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Manhattan’s Packard Uptown building gets reprieve from redevelopment project

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Uptown Packard as it appeared in 2014. Image courtesy Google Maps.

One of the last Albert Kahn buildings – and perhaps the last vestige of Packard automobiles – left standing in New York City remains standing for now, thanks to mass demonstrations and a vote last month that denied the owners a chance to demolish it and build a 17-story mixed-use skyscraper on top of its remains.

Best known as Packard Uptown, the 140,000-square-foot reinforced concrete building at the corner of Broadway and Sherman in far uptown Manhattan housed an elaborate two-story showroom and complete service works. Packard Motor Car Company of New York, not one of its dealers, commissioned Kahn to design the building in 1925 and opened it in 1927, aiming to grab business from the nearby Westchester residents who commuted into the city.

With the United States involvement in World War II and the near-cessation of new car sales, Packard leased the building to the Army for use as barracks for the 716th Military Police Battalion in 1943. Then, in December 1946, Packard sold the building outright to a company that then leased part of it to Gallub Motors, a Packard dealer, and another part to a Nash dealership. Over the next decade, the building went on to host Edwards Motors, a Lincoln-Mercury dealership, a parking garage, and Manhattan Lanes – reportedly the largest bowling alley in New York City, with 62 lanes.


Packard Uptown Sales and Service in the Twenties. Photo courtesy Volunteers for Isham Park.

Bought by developers Acadia Realty Trust for $25 million in 2005, the building once again became a parking garage, though Acadia at the time began laying plans for a $40 million redevelopment that would convert the site into Sherman Plaza, a mixed-purpose building with retail, residential, and office space that could reach as high as 23 stories. The project became the first test case in New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s housing plan that would require a percentage of each new residential development to include affordable housing.

As the planning progressed, however, opposition to the project mounted, particularly earlier this year, when area residents began to address city council meetings, start petitions against the project, and stage demonstrations in front of the building. “This neighborhood is atypical of Manhattan,” resident and project opponent Jeffrey Wollock said. “It’s residential, it’s not wealthy, and there are no skyscrapers here.”

Others in the neighborhood have based their objections to the redevelopment on fears of gentrification and of the project leading to additional development that would ruin the character of the neighborhood. Wollock, who hasn’t contacted the Packard building’s owners, said his concerns lie with preserving the building.

“The basic structure is all there and it doesn’t look like it’s been drastically altered, so I think it’s restorable,” he said. “I look at it as a series of options: Okay is to preserve it; better is to restore it. My dream for it is to turn it into a regional auto museum.”

According to Wollock, only three Kahn-designed buildings, including Packard Uptown, remain in New York City. Packard Uptown is not on the National Register of Historic Places, though a similar Kahn-designed Packard showroom in Buffalo – also built in 1926 – is.

Acadia and Washington Square Partners later downscaled the plan for the site to 17 stories and then 15 stories, but even that plan would have called for re-zoning the site, possible only with the permission of the City Council Land Use Committee and City Councilor Ydanis Rodriguez. Rodriguez, who had previously supported the redevelopment for the affordable housing it would ostensibly bring to that part of the city, voted against it in mid-August.

While opponents, including Wollock, described the redevelopment plan as “kaput,” Washington Square and Acadia could still conceivably build a shorter (14-story) Sherman Plaza without re-zoning the site. Spokespeople for the project did not return calls for this story.