NEWS AND ISSUES


Testimony by New York State Senator Thomas K. Duane before the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission Regarding the Proposed Designation of the Lamartine Place Historic District

January 13, 2009

My name is Thomas K. Duane and I represent New York State's 29th Senate District, in which the proposed Lamartine Place Historic District is located. Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) regarding this application.

The row houses included within the proposed Lamartine Place Historic District (333 to 359 West 29th Street) in Chelsea are notable for their historical significance as well as their architectural merit. Dating back to approximately 1846, when they were constructed by the Reverend Dr. Cyrus Mason, the houses were collectively known as Lamartine Place. Originally built in the Greek Revival style and bearing Renaissance Revival cornices from half a century later as well as other modern additions and alterations, the buildings compose one of the few remaining grand examples of 1840fs architecture in the city.

While it is certainly architecturally meritorious, Lamartine Place's role in the history of our City and nation makes it particularly significant. The Hopper Gibbons Family, including famed abolitionist Abigail Hopper Gibbons and her husband James Sloan Gibbons, was a prominent abolitionist and social reformist family that lived at Lamartine Place: briefly residing at 337 West 29th Street before making a permanent move to 339 West 29th Street. The building was well-known among opponents of slavery, and the family hosted a number of leading abolitionists there, including Isaac Tatem Hopper, Horace Greeley, John Brown, and Joseph Choate. Late last year, Ms. Fern Luskin, historian and Lamartine Place resident, uncovered personal correspondence of Joseph Choate confirming that the building was a Station in the Underground Railroad. The fact that evidence confirms 339 West 29th Street's place in history adds tremendously to the case for the establishment of the Lamartine Place Historic District. Preserved and documented Underground Railroad Stations are a rarity in New York City, and federal legislation recognizes the need to preserve these incredibly important reminders of our nationfs history.

Lamartine Place has further significance in New York City history as a focal point in the Civil War Draft Riots of 1863. During the Riots, a number of the block's buildings were attacked due to the ownersf supposed or real abolitionist ties. Attacks occurred against the home of the Hopper Gibbons Family, 339 West 29th Street, and their neighbors Mr. Wilson and Samuel Sinclair, who lived at 343 and 353 West 29th Street, respectively. The Hopper Gibbons family was forced to flee for their lives, running along the contiguous rooftops of the blockfs buildings to reach and escape through the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, another historic building at the end of Lamartine Place. It is exceptional that the buildings survived the Civil War Draft Riots largely intact, since many targets of the angry mobs were burned to the ground. We should seize this opportunity to ensure their continued preservation.

Clearly there is a strong case for the designation of the Lamartine Place historic district. Architecturally, these handsome Greek Revival row houses date from the 1840's, a period from which there are few remnants left in the City. Although some of these houses have undergone significant alteration from their original condition over the last 160 years, as a group, they are notable for their period details, brick and brownstone facades, as well as their front gardens. Culturally, they are rooted in the abolitionist movement and the safe passage of fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad, and they are a testament to the Chelsea community's deep history of social and political activism and progressivism.

For these reasons, I urge LPC to look favorably upon the creation of the proposed Lamartine Place Historic District. Thank you for your consideration of my thoughts on this matter.


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