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Thread: The Landmarks Preservation Commission

  1. #31

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    Counciil Member Aims To Close a Landmark Loophole

    BY GRACE RAUH - Staff Reporter of the Sun
    March 14, 2007
    URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/50412

    New York City officials could gain a powerful new tool to save would-be historic and landmark buildings from the wrecking ball.

    Under a bill to be introduced today by City Council Member Rosie Mendez of Manhattan, the Department of Buildings would be allowed to revoke building permits for newly designated landmark properties if the owners have not completed a substantial amount of work or spent a significant amount of money on the projects when landmark status is granted.

    The bill's supporters say it is common for developers to obtain building permits after purchasing properties that may be eligible for landmark status to ensure they have the ability to renovate or demolish in the future, even if the properties are designated landmarks.

    The Landmarks Preservation Commission approves renovation and construction projects on landmark and historic properties in New York, but the normal review process does not apply to owners of landmark buildings who already had building permits before the status of their property changed.

    "I just felt like this was a loophole," Ms. Mendez said.

    Last summer, the developer of a former school in the East Village, P.S. 64, had building permits for the property and defaced historic architectural details after it was named a landmark. The developer, Gregg Singer, said at the time his building, which is in Ms. Mendez's district, was named a landmark only in an attempt to prevent him from developing the property.

    There are more than 23,000 properties in New York City, or 2.3% of the city's property, that are landmarks or part of historic districts, and therefore overseen by the commission.

    The executive director of the Historic Districts Council, Simeon Bankoff, said there have been a number of recent high-profile cases that illustrate the need for this bill.

    "I think it's timely," he said. "It gives expanded preservation powers to the city."

  2. #32

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    23 and 25 Park Pl, home of the Daily News during the Roaring 20s, get landmark designation.

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/download...03_13_07-2.pdf

    Designation reports:

    23 Park Pl

    25 Park Pl

  3. #33

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    Mayor Bloomberg please remove Mr Tierney from his position immediately.

    For all NY's sake.

  4. #34

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    Old Keller Hotel, 150 Barrow St (at West St), finally landmarked.

    Unlike the adjoining building on Christopher St that has been stripped of its detail (white one in the first photo), the Keller Hotel is intact.

    Long vacant, there are job filings with the DOB to renovate into residences.

    LPC Designation Report

  5. #35
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    May 15, 2007, 9:12 am

    The Future of New York’s Past

    By Sewell Chan

    A walk through Lower Manhattan yields scant evidence of the 17th century Dutch and English settlements. Many of the buildings now seen as timeless masterpieces, like the Flatiron Building (1902) and Grand Central Terminal (1903), are very young by Old World standards. In a city where change is the only constant, is there sufficient respect for the past?

    Last night, a panel that included the writer Tom Wolfe discussed the subject, “Does New York’s Past Have a Future? A Report on the Preservation Movement’s History; Some Prescriptions for Its Next Century,” before an audience of about 100 at the City University of New York Graduate Center. Michael Miscione, the Manhattan borough historian; Kent Barwick, president of the Municipal Art Society; and Norman Oder, the Atlantic Yards critic, were among the faces in the crowd.

    The discussion, organized by the Gotham Center for New York City History and the New York Preservation Archive Project, produced mixed reviews for the 11-member Landmarks Preservation Commission, which is entrusted with designating landmarks for protection from demolition or alteration.

    A long (but thorough) summary of the speakers’ remarks is below.

    Anthony C. Wood

    Mr. Wood, the founder and chairman of the New York Preservation Archive Project, has spent the last two years working on a forthcoming book about the origins of New York City’s landmarks preservation law, which was adopted by the City Council and signed by Mayor Robert F. Wagner in 1965. It survived a Supreme Court challenge in 1978.

    “There seems to be an extraordinary angst and growing disillusionment among many New Yorkers as we continue to lose buildings that many people think should be saved,” Mr. Wood said, adding, “Preservation’s history provides us a context and an additional perspective, a very useful lens through which to understand preservation today.”

    “Our law is not a timid document,” Mr. Wood said. “However, since its passage. The implementation of the law has been characterized by timidity, and by and large, the preservation community has come to expect low expectations from the law. It has underachieved, and we have let it.”

    From the beginning, the survival of the law — then as now the broadest landmarks-protection statute in the nation — was in doubt, Mr. Wood noted. Developers promised a legal challenge, and many believed that the courts would strike it down within three years. “It was an untested law with an unproven commission,” Mr. Wood said. “That explains why that commission proceeded gingerly in its early years.”

