The St. Vincent's Hospital Saga Continues


Albert C. Ledner, architect of the O'Toole Building, collaborates with Frederic Schwartz on tower over the O'Toole Building


The Hospital argues alternative schemes for expansion on its properties not adequate at "hardship" hearings at the Landmarks Preservation Commission


Hospital's revised plans receive support from several elected officials


Hospital presents "alternative" rectilinear plan for lenticular design but commissioners still not thrilled

Ledner/Schwartz proposed tower over O'Toole Building

Rendering shown at "hardship" hearing of Landmarks Preservation Commission July 15, 2008 at the New York University School of Law of tower proposed by Albert C. Ledner and Frederic Schwartz to rise over Ledner's O'Toole Building as new hospital building for St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Centers that wants to demolish the O'Toole Building

By Carter B. Horsley

The Landmarks Preservation Commission held a 7-hour hearing July 15, 2008 on "hardship" applications from St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Centers to demolish the Edward and Theresa O'Toole Medical Services Building on the west side of Seventh Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets and erect a new hospital complex on its site. The hospital has entered an agreement with the Rudin family, one of the city's major developers, to residentially redevelop many of its properties on the east side of Seventh Avenue

Several elected officials such as City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Thomas K. Duane and Representative Jerrold Nadler spoke in favor, albeit with some reservations, of the hospital's recently revised plans that lowered the height of the proposed new hospital tower to 299 feet 4 inches and preserved several of its existing buildings that its original plan had planned to demolish (see The City Review article on original plans and The City Review article on the revised plans).

Civic organizations such as the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation indicated they still had problems with the revised plans and many other speakers, many wearing "Protect Our Village" labels, angrily denounced the elected officials and argued that the hospital's revised plan was still "too tall" and "too dense" and that it had not fully explored alternative plans.

Rally supporting hospital

Rally supporting hospital's plans held in Washington Square Park

At lunchtime, a rally was held by Friends of the New St. Vincent's across the street from the New York University School of Law building where the hearing was held. Scores of people waved placards stating "We Deserve A World -Class Hospital" and chanted loudly supporting a new hospital.

The surprise of the hearing came from Frederic Schwartz, the architect noted for imaginative urban schemes, who told the hearing that he is collaborating with Albert C. Ledner, the architect of the O'Toole building, on a plan, shown at the top of this article, to preserve the building as the base for a new hospital tower structure that would be a "twin intersecting circular glass block extrusion with operable strip windows like the circular glass block volume and the ground floor." Mr. Ledner designed the building in 1964 for the National Maritime Union and the hospital acquired it in 1979.

Mr. Schwartz said he had received a telephone call from Mr. Ledner last week from New Orleans where Mr. Schwartz is restoring and converting Edward Durell Stone's 30-story World Trade Center.

Mr. Schwartz said that "the floor plates, stacking of functions and the height of floors are the same as the Pei Cobb Freed design" commissioned by the hospital. That design called for an "ovoid" tower setback on a low-rise base. "essentially the only difference is in the form which would I believe make it easier to preserve the O'Toole building from a structural point of view. The glass block tower, by the nature of its material and scale, will offer an ephemeral and light appearance," Mr. Schwartz declared. Mr. Ledner had employed glass blocks in part of the base of the O'Toole Building.

"The 1964 O'Toole building is the Village's own Guggenheim. Instead of being filled with Art it was filled with working people. And unlike, for example, the addition to Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim by Gwathmey Siegel - we have the architect to work with - and that is the main reason I am here. Pei Cobb Freed is an excellent choice to design this hospital (think of their addition and preservation at Bellevue) - why not preserve and add here as well. To his credit, the talented partner in charge, Ian Bader, has expressed an interest in meeting with Albert to discuss this alternative," Mr. Schwartz continued.

The Ledner/Schwartz plan is a bit similar to the reflective-glass, curved tower that had been designed by Sir Norman Foster to rise above the north end of the former Parke-Bernet Building at 980 Madison Avenue (see The City Review article). That plan stirred considerable community opposition and was recently significantly revised and downscaled (see The City Review article).

Although there was only one rendering available and it has not too detailed, it was more attractive than the hospital's two tower designs because of its rounded form and color and the fact that thematically was somewhat related to the base.

At a previous meeting on the hospital's application for certificates of appropriateness for its plans the commission's members indicated they considered the O'Toole Building an important example of modern architecture and the hospital subsequently filed hardship applications on the grounds that its demolition was necessary for it to carry out its charitable purposes and replace its existing hodge-podge of facilities with low ceilings and unaligned floors with a state-of-the-art facility.

Sisam Sarandon

Susan Saradon waiting her turn to speak at the hearing

Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, the actors who live near the hospital spoke separately in opposition to the revised hospital plans. She said that more time should be spent on studying alternatives both on their properties and elsewhere.

Many of the speakers were critical of the hospital for not studying alternatives but many of them left before the late afternoon when the hospital did in fact present and analyze numerous alternatives for expansion on their properties.

Massing of existing hospital buldings on east side of avenue

This slide shows massing of existing buildings on the east side of Seventh Avenue that would be part of a renovation of existing clinical spaces.


Hospital consultant showed variety of massing schemes for expansion

The Ledner/Schwarz scheme is pretty attractive and it always is nice to have the input of the original architect. It is certainly more symmetrical and graceful than the hospital's current proposal and it is a very handsome solution to the rooftop addition solution. The big question, of course, is how does it work pragmatic for the hospital's needs in terms of floorplans, circulation, and construction costs. It probably is not too far off the mark, but detail studies need and should be made.

