Monthly Archives

November 2017


New York Times: Trying to Save a 1950s Mural of 1800s Chelsea From Demolition

November 22, 2017

By: Peter Libbey
November 22, 2017

The battle is on to prevent a mural depicting New York City’s past from becoming history.

Julien Binford’s 1954 “A Memory of 14th Street and 6th Avenue,” a 110-foot-long canvas painting of the intersection during the late 19th century, is housed inside a bank building set to be converted into condominiums and retail space. The interior, which Binford also designed, has already been removed.

City Councilman Corey Johnson, a Democrat who represents the neighborhood, and the preservationist group Save Chelsea are trying to convince the developer to either preserve the mural or turn it over to someone who will.

“Save Chelsea would very much like to see the mural saved and protected,” said Laurence Frommer, one of the group’s leaders. “And we would, of course, like it to be done in the proper way.”

The property’s developer, Gemini Rosemont, is open to preserving the mural but has not yet committed to doing so.

“We don’t have enough information to make any decisions at this point,” said Brian Ferrier, Gemini Rosemont’s vice president of development. “We’re interested in the community’s thoughts about this, and we’re going down the road to find a solution.” He added that the new building is still being designed, and no date has been set for demolishing the supporting walls on which the mural hangs.

The mural is painted on canvas, not plaster, which significantly eases the burden of preservation. The developer contacted several galleries to determine its value and see if there was any interest in the work. Mr. Ferrier says that they did not receive any positive responses. “It was kind of crickets.”

Jamestown, the real estate company that owns the neighborhood’s Chelsea Market, expressed interest in helping to preserve the mural after being contacted by a representative of Save Chelsea. On Tuesday, Erik Bottcher, Mr. Johnson’s chief of staff, said that Google had contacted his office to say it would like to play a role in protecting Binford’s painting.

Local leaders were alerted to the existence of the mural by Andrew Cronson, a junior at New York University, in October. “I walked by this sort of mundane bank on the corner of 6th Avenue, and its ghostly presence struck me,” he said of mural. When he returned to the building and saw demolition permits posted there, he contacted several local preservationist groups, and Save Chelsea answered the call.

The painting’s subject is the intersection of 14th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan as it might have looked at the end of the 1800s. Horse-drawn carriages compete with women carrying parasols for the right of way. Commuters climb the stairs to the aboveground train, and crowds congregate on sidewalks where vendors hawk their wares. A marching band on parade startles a horse and what appears to be a young couple strolls, oblivious to the commotion surrounding them.

Though Binford, who died in 1997, is not well known, “A Memory of 14th Street and 6th Avenue” is connected to an important tradition of America painting, Jon Ritter, a professor of architecture and urbanism at N.Y.U., explained in a phone interview. Binford had painted a government-commissioned mural for a Mississippi post office in 1939, and Professor Ritter noted the Chelsea mural’s aesthetic kinship with the government-funded large-scale works of the Great Depression. The painting, he said, also bears the influence of Mexican muralists like Diego Rivera and of European Cubists like Picasso and Braque.

“It’s clearly not a linear picture of a single moment of time on this street,” Professor Ritter said. “He’s using a radically distorted or fragmented approach to storytelling to show a number of different scenes at once. The idea of Cubism was to represent multiple time sequences on one single canvas.”

By the time Binford painted the mural, the world it portrays was long gone. Cars had replaced horses and carriages, and parasols were long out of fashion. Today, the building stands at the intersection of Chelsea, the West Village and the Meatpacking District, three of Manhattan’s most expensive neighborhoods. According to city records, Gemini Rosemont bought the one-story building in April for $42.4 million.

“It’s alarming when something so special comes close to being demolished,” Mr. Johnson wrote by email. “Binford’s mural is a window into our neighborhood’s history. I’m hopeful that the building owners will save the mural. If they don’t, I hope we can find someone who can.”


The Villager: Trying to keep a mural from becoming a memory

November 16, 2017

By: Dusica Sue Malesevic
November 16, 2017

Preservationists, City Councilmember Corey Johnson’s Office and a developer are looking to conserve a piece of 1950s New York: Julien Binford’s mural at a former bank building on the corner of W. 14th St. and Sixth Ave.