    The first major test of the law came in the late 1960s, when the financially troubled Penn Central railroad, which owned Grand Central Terminal, proposed erecting a massive office tower designed by Marcel Breuer (who designed the Whitney Museum of American Art) on top of the station. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was among the prominent New Yorkers who rallied to save the terminal from the fate that befell the old Pennsylvania Station, a marble masterpiece destroyed in 1963.

    Nonetheless, Mr. Wood said, “Timidity — that worry, that fear, that landmarks could be taken away at any one moment – still is part of the DNA of the preservation movement.” Mr. Wood attributed that timidity to the creation of the commission itself. He also argued that civic groups have taken a deferential position toward the commission, ceding a leadership role and leaving them with few other resources in landmarks disputes.

    William J. Higgins

    Mr. Higgins, a principal in Higgins Quasebarth & Partners, is a historic preservation consultant who often works with property developers and owners who are submitting plans for new construction to the landmarks commission.

    Mr. Higgins laid out six “cosmic issues” that tend to dominate construction projects. It is a primer that seems to apply to more than just the preservation isssues he was discussing, but to development in general:

    1. Scale. Opponents use verbs like “hulk and loom,” while supporters use “light and airy verbs” like “float.”
    2. Precedent. Opponents “generally break into song, somewhere between Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra: ‘If they can do it here, they’ll do it everywhere.’ ” Supporters “go higher on the cultural food chain, channeling transcendentalists. No Emerson or Thoreau could be more eloquent about the absolute sacredness and uniqueness of the change being proposed.”
    3. Style. “No proposed building, especially no modern building, is just itself. It’s always like something.” Opponents will compare a building to a toilet bowl or soap dish, while advocates “head right for the great platonic shapes: ‘icon,’ ‘sculptural form.’ ”
    4. Use (Image). Opponents compare the projects to an undesired building type – “shopping malls are a particular favorite” – or raise fears that the neighborhood will be dominated by chain stores like the Gap or, more recently, Prada. Supporters cite lofty ideas like “rebirth, new life, vitality.”
    5. Design quality. Opponents will dismiss aesthetically impressive works by saying, “Nice work, but not for me,” paraphrasing Gershwin. Advocates “ascend to the futurist-visionary high road and aspire to build a landmark of the future.”
    6. Public discourse. Worsening, on both sides, Mr. Higgins argued. “The landmarks forum is sounding more and more just like another outpost of the culture wars to me,” he said, “with the opposing sides of the camp demonizing each other in order to win the battle.”

    Anthony M. Tung

    Mr. Tung, a former member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the author of “Preserving the World’s Great Cities: The Destruction and Renewal of the Historic Metropolis,” offered the most pessimistic account of the Bloomberg administration’s track record in preservation, and of the state of the movement generally.

    “The vitality of New York has long been served by a landmarks commission of superior quality; this is becoming less true with every successive Republican administration,” Mr. Tung argued.

    In the 1930s, only two dozen American municipalities had preservation ordinances, compared to 2,400 today. Yet the destruction of historic urban architecture, he argued, continues unabated. “Nothing is so beautiful or meaningful that it can’t be destroyed,” giving way to “developments of a thoughtless and numbing banality,” he said.

    Mr. Tung enumerated a litany of destructive acts. In Amsterdam, of the 4,200 buildings identified in 1928 as being of prime historic value, one-quarter had been razed by the end of the century. In Rome, one-third of the historic city was leveled between 1870 and 1950, according to an estimate by the architect Spiro Kostof. In Moscow, half of the noteworthy buildings, in particular churches, were demolished between 1924 and 1950 to make way for giant housing projects.

    About half of the “significant historic fabric” that existed in the world in 1900 had been destroyed a century later, he said, estimating that the proportion would rise to 75 percent by the end of this century.

    Mr. Tung said that New York City “leaped to the front” of the preservation movement in the mid-1960s. It has designated roughly 24,000 landmarks, amounting to about 2.4 percent of the city’s area. Eighteen percent of Manhattan is protected under the landmarks law, although much of that is taken up by Central, Riverside and Fort Tryon Parks.

    In its first 29 years, the landmarks commission designated an average of 652 properties a year, compared with 183 a year under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Mr. Tung asserted. New Orleans, which passed protections for many of its historic buildings after Hurricane Katrina inundated the city in 2005, now has a proportionally higher preservation rate than New York, he said.