Objections to the height of the buildings really are inappropriate if the resulting plan is stunning and workable. Arguments that the conversion of several of the existing hospital buildings to residential uses is better than the original Rudin scheme lead to a hodge-podge of unexciting and bland mid-block buildings that have nothing to do with the traditional, mid-block townhouse ambience of much of Greenwich Village.

In October, 2008, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 6 to 4 to grant the hospital its hardship application to demolish the Ledner building (see The City Review article).


Alternative to lenticular design

Alternative to "lenticular" expansion for St. Vincent's presented

An article in the January 5, 2009 on-line edition of The Architect's Newspaper said that some commissioners of the Landmarks Preservation Commission "expressed shock and surprise" when presented December 16, 2008 with the latest design by St. Vincent's Hospital for a building to replace Albert Ledner's nautically styled National Maritime Union Building on the west side of Seventh Avenue between 12th and 13th Street.

The hospital has entered an agreement with Rudin Management to redevelop its properties with residential condominiums by converting some existing buildings and erecting some new ones so that the hospital can erect a new facility on the site of the Ledner building, which is now known as the Edward and Theresa O'Toole Medical Services Building.

The commission voted in October 6 to 4 to grant the hospital permission to demolish the Ledner building, which is notable for its scalloped edges on the grounds of hardship but it asked the hospital to continue to explore other design options.

The article by Matt Chaban article was accompanied by a rendering, shown here, of a rectilinear tower designed by Ian Bader of Pei Cobb Freed as an "alternative" to the previously submitted designed with a broad curved "lenticular" facade facing south.

The article quoted commissioner Stephen Byrns as stating that "For the better part of a year, we've been looking at this project, and I think it is as inappropriate as when we started," adding "I cannot even begin to comment on the architecture given its out-of-scale bulk."

The lenticular design would lower the height of the planned tower of about 300 feet by about 36 feet.

Commissioner Margery Perlmutter said, according to the article, that "It's a little bit frustrating when every time we ask for alternatives, we get an off-handed response that lacks the quality, details, and attention of the original proposal," she said. The article said she endorsed a proposal put forward by Byrns that would either bridge or build over a section of West 12th Street, thus allowing the hospital to incorporate a 15,000-square-foot triangular lot that is planned to serve as a loading dock, but the developer said that between the complexity of demapping the street and the parameters of making the hospital function properly, such an approach would be nearly impossible.

The article said that "several commissioners said that the alternative proposal obviously did not work, and that they favored the lenticular design" and added that "perhaps most importantly, commission chair Robert Tierney seems to support the lenticular plan, as well."

The Rudin Organization has also promised to convert part of a property nearby as a neighborhood public school for the community as part of the protracted controversy over the hospital's expansion.

Last May, the commission informally but definitely told St. Vincent's to go back to the drawing board because its plan to demolish O'Toole to build a 325-foot-tall new hospital on the west side of Seventh Ave. at 11th St. would not be appropriate for the historic district. The hospital came back two weeks later with the proposed hospital tower reduced to 299 feet tall and a residential tower on the east side of Seventh Ave. to be built by the Rudin Organization reduced from 265 feet tall to 200 feet.

At a meeting in June, Frederic Schwartz, an architect noted for imaginative urban schemes, announced that he was collaborating with Mr. Ledner to preserve the O'Toole building as the base for a new hospital tower structure that would be a "twin intersecting circular glass block extrusion with operable strip windows like the circular glass block volume and the ground floor." Mr. Ledner designed the building in 1964 for the National Maritime Union and the hospital acquired it in 1979.

In October, 2008, when members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission made what they called the hardest choice of their landmarking careers-whether or not to grant St. Vincent's Hospital the right to demolish Albert C. Ledner's iconic National Maritime Union in Greenwich Village and build a 300-foot-tall hospital tower on the site-the commissioners made two things clear. First, any votes in favor of the hospital's right to build were not an endorsement of its designs for the new tower, which several commissioners deemed out of scale and character with one of the city's oldest historic districts. And second, St. Vincent's should do everything in its power to explore alternative proposals that could mitigate its impact on the neighborhood.

So when the hospital and development partner Rudin Management returned to the commission with their latest plans on December 16, some commissioners expressed shock and surprise when presented with essentially the same proposal unveiled in May. "For the better part of a year, we've been looking at this project, and I think it is as inappropriate as when we started," commissioner Stephen Byrns told the applicant. "I cannot even begin to comment on the architecture given its out-of-scale bulk." Commissioner Elizabeth Ryan even poked fun at the design. "Ever since you presented us with your designs, there has been talk about how the tower disappears from its base," she said. "I think it needs to disappear entirely."

Thus began round two in the saga of St. Vincent's and the O'Toole Building, a project that is all but certain to drastically reshape its West Village neighborhood. Indeed, an alternative design presented for the tower caused almost as much anger as it was meant to assuage, and prompted several commissioners to offer their support for the hospital's original plans.

The new proposal, presented by Ian Bader, a principal at Pei Cobb Freed, which is designing the hospital for St. Vincent's, offered a rectilinear shape in contrast to the previous lenticular design. With its sheer facade rising from the street wall, the alternative would shave just 36 feet off its taller sibling, the maximum height the developers argued they could possibly trim.

"Pretty significant square footage has been taken out of the hospital already," Lou Meilink, a principal and health care planning expert at Ballinger, told the commission. "We just couldn't make any more cuts and still have a functioning level-one trauma center."

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