Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Teddy Bear House

On a stately old block of West 11th Street there's an oddly modern townhouse that for years was known as the Teddy Bear house for the Paddington in the window and his many costume changes. The building is also famous for replacing the townhouse that was destroyed in a 1970 explosion by the Weather Underground when a pipe bomb prematurely detonated.

With one last costume change (a t-shirt from the Corcoran Real Estate Group), Paddington vanished soon after his owner, Norma Langworthy, passed away last year. The house was put on the market and sold for over $9 million. Now we hear the quirky landmark might be vanishing, too.

A reader sent in the following e-mail message circulated by a West Village block association member:

"The new owner of 18 West 11th Street has filed with the Department of Buildings to demolish the existing building and build anew. The plans were rejected by DOB as incomplete but it is safe to assume that the application will be corrected and re-filed. The new owner has retained the architectural firm where a principal, Hugh Hardy, who designed and argued successfully for the current design in front of the LPC several decades ago, is drawing up plans for the new townhouse. To date those plans have not be revealed to the public and no application has yet to be made to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. When such application if made and filed, the public process, including public hearings and opportunity for testimony, will begin.

Local and other preservation groups are considering what position they will take on this application to demolish an existing structurally sound townhouse which was twice found to be appropriate for the Landmark District and which has been part of the built environment for almost four decades. The underlying policy questions have significant implications for the landmarking process in general and the Greenwich Village Historic District in particular."

1970, after the explosion

What position to take, indeed.

Not everyone is crazy about the sharp-angled architecture of the current house. Said one local to the Observer in 2008, “Why did they do that? It doesn’t fit in the face of the neighborhood at all. That forceful geometric shape is too modern in a bad way.”

Thirty years ago, it wasn't an easy task to get this house approved for construction. The Langworthys bought the empty lot in 1976 and submitted their design to Landmarks. Reported the Times in 1981, "There followed a series of neighborhood and commission meetings of high dunder and dispute, as some neighbors insisted that the angles would disrupt the architectural coherence of the street. One older woman, crippled by a broken hip, rented an ambulance to deliver her in opposition to the plan."

Finally, the chairman of the commission asked Mrs. Langworthy, "what would you do if we told you you couldn't build that house?'' She said, ''I thought, 'Oh God, I don't know' -- and I started to cry."

Her house was approved, defying the dunder of West 11th Street. Now we'll see if those winds will blow in the opposite direction, to save what was once considered an eyesore--and came to be beloved because of a bear.

Paddington's last hurrah: Barbara Corcoran's corporate tee

The Paddington Lady
Weathermen Easter


Anonymous said...

It's ugly. I hope they tear it down.

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

Dustin Hoffman was a next door neighbor at the time and after the explosion in the Daily News he could be seen carrying paintings down his stairs, don't know how valuable they were or who the artist was.

James C. Taylor said...

Hoffman's "Graduate" co-star Anne Bancroft (Mrs. Robinson) also lived on that block with Mel Brooks.

My brother is currently working on the set of the new Paddington movie, maybe I could get him to incorporate some kind of subtle reference to this building...

Laura Goggin Photography said...

If the owners don't like the design, why did they buy it? I actually thought this place was's certainly a unique building with a lot of history attached to it. Why not find an owner who actually appreciates it.

Anonymous said...

Paddington didn't vanish; he now resides at the local elementary school, PS41.

Anonymous said...

I second the call to tear the building down. It is ugly and out of place. Sounds like it was approved in the first place based on emotion rather than sound reasoning concerning the architectural integrity of the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

I lived on West 11th but closer to Hudson during the 80's. My landlord told me about this house and its history. There was a Bob Dylan story and my landlord also mentioned that one of the persons who rigged the $64000 Question had lived there.

I used to love walking by the house and seeing how the owner had dressed Paddongton Bear. And while the angles always bothered me, I'm a little sad to hear the new owner wants to tear it down.

Anonymous said...

What do you think will go up in its place? A fake old house a la Robert Stern? Is that any better? And why buy a house with history only to tear it down, when there are other "real" old houses on the market, if that is what you like.
Landmarked means what?

Anonymous said...

Unless i am missing something, the house of the weathermen was mostly destroyed and then rebuilt to the current look in the 70s. Sounds like the history is in the address not the structure.. maybe not such a bad idea to have a refreshed design for the times and keep the address relevent..

Anonymous said...

Do you have any pix of that building that blew up at 305 e 45th st? pretty sure it was 1971 or so.