    Julia Vitullo-Martin

    Dr. Vitullo-Martin — a political scientist, former city official and director of the Center for Rethinking Development at the conservative Manhattan Institute — was more sympathetic to the Bloomberg administration, but she also raised cause for alarm.

    “In a postindustrial age, a city’s face becomes its fortune,” she said, quoting a friend. “Both of those parts of the sentence are true. It really matters today, in a way it didn’t in the early 20th and in the 19th centuries, that a city is beautiful.”

    Chicago, which until the early 70s “routinely tore down its landmarks and ripped the heart out of its historic neighborhoods,” is today the country’s most beautiful postindustrial city, she said, with a mayor, Richard M. Daley, who “asserts Chicago’s beauty in his economic development policies.”

    “A city’s story today determines its fate,” Dr. Vitullo-Martin said, invoking the idea of “story-cities” put forth by Jack London — “cities whose stories are so familiar, powerful and renowned that people who have never been to the city feel they know and admire it.”

    Wealth matters, Dr. Vitullo-Martin said, arguing that two or three decades ago, “No one predicted that New York and London would become so phenomenally wealthy and that the economic demand for these cities would be virtually without limit.”

    London now has the most expensive residential real estate of any city in the world, and yet is “relatively undeveloped,” with few soaring skyscrapers and “huge amounts of land in East London,” beyond the Docklands. New York lacks space to grow, she said, adding that Mr. Bloomberg’s PlaNYC effort and his vision of New York City in 2030 call for exploiting the remaining space that can be developed.

    “I think preservations should really embrace that because insofar as development can be directed toward underused property, there’s some hope for releasing the pressure on other property,” she said.

    Dr. Vitullo-Martin called arguments over use of historic properties “one of the most bitter, divisive and unproductive fights” in the preservation movement. “It has to break your heart when you see a church turned into a sleazy nightclub,” adding, however, “To save buildings, you need an economic use and that’s all there is to it.”

    Tastes are often unpredictable, she said, noting that many preservationists are now calling for saving the Modernist skyscrapers that were widely seen as ugly in the 1950s and 60s. She noted, critically, the recent effort to have the Silver Towers in Greenwich Village designated as a landmark because they represent I. M. Pei’s first use of the superblock – a largely discredited idea championed by Robert Moses and urban planners.

    “The superblock truly is one of the worst ideas of the 21st century, and to list, as a reason for preservation, that this was an example of a famous architect’s first use of a truly bad idea, is itself a truly bad idea,” she said, drawing laughs.

    Tom Wolfe

    Mr. Wolfe, an ardent preservationist, aimed fierce criticism at the Bloomberg-era Landmarks Preservation Commission.

    “My quarrel in this whole area is not with there being certain buildings that just have to be landmarks,” he said. “It’s more with the politics of the situation and the cynicism of the current situation.”

    Mr. Wolfe described the landmarks law of 1965 as “what politicians call one of the great goo-goo moments in New York politics,” using the somewhat derisive nickname for good-government efforts.

    Mr. Wolfe described the Grand Central fight (“Can you imagine a 60-story building as ugly as the Whitney over the top of Grand Central?”) and recalled Mr. Tung’s role in resisting a plan by the Koch administration to cut down “an entire allée of beautiful, ancient trees” to build a restaurant at the rear of the New York Public Library, in Bryant Park.

    Mr. Wolfe asserted that the landmarks commission’s role was diminished under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Mr. Bloomberg. He was particularly incensed at the current commission’s refusal to consider designating 2 Columbus Circle, often called the “lollipop building,” as a landmark.

    The building, by Edward Durell Stone, was built in 1964 to house the art collection of the supermarket magnate Huntington Hartford, but was seen by some as an eyesore. Last year, builders began to radically alter the building to be the future home of the Museum of Arts and Design, over the objections of a panoply of groups, from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to the World Monuments Fund.

    The architectural historians Vincent Scully and Robert A. M. Stern, the urban theorist Witold Rybczynski, and others called for the landmarks commission to at least hold a hearing, Mr. Wolfe said, but it was like “talking at the wall, talking at the sea, talking at the waves.”

    “Now if that lineup is not sufficiently strong opinion to save a building in New York City, this city’s finished when it comes to preservation,” Mr. Wolfe said.

    Epilogue

    In response to questions from Mike Wallace, the historian who moderated the panel, and from the audience, the speakers touched on a variety of subjects.