Binford’s mural — “A Memory of 14th Street and Sixth Avenue” — graces the lobby of a now-closed HSBC branch, according to Web sites GothamToGo and New York Songlines. Binford painted the mural in 1954 for what was then the Greenwich Savings Bank, according to New York Songlines.

Built in 1953, the one-story commercial building at 101 W. 14th St. — also known as 531 Sixth Ave. — is slated for demolition, according to the project developer, Gemini Rosemont, and City records show the building was sold in April for $42.4 million.

Brian Ferrier, Gemini Rosemont’s vice president of development, said a timetable has not been set for demolition. The developer is still in the design phase, he said, adding that, in general, the project will include retail space and residential condos.

On the mural, Ferrier said, “We’re investigating a couple different options.”

Andrew Cronson, a junior at New York University, would pass by the vacant building on his way from class to Penn Station to catch a train back to Long Island.

“Peering in through the windows, the interior was mostly gutted, but this 150-foot mural stood out prominently among the gritty rubble and dust,” Cronson said, noting that the building was designed by Halsey, McCormack & Helmer.

In late October, Cronson said he reached out to a number of advocacy groups, including Laurence Frommer of Save Chelsea.

“We think it’s significant artwork,” Frommer said. “It reflects the history of the area. It seems to capture the glory days of Sixth Ave.”

Save Chelsea contacted Johnson’s office. Erik Bottcher, the councilmember’s chief of staff, said the developer has been asking galleries if they were interested in the mural, but got no takers, so the developer is, in fact, considering preserving and keeping the mural.

Groncki, also of Save Chelsea, also suggested to Johnson’s office that Jamestown, the owner of the Chelsea Market building, might be interested in taking the mural, Bottcher said. Bottcher has been in touch with the investment and management company, but, as of now, Jamestown is “waiting in the wings,” he said.

Jamestown declined to comment.

Frommer of Save Chelsea said that whoever takes the mural, he hopes that “it is done properly with the right conservation mindset,” and preserved “in perpetuity.”

Binford was born in Virginia in 1908, and died shy of his 89th birthday. He created artwork in both Virginia and New York, and “about 37 paintings for the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project” between 1938 and 1940, according to a 2015 Richmond Times-Dispatch article.

Cronson said the mural at the former bank “depicts a jovial street scene in panoramic form of what this area would have looked like in the late 1800s, back when there was an elevated train and riders used horses as a mode of transportation.”

“It would be a tragedy if this mural is demolished,” Johnson said in an e-mail statement. “Losing it would really be losing a piece of our history. We are working frantically to find a new home for it. We hope to succeed at this in the next few days.”


Chelsea Now: Groundbreaking at Hudson Guild

November 8, 2017

By: Scott Stiffler
November 8, 2017

On Thurs., Nov. 2, a groundbreaking ceremony put the business end of those shiny hammers to an equally symbolic plank of wood. If that action was for show, there was no doubting the real work about to take place. For the first time since its opening in the 1960s, the Robert Fulton Houses’ Fulton Center (119 Ninth Ave., btw. W. 17th & 18th Sts.) will undergo a substantial renovation.

Touting the groundbreaking, a press release from Hudson Guild (which runs all of the programs at Fulton Center, where NYCHA is the landlord) noted that, upon completion, the work will see restoration of “a critical anchor to the Chelsea neighborhood,” providing “seniors with social services, education programs, daily meals, and activities. It will also offer our community a modern, inviting space for meetings, celebrations, and youth activities.” All of the Center’s bathrooms will become compliant with the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act), the kitchen will be modernized, and a “teaching” kitchen for kids and seniors will be added. The art gallery, currently located in the back, will face the street to entice passersby. Staff offices and meeting spaces are also getting an upgrade, as is the building’s exterior, lobby, and all-important Fulton Auditorium (frequent host to Community Board 4’s full board meetings).

In addition to Hudson Guild and NYCHA representatives, the electeds in attendance included Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, and Councilmember Corey Johnson — all of whom can be seen in the accompanying photo wielding those much-ballyhooed (at least by this publication) golden hammers. The project is expected to wrap up in fall 2019.