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Endangered New York: 10 (more) to save

As the real-estate boom year of 2007 winds down, houses of worship, schools, historic residences, whole neighborhoods -- even the corner diner -- tenuously exist under the threat of the wrecking ball.

Indeed, the changes are so breathtaking that the question of whether the city is losing its very soul has been seriously debated among preservationists, community and civic groups.

It's a grim scenario that Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, imagines in neighborhood after neighborhood -- and not affecting just the mom and pops.

"Just picture in your mind: Madison Square Garden is slated to be gone, and you imagine perhaps that Macy's is gone and the Hotel Pennsylvania--that's an entire district. What's on the table is looking at important, enormous parcels in Midtown being vacant or replaced," he says.

Of course, it's not just the big projects such as the Hudson Rail Yards or a new Penn Station that worry preservationists. It's about losing the city's "incredible layering of architecture" says Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

"People throughout the city are slightly uneasy about the pace of change and the loss of familiar things in their neighborhoods," Breen says. "We're in a period where real-estate interests have clearly dominated. [Development] is not bad, but what makes the city unique and a joy to live in are the layers of history--you don't want to lose a sense of place."

This year has not been entirely without rays of hope. The Landmarks Preservation Commission protected more than 1,100 structures--the greatest number since 1990--and identified new areas to shield, such as DUMBO

News, however, seemingly comes every day of another disappearing institution. What follows is amNewYork's "10 to Save," our second annual look at the city's endangered places -- a small sampling from the growing list of sites that at any time could be only a memory.

1.) Modernist architecture Midtown will lose the Donnell Library Center when it's razed for an 11-story luxury hotel. The new property will include space for a significantly smaller library that won't match the scope of services now provided. The building made architect Robert A. M. Stern's "Landmarks in Waiting" list, but Breen says, "I think modern buildings aren't as easy to love sometimes and most people wouldn't have put their arms around this one. Some buildings give you an emotional response like Grand Central Terminal and some, like Donnell, require a more intellectual understanding." (Address: 20 W. 53rd St. Completed: 1955 Architect: Edgar I. Williams)

The Morris B. Sanders House in Turtle Bay is a rare, authentic, intact, and very early modern house. After a public hearing in October, the building has interim protection, but has still not been designated. (Address: 219 E. 49th St. Built: 1934-35 )

George Washington Bridge Bus Station , also on Stern's landmark list and still undesignated, is one of the few buildings its famed engineer and architect designed outside of Italy. Its flamboyant form evokes the thrill of arrival in the modern city. (Address: Broadway, between West 178th-179th streets, Washington Heights Built: 1963 Architect: Pier Luigi Nervi)

2). Pennsylvania Station area Much of the Penn Station area is endangered, beginning with the historic James A. Farley Post Office Building on West 34th Street. Though on the National Register for Historic Places and a city landmark, the state, which owns the building, does not have to go to the landmarks commission for approval of what happens there.

Preservationists and aesthetes alike are concerned that the building will lose its integrity if Madison Square Garden moves in and commands a chunk of the Eighth Avenue portico. "We're concerned internally and externally that they would carve up the landmark quality," says Breen.

"Everyone is going to know where the Garden is located. But we want people to know there is a beautiful post office and I hope, a beautiful, well-designed train station that shouldn't be dominated by a sports arena."

A related concern: The Hotel Pennsylvania . Preservationist and author Anthony Wood says the hotel is "one of the last pieces of the great Penn Station complex and it has a great cultural history. If we weren't in a super-heated real-estate market, it would be a logical candidate for designation and brought into the future in some way."

Wood refers to the original Penn Station, the masterpiece of neo-classic architecture much mourned since its demolition in 1964. (And of course, who can forget the hotel's still operative phone number, Pennsylvania-6500, made famous by Glenn Miller--one of many big bands that often played there.)

Several neighborhood religious buildings (See No. 10 for more on churches) also face pressures from developers including St. John the Baptist (207 W. 30th St. ), Church of St. Michael (414 W. 34th St.), St. Francis of Assisi Church (136 W. 31st St.) and Beth Israel West Side Jewish Center (347 W. 34th St.). At press time, demolition was under way at the 1867 Glad Tidings Tabernacle (325 W. 33rd St.).

And it's not only the land acquisition that has preservationists worried: More than 5 million square feet of air rights are in play, which, if developed, change the skyscape and scale of this neighborhood forever.

3). Macy's It's hard to imagine 34th Street without Macy's, but some day you might have to. Developers want to lure the retail anchor into the proposed Penn Station mall, a move that would leave the fate of its building unknown. Though listed on the National Register, it's not a designated landmark. Says Bankoff: "Macy's defines Herald Square and should it leave, the question is what will replace it."

4.) Homes with abolitionist history Development pressures in downtown Brooklyn threaten the existence of several houses possibly linked to the Underground Railroad. Preservationists say the city ignored documents detailing the historical significance of the houses on Duffield Street .

