Nearly 200-year old Canal Street buildings set for facelift

United American Land files to remove historic façades of Federalist row houses

321-323 Canal Street (Buildings on the left. Photo credit: PropertyShark.)
321-323 Canal Street (Buildings on the left. Photo credit: PropertyShark.)

The days are numbered for the unstable façades of two United American Land-owned buildings that have watched over a portion of Canal Street for nearly 200 years, a new filing with the Department of Buildings shows.

The Laboz family’s United American, the largest owner of property along a bustling stretch of Canal Street, filed today for an “emergency deconstruction” of the front and rear façades of the two three-story buildings that lie at the southern end of the Soho Cast-Iron Historic District, the application says.

The adjacent buildings at 321 and 323 Canal Street between Mercer and Greene streets have the Federal motif — characterized by an angled top story — and were constructed in about 1821, just two years after the drainage ditch that ran through the center of Canal Street was finally paved over.

The buildings are in a portion of Canal Street at the southern edge of a booming Soho, which has seen average retail asking rents grow by more than 51 percent to $455 per square foot in the second quarter of 2013 from $301 in the same period in 2012, the most recent data from commercial firm Cushman & Wakefield shows. Apparel firms are expected to spread onto Canal Street, which has traditionally been a haven for knockoff retailers that are being slowly forced out by pressure from law enforcement. United American owns 412 feet of frontage along Canal Street between Centre Street and West Broadway, double the nearest owner, an analysis by The Real Deal found.

On May 21, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved United American’s plan to deconstruct the buildings, store the bricks and reuse them in a new structure. The plan, however, did not provide an explicit design for what would replace the removed façades on the retail strip.

And the owners don’t need to replicate exactly what they have torn down, despite the historic district designation, Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokesperson for the LPC, told The Real Deal.

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“We haven’t received a proposal for a new building,” she said. “In general, a design that speaks to the character and history of a landmark building and relates well to the building can be found to be appropriate whether it’s a contextual design or contemporary design.”

United American purchased 321 Canal in May 2011 for $3.2 million, and 323 Canal in August 1998, for an undisclosed sum, city records show.

Jason Laboz, a principal with United American, said the firm discovered structural defects, and filed the application.

“We are replacing all the brick and restoring the building to the way it was before. It is a landmark building and we cannot do anything but restore it,” he said.

Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, and an advocate for architectural preservation, acknowledged that the old buildings could pose a danger to the public and need to be taken down, but he would have preferred having a design for the reconstructed buildings in hand before the city gave its approval.

“We would have much preferred that [United American] come forward with a plan for what they eventually want to do with the space,” he said.