Landmarks’ designations of two residential buildings on City Island rejected due to objections of local council member. On March 12, 2018, the City Council’s Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting & Maritime Uses voted against upholding the individual landmark designations of two residential buildings on City Island in the Bronx. The buildings are the Samuel H. and Mary T. Booth House at 30 Centre Street, and the Captain John H. Stafford House, at 95 Pell Place. Both houses were unanimously designated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission on November 28, 2017.
The Queen Anne, Stick-Style Booth House dates to the late 19th century, and is an anomaly in an area dominated by Italianate and Second Empire-style architecture. The asymmetrically massed house features wood clapboarding, an entrance porch, and gabled roofs with deep eaves. It retains its architectural integrity, though has seen the addition of two dormers and a rear porch.
The Stafford house was constructed for John H. Stafford, a yacht captain who worked for Marshall Field II, heir to the Marshall Field’s department store fortune. The Craftsman style bungalow is a rare surviving “catalogue house;” a prefabricated kit sold by mail-order company Sears Roebuck. Sears Roebuck offered 447 models, and “The Osborn” is the model of the Stafford House. The Osborn was one of the styles offered in the company’s more prestigious “Honor Bilt Homes” line.
The Subcommittee had held a hearing on the items on February 6, 2018. At the hearing, representatives of the Municipal Art Society, the Historic Districts Council, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy spoke in support of designation. The properties’ owners did not speak, and there was no testimony in opposition.
When the Subcommittee reconvened in March, Chair Adrienne Adams stated that Council member Mark Gjonaj, whose district encompasses City Island, opposed the designations. Adams recommended that the Subcommittee overturn the designations, based on Gjonaj’s position. Adrienne Adams, in response to another Council Member’s question, said it was her understanding from Gjonaj’s statement that the owners of the two properties opposed their landmark designation.
Subcommittee member Daneek Miller spoke of Landmarks’ role in maintaining the City’s “integrity” and “values,” but said he did not know enough about the community to contradict the local council member, though he struggled with the decision. Council Member Inez Barron commented that she appreciated the research undertaken by Landmarks in the designation report, including its findings that City Island had once been owned by the slave-owning Pell family in the 17th century. Barron also deferred to the local Council member in her vote.
The Subcommittee voted unanimously to reject the two designations, and the Land Use Committee followed suit the following Thursday. The full Council ratified the Subcommittee’s determinations on March 22nd.
CC: Samuel H. and Mary T. Booth House, Bronx (N180166HKX); John H. Stafford House, Bronx (N180169HKX).
By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law.)