelling and studio. He eventually sold the building in 1988, according to public record. In the last twenty-some-odd years, though, the corner hulk became synonymous with nightlife. Element was the most recent; and a Blackout Haunted House for Halloween. The former financial center was also home to the Manhattan Gentlemen’s Club (strip club), a goth nightclub known as Chaos, and The Bank.

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