    Mr. Wood described a “sea-change” in the attitudes of ordinary residents toward their historic neighborhoods. “Thirty years ago, you couldn’t get the people of Queens to be interested in a historic district with perhaps six people being the exception to that,” he said, adding that neighborhoods all over the city today “are clamoring to have their communities protected.” He added, “The challenge is they are not particularly well-organized. There is not the leadership the way there used to be.”

    Mr. Higgins said that the real estate market “is like fire – fire can make things and fire can utterly destroy things.” The dynamic property market in New York City is a comparative blessing, he said, given how the loss of industry and jobs has ravaged so many other urban centers.

    Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

  6. #36
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    A really insightful blog comment accompanying this piece:

    #2.
    May 15th,
    2007
    10:49 am

    There are two sides to this debate that are worth disaggregating. The first relates to historic structures - the proposition that a city is enriched by the presence of a range of styles and scales, and that buildings from an earlier era are worth preserving even when their owners believe they might realize a higher rate of return by tearing them down. I think it’s fair to say that this idea, once controversial, is now widely accepted. And it’s absurd to claim that a declining rate of new designations is evidence to the contrary - one would, in fact, expect that after an initial rush to designate the accumulated legacy of three and a half centuries of construction, the rate would decline.

    The other side of this debate relates to the ‘character’ of a neighborhood, the ways in which its structures and their uses relate to each other. Here, advocates wish to preserve not the physical forms of the city, but their emotional ‘feel.’ At its best, this is the impulse to restrain the construction of a massive, modern tower on an unoccupied plot of land in the middle of a row of historic townhouses. At its worst, this is the impulse of those living in a particular neighborhood to freeze its natural development and evolution at an arbitrarily chosen moment, and perhaps inflate the value of their own properties in the process.

    That’s the key to understanding the divergent perspectives on what the Bloomberg administration has accomplished. When Wood describes a ’sea change’ in residential attitudes in the outer boroughs, he doesn’t mean that there’s a sudden surge of interest in Bushwick in preserving architectural moldings; he means that laws originally intended to preserve the city’s architectural heritage are now being used to fight gentrification and development. It’s a pattern that started in ritzy Manhattan neighborhoods, where residents argued that because the affluent and influential had been living there for a century or more, it would be simply ghastly to pull down old, historic structures. There’s a measure of equity in watching it spread to working class enclaves, which can certainly make equally compelling claims. The problem is that the rationale is pretty flimsy in either case. What it ignores is that there is a cost to preserving entire neighborhoods, a cost New Yorkers pay in their monthly rent bills or mortgage payments. We might succesfully preserve a handful of working class enclaves through these statutes, but only at the price of forcing real estate values higher in unprotected neighborhoods elsewhere in the city. We can preserve the beauty of blocks on the Upper East Side, but only by pushing new co-op towers into previously middle-class neighborhoods.

    That’s what offends me about this discussion. There is a lot of sanctimony and piety, but little discussion of the tradeoffs inherent in any process of preservation, little sense that the genuine benefits have to be weighed against the substantial costs. Vitullo-Martin was the only one to broach the subject. The question is not “How can we best preserve the past?” but rather, “What should our city look like?” Integrating these paeans to the past with a forward looking vision is the key to ensuring the future vitality of the preservation movement.

    (An aside: It’s worth noting the heavy element of nostalgia present in most of the panelists’ arguments. None of the five is younger than 50, and their average age is about 60 - making those once-reviled modernist towers the structures of their youth. Where are the young preservationists? Would they strike a different balance, push to preserve different structures or neighborhoods?)

    — Posted by FlyOnTheWall

  7. #37

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    I can not make sense out of the above (FlyOnTheWall).

    Here's an example:

    "When Wood describes a ’sea change’ in residential attitudes in the outer boroughs, he doesn’t mean that there’s a sudden surge of interest in Bushwick in preserving architectural moldings; he means that laws originally intended to preserve the city’s architectural heritage are now being used to fight gentrification and development. "

    Uh...what? Go back and read Wood's statements. He's NOT saying that. At least not in what is written here. The blogger is inferring that. Yet he's stating his summation as fact. That's a no-no.

    He continues with:

    "It’s a pattern that started in ritzy Manhattan neighborhoods, where residents argued that because the affluent and influential had been living there for a century or more, it would be simply ghastly to pull down old, historic structures."

    Lol. Has this guy been drinking? Would he please site one of those arguments? Who, what, when?

    I could go on ...but Flyonthewall should find another topic to write about.

  8. #38
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    Remember that the NY Times piece is just a summary. So when he refers to "sea change" (direct quotation), it's probably something that Wood said during the hearings that wasn't written in the article.

