November 13, 1985
An Artisan's Plea
Susan Heller Anderson, David W. Dunlap

After years of watching beautiful old buildings fall to the wrecker's ball, Rene Lavaggi felt he had to speak out. So yesterday, a bit nervous, the 70-year-old stone carver got up before the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Mr. Lavaggi, who lives near Gramercy Park, had come to speak in behalf of landmark status for No. 36 Gramercy Park East, a 12-story apartment building erected in 1908 with a terra-cotta facade. But in the end, he talked about much more.

He had done part of the intricate stonework on some of those buildings torn down over the years, as had his father and his uncles.

"It's been heart-rendering for me," said Mr. Lavaggi, who spoke softly, tears in his eyes. "You should have felt the great pride we took in the work we did. And then to see it destroyed so wantonly."

The lawyers and accountants and architects who had come to debate two dozen items on the agenda—from Louis Armstrong's home in Corona, Queens, to the New York Times Building on West 43rd Street—grew quiet.

"I'm so very glad you came down today," said Anthony M. Tung, a member of the landmarks panel. "We on the commission often know the names of the architects and the developers and the financiers. We know we have a great debt to the artisans who created the buildings. But it's usually a debt to someone who's anonymous. Thank you, Mr. Lavaggi. Thank, you."