Preserving the East River Park’s Historic Structures

September 15, 2019

Hon. Signe Nielsen, President 
Public Design Commission of the City of New York 
City Hall, Third Floor 
New York, NY 10007

Dear Ms. Nielsen:

Below is Lower East Side Preservation Initiative’s (LESPI’s) testimony regarding the Manhattan East Side Coastal Resiliency Plan:

First opened in 1937, the East River Park has three historic structures which date from its early years: the Marine Engine Co. 66 Fireboat House, currently home of the Lower East Side Ecology Center, and two  Art Deco style Comfort Stations.  All three of these buildings would be seriously impacted or destroyed by the Preferred Alternative (Alternative 4) Resiliency Plan.

As part of the Plan’s public review process, the NYC Office of Management and Budget invited LESPI to provide a Section 106 Review to identify the park’s historic structures and recommend mitigation.  In response, LESPI submitted the attached letter with our considered comments and recommendations, which are summarized below:

Engine Co. 66 Fireboat House: the NY State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has determined this building to be eligible for the State and National Register; however this architectural resource is not identified in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement as warranting protection.  LESPI agrees with the SHPO that the building has architectural and historic value that warrants preservation. 

We also believe that, because the Fireboat House has historically had a strong tie to the waterfront, it should be preserved in place.  This scheme presents challenges, however, primarily that any plan to raise the height of the park will have a significant effect on the public’s ability to view and appreciate this building; and that the building could potentially be damaged when flood waters surge and back-flow between the building and the park’s new 9 foot wall behind it.  We believe that these challenges can be met, however, and recommend that the new wall be placed a sufficient distance back from the Fireboat House to allow it to be adequately viewed and protected from surge.

Art Deco Comfort Stations: LESPI believes that these two buildings, located at the Brian Watkins Tennis Center (Broome Street) and the East River Park Track (near East 6th Street), should be identified as architectural and historic resources in the Environmental Impact Statement. Because of the rarity of Art Deco buildings on the Lower East Side, LESPI recommends their preservation and reuse or repurposing.  Decorated with charming terra cotta river motif details and metal ornamentation, these comfort stations evoke the early phases of East River Park’s history, and demonstrate the high level of craftsmanship employed in creating even the most utilitarian WPA era structures. LESPI believes it is well worth the effort to preserve these reminders of an important era of Lower East Side history.


Richard D. Moses