I have been a New Yorker all of my life. Sure I have spent the majority of it secluded away from the more well-known boroughs – but all the same I have knowledge of Manhattan. Before signing up for the Shaping the Urban Environment class, I had some notion that there was a force keeping old and beautiful historic buildings from being demolished, but I never knew the extent of their power or efficiency.
I was assigned five readings from the New York Times to better equate myself with the Committee:
1. An Opaque and Lengthy Road to Landmark Status By Robin Pogrebin.
November, 2008. For years, preservationists had been trying to expand it’s hold on the historic and scenic brownstone infested Park Slope, Brooklyn. Most of the buildings in the area are original 19th century residencial architecture with original stoop ironwork. The L.P.C.’s turn around time was lacking to say the least. Like most issues here in New York it was brought to court where the judge reprimanded the agency for it inactive behavior. Naturally this brought attention to several other cases where the agency’s lack of activity led to historic buildings being demolished or significantly altered before even getting a review for landmark-ship. In order to resolve the presented problems, I would have to say the Request for Evaluation forms (R.F.E.’s) need a better organized method of processing and an evaluation of the committee president would be in order to unveil his real reasoning for heading preservation actions with little enthusiasm.
2. Preservationists See Bulldozers Charging Through a Loophole. By Robin Pogrebin.
In 2006, a demolition team began to deconstruct the Dakota Stables located on the Upper West Side. It was an 1894 Romanesque Revival building on Amsterdam Avenue at 77th Street that had once houses horses and carriages, but of more recently had served as a parking garage. This was the initial steps of a scheme well known by property owners to avoid their land becoming landmarked and therefore difficult to utilize land as they desire. As soon as a owner hears their site or building is being considered for landmarking, they head to the nearest wrecking ball and make enough damage that the alterations would make the area automatically rejected at the committee’s hearing. Under the current rules if the owner obtained a demolition or alteration permit before the hearing was scheduled, they may commence work without penalty.
3. Houses of Worship Choosing to Avoid Landmark Status. By Robin Pogrebin.
The Bay Ridge United Methodist Church (the Green Church) had blessed the corner of Fourth and Ovington Avenues in Brooklyn for more than 100 years with it’s high clock tower and serpentine stone. Because of the immense cost to maintain such historic buildings, the church had sold it’s property to a contractor who then bulldozed the area for condos and a smaller church on the side. Although many people included the City Council implored for landmark status for the historic place, the destruction commenced. Churches seems to be a sensitive topic for the landmark committee because arguments with religious institutions aren’t ideal. Religious groups have often argued against recognition of their churches, claiming that landmarking was “a threat to religious freedom”.
4. Preservation and Development, Engaged in a Delicate Dance. By Robin Pogrebin.
A protest was brought forth in December 2008 against St.Vincent’s Hospital’s plan to replace nine buildings in Greenwich Village Historic District with a medical center and condos. While on one hand the new hospital and condos would both save the hospital financially and assist New Yorker’s health needs, the aesthetic value of the district was great. Many preservationists argue that development has been favored over preservation during Michael Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor of the city. While this may be the case, the issue of historic districts is highly debated because it is difficult to set distinct district lines. Lines must be drawn or the whole city would be historically landmarked and with the looming economic downfall that was to commence in 2008, it would be very hard to stop development from towering over preservation.
5. Improving the Landmarking Process. Editorial.
December 2008. A reformation of committee may be in order to assist New York in it’s forever struggle between “enormous pressures for development” and it’s “priceless architectural history”. Because the committee has little political independence, since the mayor appoints the head and the additional 11 representatives would give input on select cases are unpaid, it is easy to see why there would be so many faults in preservation efforts. In order to keep balance of these ever battling ideas, the committee must stop dragging their heels and take a stronger initiative to … do their job correctly and efficiently.