Service of Working at a Snail’s Pace

March 3rd, 2016

Categories: Uncategorized

Snail

As I read John Barbanel’s Wall Street Journal article, “Landmark Label for 65 Properties rejected by City,” I kept thinking, “Why has it taken so long for a commission to come to no decision about 95 NYC properties?” Some of the properties in The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission backlog date back to its launch 50 years ago, according to Matt A.V. Chaban in The New York Times.

The Commission was created by Mayor Robert F. Wagner in 1965, a year after Pennsylvania Station was destroyed, I read in Wikipedia. Its chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan—who has been working on the current review since November 2014–wanted to toss out all 95 in the backlog to start with a clean slate. It is still considering 30 on this list.

To be cavalier about destroying the chances of 95 potential landmarks, some of which enrich the look of the city, I can only guess that Srinivasan has never been to downtown Des Moines. I haven’t been in years, but a striking memory was the measly one square block of handsome period buildings with enchanting architectural elements which housed thriving businesses that had remodeled the interiors beautifully. There must have been more such buildings though when I was there I passed countless empty lots. I have nothing against modern buildings but I love the old ones too. They make walks in London and Paris [photo below left] and countless other towns and cities memorable.

Bergdorf GoodmanEvan Bindelglass in Newyorkyimby.com reported that in 2015, the Commission designated six landmarks and four historic districts. By dragging its feet the Commission leaves in the lurch owners who may want to erase a building from the city’s skyline altogether. With a landmark designation, they couldn’t anyway.

Saved for the moment are the Pepsi-Cola sign that’s been on the Long Island City waterfront since about 1936 and the Fifth Avenue Bergdorf Goodman building [photo right]. They’d been considering the latter since 1970! Also slated for landmark designation are a YMCA in Harlem, Loew’s Theater on west 175th Street and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Parish House and rectory on West 99th Street [photo below, center].

Some of the losers, not to be considered, are the home of President Chester A. Arthur and Union Square, both in Manhattan, and the Cunard Mansion on Staten Island. Some others excised from consideration: a whole bunch of 42nd Street theatres such as Empire, Liberty, Lyric, Times Square and New Apollo, and the original James McCreery & Co. store.Barbanel noted that “The City Council can reject or modify a landmark designation, and often defers to local council members. But some commissioners were troubled by the deference.” There are 11 of them. And in theory, he wrote, any of the 65 currently on the cutting room floor could be reconsidered.

walk in ParisWikipedia set my mind at rest that the Commission hasn’t always been asleep. Between 1965 and 1990 it “designated 856 buildings, 79 interiors and 9 parks or other outdoor places as landmarks while declaring 52 neighborhoods with more than 15,000 buildings as historic districts.”  Wikipedia continued “As of April 16, 2014, there are more than 31,000 landmark properties in New York City…. The total number of protected sites includes 1,332 individual landmarks, 115 interior landmarks and 10 scenic landmarks.”

What are some of your favorite buildings or interiors either in NYC or elsewhere that you are grateful are preserved? What is it about some of the 95 properties that have caused the Commission to drag its feet?

St. Michael's Episcopal Church

7 Responses to “Service of Working at a Snail’s Pace”

  1. hb Said:

    All is not what it appears to be in this world, and especially in New York.

    Some years ago, we bought an apartment in a building with the potential to be considered a landmarks building. Before signing a purchase contract, I consulted an architect friend. His first reaction was, “Oh no! It may be landmarked!” He checked and we were both greatly relieved to discover that it was not.

    Being landmarked is a disaster for property owners. The status adds much aggravation and immense expense to the cost of maintaining such a building, greatly reducing its property value and marketability as well. No wonder owners fight designation tooth and nail and explains the why of “Working at a Snail’s Pace.”

    Sadly, while the public benefits from the preservation of old buildings, it does not shoulder the burden of keeping them standing. If it did, I strongly expect that there would be no landmarks program.

  2. EAM Said:

    The Chrysler Building, The MET especially The Cloisters and outside, The NY Botanical Garden.

  3. DManzaluni Said:

    I thought the whole point for property developers or owners now was that if you can manage to get your building landmarked, you can transfer air rights above it for some gigantic amount of money to another property; and then the developer can sell large numbers of pricey apartments at the very top of new buildings for even more fortunes?

    Hitherto, one could only sell air rights to contiguous properties, which was a bit limiting.

    Isn’t this how that godawful noodle building managed to get to such a ludicrous height?

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    hb and DManazluni,

    Your knowledge of this subject is way over my head. Although you make different points, my bet is that you are both correct. Who is left out in the cold? Joe and Mary middle class citizen.

    What a world.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    EAM,

    I agree with your choices. Love Art Deco–Chrysler Building. I haven’t been downtown in years but the Woolworth Building lobby used to blow me away. Hope it is still there. And all the romance around the Empire State Building through movies over decades makes it special as well.

  6. Lucrezia Said:

    I will never forgive the late Mayor John Lindsay for tearing down the Old Met, along with the idiots who destroyed the Penn Station. Heartfelt gratitude is due for whatever the preservation people can accomplish. I shudder to think of the countless, and often unnecessary, hoops they must jump through just to be able to save the smallest of irreplaceable treasures.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    I’ve written before about the thrill I feel when seeing a landmark in person–the Lincoln Memorial, Eiffel Tower, St. Louis arch and so forth. When iconic landmarks are taken from us, it’s like losing a family member or dear friend.

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