245 East 54th Street
Wrapping around the full blockfront building on the west side of Second Avenue between East 54th and 55th Streets, the Brevard’s public space has experienced a tumultuous life. The space was initially completed in 1974 under the undemanding “as-of-right” plaza standards of the 1961 Zoning Resolution. For years, the building’s restaurant tenant on East 55th Street impermissibly placed tables and chairs in the plaza, triggering a Department of Building’s enforcement action compelling their removal. In 1983, the building owner obtained permission for the open air café with tables, chairs, and waiter service, in return for its agreement to upgrade the plaza. In 1984, the City agreed to “qualify” a portion of the plaza space west of the building on East 55th Street as a “residential plaza,” thereby authorizing the installation of gates and allowing closing at night to combat alleged vandalism and security problems. In return, the owner agreed to provide a still better-designed space with more public amenities. Unfortunately, the troubled past, it would appear, haunts the present. In 1996, the Department of Buildings issued a violation for missing amenities, faulty maintenance, and improper closure. At a recent site visit, some amenities were still missing.
Evocative of an entrance to a Victorian-era park, the decorative green fence and gate at the mouth of this narrow, deep, rectangular residential plaza should be open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. or one hour after sunset, whichever is later. According to applicable legal requirements, the concessions stand inside the space must serve refreshments during the same hours that the open air café next to the public sidewalk along East 55th Street is open. Numerous movable white-mesh chairs and tables are arrayed at back near the small brown-brick waterfall and pool, trimmed with iconic sun disk. Metal bars carve flanking wooden benches into individual seating units. Trees, shrubs, and annuals leaven the monotonic color scheme, although they cannot obscure the barbed wire on top of surrounding chain-link fences. Seven steps above the plaza floor to the west is a small patio with more movable tables and chairs, partially covered by a blue canvas canopy.
Owing to past problems, the open air café and its tables, chairs, and waiter service along East 55th Street are subject to strict, express rules. The café’s perimeter is allowed to be demarcated by a series of low-rise planters, no greater than 18 inches tall, filled with seasonal flowers or shrubs. These planters must be completely removed or placed against the northern wall of the Brevard building during the months when the café is not in operation. No fence, railing, stanchion, or other permanent structure may be placed at either eastern or northern boundaries of the café space, although at a recent site visit, railings were bolted to the ground. Finally, the café must keep its gate at the western end open during all hours that the café itself is open, even if the residential plaza space west of the café is closed. At the southeast corner of East 55th Street and Second
Avenue is a fixed brick bench and planter for four, with an attached plaque announcing that this is a “public bench.” The plaza space is extra sidewalk in front of retail stores on the west side of Second Avenue and in front of the Brevard lobby on East 54th Street. Several planters provide interest.