First kill all the bureaucrats

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Let’s see if I have this correct: The 110-year-old Christ Church on West 36th Street, in Manhattan’s Garment District, was purchased by a developer who wanted to save the facade to be incorporated into the design of a new hotel. But his plan has been blocked by a city building-code bureaucrat because the second story of the facade is set back six feet from the sidewalk, violating the “street wall” zoning in that part of the city. The developer then volunteered to rebuild the second story flush with the first story and the sidewalk edge. Preservationists and other interested parties – including Steve Cuozzo, author of “Not even a prayer can save this beloved church facade” in the New York Post – fear the bureaucrat will stand his ground.

Is this description correct? If so:

  1. What kind of bureaucrat is this?
  2. What kind of developer is this?

Whatever you think of facadectomies, or the compromise proposal to build a facsimile of the wall in the required location, this developer, Sam Chang, should be hoist on our shoulders and paraded down Fifth Avenue. (Readers will now send in reasons why he should not be feted.) And the bureaucrat should be shot. I hasten to add that my tongue is securely in cheek – still, idiot, you certainly do not understand your job, or the rules you so zealously enforce. Get thee to a nunnery!

I just read Cuozzo’s personal history of the building’s life, and I must wonder whether it is possible, in this day and age, to demolish the remains of a church with such a sexy history.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to First kill all the bureaucrats

  1. There is nothing inherently wrong with the streetwall concept, with appropriate exceptions such as this one, so I am wondering whether this particular official is trying to “do his part” to turn what remains of the block’s traditional beauty into modernism, misunderstanding even that, figuring that if it shoots right straight up it must be modernist.

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  2. Steven Semes says:

    The bureaucrat, or rather the rule he/she is trying to enforce, seems to overlook the fact that the intent of such “streetwall” rules is to regulate the private, “fabric” buildings. Monuments, including churches, are usually recognized as exceptions to this rule and allowed freedom to take whatever shape they wish. That’s why we have churchyards, towers, gardens, cloisters, narthexes, and other deviations from the streetwall. It would be an odd church, indeed, that presented an unbroken plane along the sidewalk for its entire height. Flying buttresses? Spires?

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