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Queens Chronicle

Sunnyside Gardens says no to aluminum

Plan to bring Aluminaire house, apts to landmarked area is panned

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Posted: Thursday, September 26, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:55 am, Thu Oct 3, 2013.

Members of Community Board 2, which represents Long Island City and Sunnyside, spoke loudly against a proposal to bring a modern yet historic aluminum house to the all-brick neighborhood of Sunnyside Gardens.

Since CB 2 is an advisory board, the 22-1 opposition vote isn’t the definitive word, but does get presented to the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, which reviews all changes to landmarked neighborhoods such as Sunnyside Gardens, and will vote Oct. 15.

“It’s out of character with the neighborhood,” CB 2 Chairman Joe Conley said. “Landmarks should withdraw the application.”

Architects Michael Schwarting and Frances Campani would like to reassemble the Aluminaire House, a relic from a 1931 Museum of Modern Art exhibition, and build a new apartment building on the empty lot at the corner of 39th Avenue and 50th Street.

Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey built the three-story home decades ago. After it was exhibited, Henry Russel Hitchcock, an architectural historian, bought it and relocated it to his estate in Huntington, LI where it remained until 1986 when he planned to demolish the structure.

Students from the New York Institute of Technology instead saved it from its demise, dismantled it and reassembled the house on the Central Islip campus; however, the campus closed in 2004 and since then the house has sat in a warehouse.

If moved to the lot in Sunnyside Gardens the Aluminaire House would be a museum open by appointment — possibly more — with the third floor operating as a library and archive about the house and the historic neighborhood.

“It would make a cultural contribution,” Campani said.

Eight residential units built with terra cotta or brick would be built around the relic leaving some open space around the Aluminaire. The architects cited this as a perk, saying otherwise they would try to add more residential units to fill the corner where the museum would sit. That new plan would need to go before Landmarks as well.

But the majority of residents from the area weren’t swayed. They called the historic structure a “Trojan horse” for more development and person after person in a string of about 15 speakers said “no thanks.”

Although the lot is zoned residential and owned by a private company, Norcor Management Corp., many residents consider the space a park, even though it is currently gated and locked. It hosts historic structures such as a 1930s playhouse, bathrooms, pavilion and swing set from the free daycare center that operated from the Great Depression to the 1980s.

“It’s the only toddler playground to survive,” Herbert Reynolds, the leader of the Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance, said. “Those are part of the landmarked structures.”

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) spoke against the project.

Van Bramer said as the chairman of the City Council Cultural Committee he could help search for another location, “but not in this landmarked area.”

Of those who spoke in favor was former Landmarks Preservation Commission member Jack Freeman, who lives in the Gardens.

“This is a development site and I do think it’s appropriate,” Freeman said. “It provides an exciting opportunity.”

But ultimately the board was not swayed.

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