CB3 Backs Bid to Landmark Provident Loan Society Building on East Houston 

Posted on: December 17th, 2015 at 5:00 am by

This image has been archived or removed.

November 2015

Just as the longtime owners of the Provident Loan Society building on East Houston gear up for a $15 million vertical extension project, along comes “cowboy” preservationist Christian Emanuel.

For the last couple months, Emanuel has been working to convince the Landmarks Preservation Commission (“LPC”) to protect the 103-year-old corner classic. It’s the most intact of the dozen remaining Provident Loan Society structures peppering the city. An online petition was created and, to date, carries more than two hundred endorsements. No doubt engaged in a futile fight, the crusader appeared before the landmarks subcommittee of Community Board 3 last night to attain support for the required “Request for Evaluation” to landmark the property.

CB3 ultimately voted in support of the bid to landmark. But let’s backtrack and start from the beginning.

Opposing forces are simultaneously at play here. While the LPC considers the application to landmark 225 East Houston (it’s a positive sign they haven’t denied outright just yet), building owners Elsa and Dunnie Lai continue the two-year pursuit for a 12-story enlargement (think Hearst tower). In fact, no sooner had Emanuel begun the preservation initiative than the Lais followed suit with DOB filings. As previously reported, pending plans call for a 41,000 square-foot transformation, equating to 38 apartments plus several recreational terraces and fitness rooms for tenants (34,200 square-feet). There is also bicycle storage with twelve spaces and commercial retail, presumably on the ground floor (6,800 square-feet).

Here’s an updated look at the potential development…

This image has been archived or removed.

Designed by Rogers Partners Architects; note the cantilever

The Lais appeared (and appealed) last night to provide opposition testimony to the landmark campaign. It was all about their love for the neighborhood (lived here 40 years), commitment to restoring the building, and respecting its history (owned it for 25 years). Their lawyer, Fred Becker, pushed the agenda that the redevelopment of 225 East Houston would be conducted with structural integrity in mind. For instance, architect of record Rogers Partners Architects has designed a 12-story addition that evokes the artwork of former owner-artist Jasper Johns, and “respects the original structure while it mirrors the dynamic nature of the current architecture and lifestyle of the area.”

(You can be the judge of that, based on the rendering above.)

The Lais pled financial hardship to the board, admitting that to “derail the process would devastate the family.” “We care as much about the building as much as anyone possibly could,” Dunnie Lai said. To that end, he revealed that three architects had previously recommended demolishing the building before proceeding, which was against his dream. Hence, Rogers Partners getting the job.

In the end, discussion of the future development hijacked the meeting (much like it did this post), and deflected attention from the issue at hand – supporting the RFE already submitted to the LPC.

The CB3 panel approved a resolution of support, but with the caveat that the owners work with the LPC (in the event of landmarking) to realize this new residential project. (For the record, the board seemed receptive to the design.) The question remains, though; will the landmarking measure beat the DOB to the proverbial finish line?

The Provident Loan Society erected the Classical Revival-style building in 1912.

Provident Loan Society Project Rendering

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