October 13, 2009
Preservation vs. Accessibility
Our publisher visits a landmark New York building that, alas, pays little heed to the principles of universal design.
Last Saturday I attended a wedding at New York’s Players Club, which occupies a historic 19th-century mansion on Gramercy Park South, next to the National Arts Club. After getting out of the car with my forearm crutches, I navigate a brightly painted step down to the entry then push myself up four steps, where I am confronted by a curved half-flight of stairs up to the parlor floor where the event will be held. An extremely nice coat-check attendant—who seems willing to almost carry me upstairs—tells me that although the building has an elevator, it does not stop at the parlor floor. So I give one crutch to my wife, Eugenie, and slowly ascend the stairs one at a time, my left hand on the rail and my right arm in a crutch, all the while struggling against the flow of traffic heading downstairs.
Once we are on the correct level things are great and, providentially, I don’t need the bathroom two flights down. But what would I have done in a wheelchair?
The Players is a wonderful place, a historic Greek Revival townhouse that’s part of a landmark historic-preservation district. The interiors are worthy of landmark status as well, filled as they are with early 19th-century detail and pictures of great performers of the past hundred years.
Still, I must say that making this building accessible may have been easier if the preservationists stood aside and allowed some quick solution to be put in place—at least until the preservation community can raise the funds to provide the club the means to make a historically-sensitive permanent solution.
Players Club photo from www.museumplanet.org