Landmarks blocks Aluminaire House

By Bill Parry

A controversial proposal to move an all-aluminum house, built in the 1930s, to Sunnyside Gardens has been quashed by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The Aluminaire House project would have put the architecturally significant house on the corner of 39th Avenue and 50th Street as part of a complex that would include a two-story, eight-unit apartment building at the location of a former playground.

“After a careful review of the proposal, the commissioners concluded that the relocation of the Aluminaire House to the proposed site within the historic district was not appropriate,” said Heather McCracken of the commission. “The applicant will have the opportunity to present a revised application to the commissioners.”

The proposal met with swift resistance from preservationists, residents and elected officials. More than 40 testified at a Landmarks hearing in October. U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) even funded a bus to take all those who wanted to testify to the hearing.

“We mobilized early on this because it was totally inappropriate for a landmark district, totally out of character for Sunnyside Gardens,” Community Board 2 Chairman Joe Conley said.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said, “Today we stand as a united community to express our satisfaction that our voices were heard. I joined my neighbors in opposing Aluminaire House from the start and testified against it before the LPC because it would be inconsistent with the unique beauty of this part of our neighborhood.”

The Aluminaire House was originally built in 1931 as a prototype for prefabricated affordable housing. It was exhibited in the Grand Central Palace hall that used to be near Grand Central Terminal. The house was later donated to the New York Institute of Technology. Last year, the school removed the house from its campus before donating it to Professor Michael Schwarting, who had used it as a teaching tool at NIT.

Real estate developer Harry Otterman had hoped to bring the Aluminaire House to the plot of land he bought in Sunnyside Gardens. Because the lot is in a historic district, developing housing would require the LPC to approve it. He hoped that adding the Aluminaire House to the site would help gain support from neighborhood preservationists who would then influence the LPC, according to Dorothy Morehead, a longtime real estate broker in the Gardens and a member of Community Board 2. “I thought it was an ingenious plot, but it didn’t work,” Morehead said.,

Otterman refused to comment.

“That’s what we were hoping for,” Conley said. “Now we’re hoping the LPC stands by their decision through the appeals process.”

Conley added that if Otterman wanted to unload the property the Community Board would like to acquire it and return it to its original state as a playground.

“We’re hoping to establish more greenspace — we’d love to open it back up to the public,” he said.

Gianaris added, “Victories like this one cannot be understated as we seek to preserve the character of our neighborhoods as more and more people flock to western Queens.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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