We had a hunch this day was coming. The owners of the former Sigmund Schwartz Gramercy Park Chapel, at 152 Second Avenue, have applied to make substantial changes to their lovely little 1937 building, which has been vacant for quite some time now.
Just how substantial?
According to the Department of Buildings, an Alteration type 1 application has been filed, which is the most substantial type of alteration. Plans are to “Remodel the existing three story building and add 3 stories on top.” The ground floor will be commercial and the five upper stories will be residential (six apartments each on floors two through four, and duplex apartments on floors five & six). This can mean anything from the existing building more or less staying in place on the exterior and three stories being built on top, to the existing building being more or less stripped down to its foundations and a new six-story building pretty much being erected in its place. The permit has yet to be officially issued.
The building’s history was lovingly chronicled in 2008 by Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York. Prior to its 2007 closing, a funeral parlor had operated out of the ground floor of the building since its construction in 1937 by the Gramercy Park Memorial Chapel. According to Jeremiah and to New York Songlines, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were memorialized here after their execution.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission has proposed an East Village Historic District that would take in much of Second Avenue below St. Mark’s Place (after much work, we were able to expand the original boundaries a bit). While this would help protect a number of historic buildings on the south end of lower Second Avenue, the north end remains entirely vulnerable to demolition or radical alteration such as this. This means there is little anyone can do to stop this building, which sits between 9th & 10th Streets, from being altered beyond recognition (in the manner of the Second Avenue Deli, which once existed right next door). Circumstances like this stress the urgency of the need for landmarking.
Granted, things could have been worse. GVSHP and other local groups fought hard for a rezoning of the neighborhood that was passed in 2008 and which put height limits on developments such as this. Were this not the case, the proposed development would likely be much taller.
For the past six years, we’ve been researching the histories of all approx. 2,5000 buildings in the entire East Village, which we intend to use to advocate for more landmark protections in the neighborhood. If you would like to become involved in our efforts, visit our East Village preservation page or send an email to Andito Lloyd, our East Village & Special Programs Director, at andito (at) gvshp.org