CB 2 Nixes Aluminaire House In Sunnyside
Calling it completely out of place within a landmark neighborhood, members of Community Board 2 overwhelmingly rejected last Thursday, Sept. 19, a plan to place the Aluminaire House—an 1930s all-metal concept home with a nomadic history—on a private playground in Sunnyside Gardens.
With just one dissenting vote, the advisory body approved a resolution calling on the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to reject the placement of the structure at the long-closed playground at the corner of 39th Avenue and 50th Street—on the fringe of the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District.
The resolution also called for the rejection of the proposed construction of townhouses with up to eight housing units adjacent to where the Aluminaire House would be erected.
Architect Michael Schwarting of the Aluminaire House Foundation explained the history of the structure— and sought to dispel fears that it would be a “Trojan horse” for new development in the landmark district— during a public hearing held at the start of last Thursday’s session.
Designed in 1931, the Aluminaire House was the first all-metal home ever built in the U.S. to showcase the use of modern material in construction, Schwarting said. Constructed out of donated material within 10 days, it was first put on display at museums in Manhattan and later sold to architect Wallace Harrison, who placed the home on his estate in Suffolk County.
In the decades since, Schwarting explained, the Aluminaire House was disassembled, moved and reassembled across the Long Island several times. Most recently, it stood at the now-defunct Central Islip campus of the New York Institute of Technology; after the school closed, the house was dismantled and placed in storage as the foundation sought a new home.
‘An interesting addition’
The Sunnyside Gardens lot is a “wonderful” potential home for the Aluminaire House, Schwarting said, since it is close to the historic district, which is predominantly composed of brick one- and two-family dwellings also constructed in the 1930s.
“At the same time that Sunnyside Gardens was being built, another pair of architects were thinking about very similar issues, but doing it in a very different light,” he said, noting there were plans developed to build planned communities with similar metallic homes. “We feel it’s interesting to have the opportunity to compare how the same concern was done in Sunnyside.”
Through an agreement negotiated with the property’s owner, Schwarting stated, the Aluminaire House would be erected close to the corner of 39th Avenue and 50th Street. Two townhouses would be erected alongside the historic structure on both streets, separated by a “muse space.”
In exchange for the owner allowing the placement of the Aluminaire House, Schwarting and his wife— Frances Campari, also an architect— designed the new dwellings on the owner’s behalf, according to Ken Fisher, an attorney representing the landlord.
The foundation hopes to turn the Aluminaire House into an “exhibition space” opened for public view “a few times a year,” Schwarting added.
“It will play a role in the neighborhood and it will, we think, be an interesting addition,” in the community, he said.
Board 2 members Patrick O’Brien and Stephen Cooper questioned the financial state of the Aluminaire House Foundation, specifically if it had the resources available to erect the home, operate programs and provide security. Schwarting stated there was presently $300,000 available to assemble the home as well as an “operating budget” of $50,000—but more funding would be needed.
‘A home that no one wants’
Civic activists, elected officials and Sunnyside Gardens residents, however, did not share Schwarting’s view of the project. They criticized the proposal as contradictory to the efforts made several years ago to preserve much of the neighborhood as a landmark district.
Board 2 Chairperson Joseph Conley questioned why the LPC hasn’t already rejected the proposal, noting that the concept “seems so opposite” to the effort undertaken to create the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District.
“In our discussions with Landmarks and also the applicant—who agreed to pull the application last time—this has been a struggle,” Conley said. He later went on to note that “we’re kind of scratching our heads ... because we don’t understand Landmarks.”
“The level of details that was brought up through the public review process was that it’s about maintaining what’s here,” he noted. “When this came up, we were all mystified. ... The idea is that it’s still out of character with the neighborhood.”
“I appreciate the efforts to find a location for the Aluminaire House, but the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District is not the right location,” said resident Randall Vair, who charged that the proposal was, in and of itself, “a Trojan horse to construct houses.”
“Queens has one-third of the city’s population but one-fourth of the city’s parkland,” Vair said. “We deserve more space and more parkland, not a scheme for developers.”
