Monday, January 16, 2012

#occupyDOB Un-caging the Commons - Illegal Fences at One Chase Manhattan Plaza

The fences at Liberty Plaza are down but public space in Lower Manhattan remains barricaded. Just down the block, the One Chase Manhattan Plaza has been closed since mid-September. Chase closed the plaza in anticipation of the first Occupy Wall Street General Assembly that was called for that space at 3pm on September 17. It was on the map that was handed out that day, but when people arrived at the plaza, it was closed - barricaded with fences that appear to have been purpose-built by the building owners or management. 

The assembly happened elsewhere, and history unfolded. But our public space continues to be compromised. 

A great public plaza and seminal works of public art have been caged for four months (Isamu Noguchi’s Sunken Garden, 1964, and Jean Dubuffet’s Group of Four Trees, 1972). 

One Chase Manhattan Plaza was constructed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, LLP in 1961; the architects voluntarily allocated the majority of the allowable space to the public realm. The plaza was a success and created a model for future privately owned public space (POPS) zoning and the Zoning Resolution that governs post-1961 POPS. The public use of the plaza as designed set the standard for public space in densely-built Manhattan. Chase Manhattan is a private space, but a private space built with the intention of public use; we are the public, and we can leverage New York City agency power to help us get our commons back. 

Here’s how: One Chase Manhattan Plaza got Landmark status in 2009. Part of its historical significance is the deliberate allocation of plaza space for public use. 
Under New York City law, before doing work on landmark properties that will affect their exteriors, building owners or tenants need to apply for a permit from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Violations of the Landmarks Law occur either when work is done on a Landmark without a permit or when work does not comply with a permit. The fences around Chase Manhattan plaza clearly affect the exterior of the building, yet no one has applied for a permit for their erection (the only permit for exterior work filed in the last two years -- scaffolding for the sculptures -- is here).

The New York City Landmarks law has been violated with the erection of the fences and the closing of Chase Manhattan Plaza. Luckily -- anyone can report a violation by filling out this form and sending it in (in the real mail or through a hand-delivery -- the Landmark Preservation Commission hasn’t joined us in the digital age, yet).

Here are the questions on the form, and how you can fill it out:

Building Number: 26
Street Name: Nassau
Cross Street(s): William, Nassau, Pine, Liberty
Borough: Manhattan

Fences have been added at all access points around the historic Chase Manhattan Plaza. This work was done without a permit and has altered the landmark’s exterior. Outdoor public artwork that is part of the Landmark is not accessible as it was when the building became a landmark.

Mail or bring to:
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
1 Centre Street, 9th floor North
New York, New York 10007
Attn. Violations Unit

Then send us an email at to let us know that you filed a complaint.

Two Additional Notes:

ONE: The Department of Buildings is also an agency that can be contacted about these fences. They have received one complaint so far: “THERE ARE FENCES AT THE PERIMETER OF THE PLAZA THAT IS NOT PROPERLY INSTALLED. IT IS HELD DOWN BY SANDBAGS CREATING A DANGEROUS CONDITION AS THEY CAN BE BLOWN OVER BY STRONG WIND AND CAUSE INJURY.” You can also submit your own, following this model. We will be monitoring how they respond.

TWO: And here’s a chance to engage people directly at the barricaded plaza, this Thursday:
There is a NY Legal Services labor action planned for this space for 8am on Thursday, January 19, 2012. We are looking for #whOWNSpace volunteers to go and have folks fill out this complaint to the Landmark’s Commission, then drop them off at 1 Center Street that same morning. 

**Project Formulated by #whOWNSpace. All Images taken by designer Aaron Plewke over the last three months and manipulated for this post by Quilian Riano from DSGN AGNC. Text by Paula Z. Segal and #whOWNSpace legal team.


  1. I am at work so couldn't contact Landmarks Preservation Commission but did fill out form to DoB Commissioner LiMandri.

  2. "Commission spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon told the Voice the commission considers the fencing removable, and therefore outside the commission's purview." See .

    But that doesn't seem right at all. Here's the law: "If an owner wishes to perform any work on a designated landmark or on a property in a designated historic district, he or she must obtain a permit from the Landmarks Preservation Commission approving such work before carrying it out." The Commission will only issue a permit if it deems that the proposed work has no effect, is appropriate or is minor. See .

    Permit applications for TEMPORARY changes -- defined as one (1) calendar year or less -- must be filed and include a plan and time schedule for the dismantling of the installation and Installation details indicating that there will be no damage to protected architectural features. See There has been no application filed for the fences.

    The phone number for Landmarks is 212-669-7951.

    Tomorrow is a great day to give them a ring to talk about whether a fence that has been up for 4 months and seems to be staying up indefinitely is within the Commission's purview. We'd love to hear how your conversation goes -- email with a report.

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