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Whitney's Expansion Plan Concerns Preservationists

Preservationists are expressing concern about the Whitney Museum of American Art’s proposed expansion plan. Unveiled in late 2004, the plan calls for demolishing two brownstones on Madison Avenue and significantly altering a third one on 74th Street to make way for a new entrance courtyard and nine-story gallery tower designed by Renzo Piano. One of the brownstones is listed as a “contributing building” to the surrounding Upper East Side Historic District.


At a public hearing on February 1, representatives from the New York Landmarks Conservancy, the Municipal Art Society, and others said that if the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission approves the Whitney’s plan it would set a negative precedent for demolishing other contributing buildings.

Adam Weinberg, the Whitney’s director, responds that the museum has always intended to expand its existing structure--designed by Marcel Breuer and opened in 1966--and thus purchased surrounding brownstones before the neighborhood became a historic district in 1981. He adds that proposed expansion includes restoring three other adjacent brownstones, which has won the museum the support of Manhattan Community Board 8 and other local groups.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission will hold one or more additional meetings at which it can ask the museum to modify its proposal. If approved, the plan next would head to the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals, where preservationists say they’ll continue pressuring for the brownstones’ protection.

James Murdock