Herbert Reynolds suggested the site once again be used as a community playground, adding that it is “an integral part of a planned community.”
John O’Leary called the project “an attempt to find a home that no one wants and no one wants to be responsible for.” Laura Weber added the proposal would “take away from what makes [Sunnyside Gardens] so wonderful.”
“It presents a different view of architecture,” Weber said. “This neighborhood is so beautiful because it is a planned neighborhood that has been preserved. It’s a gift to us to be able to live here.”
“The key word here is ‘appropriateness,’” said Gerald Pauer, who— with his wife, Peggy—spoke in opposition to the plan. “Ninety-nine percent of the neighborhood thinks it isn’t appropriate.”
Pols also don’t like the plan
Though the Aluminaire House in and of itself has historic significance, City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer stated, the Sunnyside Gardens site is “definitely the wrong place for it.”
“I respect the architects and their desire, but what’s more important is that the LPC respect the people who live in this neighborhood,” he said, adding that the style of the proposed townhouses is “inconsistent” with the character of the homes in the historic district.
“If it is important for the LPC to maintain the sense of place, then it is really important not to have the Aluminaire House here because it is so opposite to what we have now,” Van Bramer concluded.
“People in that community worked very hard to get landmark designation,” said State Sen. Michael Gianaris. “You can’t think of a better reason for defining out-of-character development...”
Rep. Joseph Crowley andAssemblywoman Catherine Nolan have also expressed their opposition to the Aluminaire House proposal.
Even so, a few residents spoke in favor of the project during the public hearing. Architect and historian Jeffrey Kressler called the Aluminaire House a potential “asset to Sunnyside Gardens,” as it provides a great contrast to the neighboring architecture.
“Reasonable people may disagree, but my opinion is that it can work,” Kressler said.
Echoing those sentiments was Jack Freeman, who said the Aluminaire House would “contrast and complement,” as well as “accentuate” the existing housing stock in the neighborhood.
Before his remarks on the Aluminaire House project, Van Bramer informed residents he has allocated millions toward renovations at La- Guardia Community College and Sunnyside Community Services (SCS).
Earlier in the day last Thursday, Van Bramer announced he secured $2 million in city funds to refurbish la- Guardia Community College’s library. He added $26 million was provided to “completely renovate” the SCS senior center to expand services for the elderly.
Gianaris also announced he is kicking in $250,000 in state funds toward the expansion of the SCS.
The state senator mentioned he and other lawmakers have been “cutting ribbons like crazy” at public works projects in the Hunters Point section of Long Island City, including the opening of the Hunters Point South Waterfront Park, a renovated Andrews Playground and two brand new public schools.
The special permit for the demolition of the 5Pointz graffiti venue and construction of two high-rise residential towers was recently approved by the City Planning Commission, according to Penny Lee of the Department of City Planning. A public hearing on the matter is slated to take place before the City Council on Oct. 2.
The DCP is also in the process of developing a “western Queens transportation study” to examine public transit options in the region and develop ways to make it easier for residents to travel, Lee added. The agency will likely meet with Board 2’s Transportation Committee in the near future about the matter.
John Renda of the Sunnyside/Woodside Boys Club invited all to attend the organization’s “Dancing With the Community Stars” fund-raiser at St. Teresa Church inWoodside on Nov. 16. The program features “local celebrities” paired up with professional dancers to perform before a crowd of contributors.
The president of the Sunnyside Kiwanis Club, Carol Masiello, also invited residents to take part in the club’s “Oldies Night” this Saturday, Sept. 28, at SCS. The show includes a performance of classic rock-androll and dinner. Proceeds will benefit the SCS and the Sunnyside Kiwanis.
A resident of 44th Drive in Long Island City called for an increase in police presence in the area after a number of parked vehicles were recently vandalized. The resident also called for additional street cleaning and collection of public litter baskets in the neighborhood.
The next Community Board 2 meeting is scheduled to take place on Thursday night, Oct. 3, at 7 p.m. at Sunnyside Community Services, located at 43-31 39th St. For more information, call Board 2’s Woodside office at 1-718-533-8773.