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Dvorak House meets wrecker's ball.

Dvorak House meets wrecker's ball

After two years of debate and controversy, Beth Israel Medical Center commenced demolition of the Antonin Dvorak House on East 17th Street to make way for a new AIDS hospice.

The construction began as workmen set up scaffolding in preparation of the demolition. Workers said the building must be taken down piece by piece because of the proximity of brownstones on either side of the four-story structure.

Peter Kelly, executive vice president for operations of Beth Israel, said there will be a "short hiatus" after the building is demolished, so that they could gather all of the financing needed to continue the project. He said it would take 10 months to construct the new facility.

The demolition followed a heated battle between the hospital, which wanted to build the new structure, and civic concerns that wanted to landmark the structure in honor of the Czechoslovakian composer Antonin Dvorak, who lived in the house from 1892-1895. Dvorak wrote the "New World Symphony," while living there.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission voted in February to designate the building a landmark because of its cultural and historical significance. The building itself was not in the original condition from when Dvorak lived in it.

Beth Israel however claimed that preserving the house would jeopardize their proposed 29-bed AIDS hospice and would also endanger a $1 million grant from the Robert Maplethorpe Foundation. The hospital claimed that to landmark the structure would delay housing for AIDS patients for years.

The City Council debated the issue, but voted 21-14 in favor of overturning the Landmarks Preservation Commission designation of the Dvorak House, 327 East 17th Street, marking the first time that the council used its new powers granted under the new City Charter. In the past, such designation decisions were modified or overturned by the Board of Estimate.

Y Accord

In addition, Beth Israel and The Board of the Emanu-El Midtown YM/YWHA have signed a "memorandum of understanding," paving the way for the preservation of the organization and future construction of a combination medical center and recreational facility.

The Y, at 344 East 14th Street, was slated to be closed and then sold to the highest bidder to help pay off part of the $16 million debt incurred by the Associated Y's of Greater New York, but was reconsidered due to the loud opposition to that plan.

After months of negotiation, Beth Israel has agreed to take over the existing building and pay for its demolition. They will also provide construction costs and operating expenses for a new facility expected to be 13 or 14 stories tall -- the first two stories will be the Y and the remaining will be for medical facilities for the hospital.
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Author:Maisel, Todd
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Aug 28, 1991
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