After nearly four years of protest, one of the homes, No. 227, has been saved. But the fate of others on the street (Nos. 231 and 233) is up in the air. They're slated for demolition as part of a major redevelopment project for Willoughby Square.

Also on watch: The 1847 James Sloan and Abigail Hopper Gibbons home in Chelsea (339 W. 29th St.). Newspaper editor Horace Greeley and abolitionist John Brown were known to stay here, and the house was specifically targeted during the 1863 Draft Riots. Community Board 4 is advocating its preservation: the current owner is remodeling and wants to add a penthouse.

5.) Residential blocks under attack by high-rises Buildings from the city's Gilded Age are under siege -- part of a larger trend endangering elegant and intact residential blocks. It's too late for four houses at 31-37 W. 56th St .; worthy of landmark designation, they were demolished for a 16-story high-rise now under construction.

Though three Federal buildings on Greenwich Street (Nos. 94, 94-1/2 and 96) have all had public hearings, they still lack designation--at least one developer was interested in building a hotel there.

And in Greenwich Village, St. Vincent's Hospital proposes building a smaller, more modern hospital, which would affect surrounding historic residential blocks should a developer come in. Says Breen: "It may be a good cause, but it would be an unprecedented number of buildings to go within a historic district."

On the West Side, development threatens brownstones flanking either end of the West End Historic District at 508-510 and 732-734 West End Ave. And community advocates are fighting Congregation Shearith Israel's plan to build a nine-story luxury condo on the brownstone block of West 70th Street .

6.) Admiral's Row, Brooklyn Navy Yard This handsome lot of badly deteriorated mansions has been at the center of a debate between the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp. and preservationists. The Navy Yard wants to build a 60,000-square-foot supermarket; nearly everyone else wants to save this small slice of history.

Preservationists advocate a creative solution modeled after the Red Hook Fairway. "It would be unfortunate if this issue remains polarized --that it's either a grocery store or preservation. We should look at a way to do both," says Lisa Kersavage, director of advocacy and policy at the Municipal Art Society.

"Grocery stores can be critical [for] a neighborhood. But these are significant buildings that the government has failed on all levels to preserve."

An engineering report commissioned by the National Guard and released last week found eight of the 10 buildings are sound and "retain an extremely high level of historic integrity." The site will undergo a new federal historic assessment known as Section 106 review. (Built: 1858-1901, various architects, including Charles Bulfinch, Thomas U. Walter)

7). Brooklyn Waterfront Listed this year as one of the 11 Most Endangered Sites in the nation by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Brooklyn industrial waterfront faces extraordinary development pressures. Luxury high-rises in rezoned Greenpoint and Williamsburg threaten historic dockyards and factories, and historic neighborhoods teeter on the edge between gentrification and overdevelopment.

"Greenpoint remains the most endangered of the neighborhoods because of upzoning that now allows for 40-story buildings to be built on the waterfront," Kersavage says. "These areas have real meaning and utility for the maritime industry and beyond."

At risk: The Austin, Nichols & Company Warehouse (1913-15, Cass Gilbert) and parts of the Domino Sugar factory site. Three buildings in the complex have been designated but will be rezoned, and there's talk of a glassy addition to the top on the designated buildings.

Says Kersavage: "The way these building are constructed and how they meet the sky are on their own important." The unprotected iconic refinery sign remains intact--for now.

8.) Brownstone Brooklyn Entire unprotected strips of brownstone Brooklyn are under watch by preservationists --but not under protection. Carroll Gardens, Prospect Heights, the emerging area called Wallabout and parts of Brooklyn Heights are changing radically and quickly as developers swoop in and national retailers follow, compromising the scale and cohesion of entire neighborhoods.

Says Bankoff: "It's great that commercial strips are being brought back, but at the same time, we're losing things around the edges." Also in peril around the edges of the neighborhoods: Downtown Brooklyn and, in particular, the Franklin Building , at 186 Remsen St., one of several Romanesque buildings that give the Heights its architectural uniformity.

9.) The humble diner A mainstay of working-class Manhattan, especially along 11th Avenue, the classic diner is a vanishing breed of affordable dining and predictable comfort. This year saw the demise of places such as the Moondance Diner in Manhattan, and Victory Diner on Staten Island. Diner aficionado Kevin Walsh, creator of forgotten-ny.com, says, "Landlords aren't crazy about keeping restaurants that don't make a lot of money and that cater to people who don't make a lot of money."

10.) Religious buildings Dwindling congregations and funds make religious buildings a particular target for demolition. The French Romanesque West-Park Presbyterian (1890) at 86th Street and Amsterdam Avenue has already agreed to sell its chapel in exchange for renovations to the main church. A 21-story condominium tower would be built where the chapel now stands.

In Maspeth, community advocacy groups are fighting to save St. Saviour's , a 1847 Richard Upjohn church, which is scheduled to be razed for a housing development --the parson's house is already gone, as are many old-growth trees that served as a de facto park for this area.

In Brooklyn, the 1899 Bay Ridge United Methodist --called the " Green Church " because of its distinctive stone facade--is in contract for $10 million with plans for a condominium in its place.

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