    And what he's saying is absolutely correct. One need only look at all the news articles about the zoning debates in outer-borough neighborhoods, especially suburban Queens. Residents there are arguing against upzoning, and sometimes directly for downzoning, because of developers (legally) constructing multi-family housing on what they view should be single-family lots. The argument is about changing character - specifically higher density and lower-income housing - and not about architecture. And the goals are accomplished through exclusionary zoning.

  9. #39

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    The direct quotes from Woods as reported in the Times article. Please read them in order:

    “There seems to be an extraordinary angst and growing disillusionment among many New Yorkers as we continue to lose buildings that many people think should be saved,”

    “Preservation’s history provides us a context and an additional perspective, a very useful lens through which to understand preservation today.”

    “Our law is not a timid document,” “However, since its passage. The implementation of the law has been characterized by timidity, and by and large, the preservation community has come to expect low expectations from the law. It has underachieved, and we have let it.”

    “It was an untested law with an unproven commission,” “That explains why that commission proceeded gingerly in its early years.”

    “Timidity — that worry, that fear, that landmarks could be taken away at any one moment – still is part of the DNA of the preservation movement.”

    (He also argued that civic groups have taken a deferential position toward the commission, ceding a leadership role and leaving them with few other resources in landmarks disputes.)

    Mr. Wood described a “sea-change” in the attitudes of ordinary residents toward their historic neighborhoods. “Thirty years ago, you couldn’t get the people of Queens to be interested in a historic district with perhaps six people being the exception to that,” he said, adding that neighborhoods all over the city today “are clamoring to have their communities protected.” He added, “The challenge is they are not particularly well-organized. There is not the leadership the way there used to be.”

    Perhaps at the actual debate Woods added other sentiments but in the above he is NOT saying what the blogger says, he says:

    "When Wood describes a ’sea change’ in residential attitudes in the outer boroughs, he doesn’t mean that there’s a sudden surge of interest in Bushwick in preserving architectural moldings; he means that laws originally intended to preserve the city’s architectural heritage are now being used to fight gentrification and development."

    If Woods does in fact believe that, "that laws originally intended to preserve the city’s architectural heritage are now being used to fight gentrification and development."... fine....but I would like to see the direct quotes... because it is quite a jump and it is NOT what he says as the Times reported it. And even if such were true... Woods notes that the community groups are "not particularly well-organized. There is not the leadership the way there used to be.” This simply does not compute.

    My guess is that the blogger is putting words in Wood's mouth and using wishful thinking.




    ---
    Last edited by Fabrizio; May 15th, 2007 at 05:30 PM.

  10. #40
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    My bad for skipping over the quote from the Epilogue.

    Now that I've read over it a few more times, Wood's comments themselves seem to not add up very well:

    “Thirty years ago, you couldn’t get the people of Queens to be interested in a historic district with perhaps six people being the exception to that,” he said, adding that neighborhoods all over the city today “are clamoring to have their communities protected.”

    I don't think we can just accept this at face value, seeing as historic districts are not created a dime a dozen. Out of 84 districts in New York, only 33 are in the outer boroughs (6 in Queens). There's a difference between "clamoring" for historic district designation and petitioning for things like downzoning, which is ultimately aimed at protecting the community's character (and may or may not have similar effects as strictly preservationist policies). Still, I wish I had the transcript of everything Wood said to know if he tried to make this distinction.

    Even if the blogger is putting words in Wood's mouth, it doesn't change the fact that community activism is on the increase - especially in the outer boroughs - following the recent boom in residential construction. The majority of the time, this activism is not aimed at designating landmarks, or creating a new historic district, but at slowing down the forces of neighborhood change - gentrification and denser development.

  11. #41

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    Quote Originally Posted by FlyOnTheWall
    What it ignores is that there is a cost to preserving entire neighborhoods, a cost New Yorkers pay in their monthly rent bills or mortgage payments.
    Amazing how 2.4% of the land area can have such a big influence on citywide rent and mortgage payments.

  12. #42

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    Quote Originally Posted by pianoman11686 View Post
    The majority of the time, this activism is not aimed at designating landmarks, or creating a new historic district, but at slowing down the forces of neighborhood change - gentrification and denser development.
    Regardless of motive, it should be up to LPC to give it fair voice, and decide on the merits.

    I'm sure many in undesignated Park Slope are pushing for historic status to halt development, but is the area worthy?

  13. #43
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    It's always helpful to (please!!) include a link to an article / blog so that readers here can track back and get the full story --

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    Thanks ^^^

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