Friday, November 18, 2005

Intro. 705: It's Up to City Council

Spotlight on the City Council to Preserve New York's Most Endangered Historic Buildings

Thanks to all who contributed to the tremendous turnout at last Monday's City Council hearing regarding Intro. 705, the "Landmarks Hearing" bill. The seats in the large Council Chambers were filled with frustrated preservationists from every borough, the vast majority of whom testified in support of this legislation to strengthen New York's Landmarks Law and expand the ability of the public to participate in the designation hearing process. Their heartfelt testimony was echoed in New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff's milestone article, "Turning Up the Heat on a Landmarks Agency" (11/14/05, pE1, attached in case you missed it), which cited the imminent destruction of 2 Columbus Circle and other examples as evidence that "what is needed is a ruthless analysis of the landmark designation process." Also see Frances Morrone's piece in today's New York Sun (copy pasted below). "There's something rotten at the core of the Big Apple," he writes.

The ball is now in the City Council's court. And we all must continue to play an active role. The Landmarks Subcommittee adjourned Monday's hearing without taking a vote (a quorum of committee members was not present). Please help get the message out about how Intro. 705 will help to preserve our historic neighborhoods from relentless development. Email/ fax/call Council Speaker Gifford Miller today! Tell him that his support is key to getting this bill passed before the end of 2005 so that more buildings in your community are not lost - without even being heard by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Both Speaker Miller and Intro. 705 sponsor Council Member Bill Perkins will leave office next month. If passed before their term expires, this bill could be the most important legacy they leave for the future shape of our city.

New York City Council Speaker Gifford Miller
Phone: (212) 535-5554
Fax: (212) 535-6098
City Hall, NYC 10007

Also, email the members of the Landmarks Subcommittee and Land Use Committee as well as your local council member (go to for contact information). Send them copies of your testimony and/or a personal note making sure they know that the future of New York's most beloved, endangered buildings and neighborhoods rests in their hands!

Melinda Katz (Chair, Land Use) -
Simcha Felder (Chair, Landmarks Subcommittee) -
Charles Barron (Landmarks Subcommittee) -
Leroy G. Comrie, Jr. (Landmarks Subcommittee) -
G. Oliver Koppell (Landmarks Subcommittee) -
James S. Oddo (Landmarks Subcommittee) -
Annabel Palma (Landmarks Subcommittee) -
Bill Perkins (Landmarks Subcommittee) -
Tony Avella (Land Use Committee) -
Maria Baez (Land Use Committee) -
Erik Martin Dilan (Land Use Committee) -
Vincent J. Gentile (Land Use Committee) -
Eric N. Gioia (Land Use Committee) -
Andrew J. Lanza (Land Use Committee) -
Miguel Martinez (Land Use Committee) -
Michael E. McMahon (Land Use Committee) -
Hiram Monserrate (Land Use Committee) -
Michael C. Nelson (Land Use Committee) -
Christine C. Quinn (Land Use Committee) -
Joel Rivera (Land Use Committee) -
James Sanders, Jr. (Land Use Committee) -
Larry B. Seabrook (Land Use Committee) -
Albert Vann (Land Use Committee) -

Monday, November 14, 2005

Critical Public Hearing Today at City Hall

Is "business as usual" at the Landmarks Preservation Commission threatening to destroy your neighborhood? Then, by all means, speak out! Today is your opportunity - join fellow preservationists at City Hall starting at 11 AM for a public hearing on Intro. 705 (the "Landmarks Hearing" bill). And if you had any doubt about the magnitude of this hearing, check out today's New York Times...

Critic's Notebook
Turning Up the Heat on a Landmarks Agency

Published: November 14, 2005

Someone has stolen one of my buildings! That was the panicked reaction of Beverly Moss Spatt, then the chairwoman of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, after the cast-iron facades of a building by James Bogardus were spirited away from a downtown lot in 1974. The 1849 facades, supposedly protected by official landmark status, had been disassembled and stored for eventual relocation at another site. But thieves broke into the lot and sold most of them off as scrap metal.

Three decades later, Ms. Spatt, now retired, is one of the people fighting to save 2 Columbus Circle, a 1965 building by Edward Durell Stone, in one of the biggest preservation uproars in a generation. But this time it is the commission itself that seems to have been hijacked.

Once considered the most powerful agency of its kind, the commission has lost the confidence of many mainstream preservationists by repeatedly refusing to hold a public hearing on the building's fate. At the urging of those preservation advocates, a city councilman, Bill Perkins, has introduced a bill that could force the commission to hold public hearings on potential landmarks. The implication is that the commission cannot always be trusted to protect the public interest.

The bill, which is to come before a City Council subcommittee that meets at 11 this morning, would require a public hearing on any building that has been determined eligible for listing on the state register of historic places. It would also allow the City Council to demand such a public hearing in a majority vote.

The bill probably comes too late to save 2 Columbus Circle, where scaffolding began to rise this month. (The building has been sold to the Museum of Arts and Design, which plans to remake the interior and clad its white marble Venetian-style faƧade in terra-cotta tiles.) The aim is rather to ensure that similar debacles can be averted in the future.

But the bill does not specifically address the sad reality that the commission no longer seems willing to fulfill its role as a defender of the city's architectural legacy. This is not solely the fault of its chairman, Robert B. Tierney, on whom much of the controversy has focused. It has to do with a subtle but crucial shift in how the commission does business. Founded in 1965 in response to the tragic razing of Penn Station two years earlier, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has traditionally been made up of independent voices with deep roots in the preservation community.

The commission's power to protect a building in virtual perpetuity - and its willingness to use that power - made it the most powerful such agency in the United States. Its chairmen were often willing to stand up to the mayor when they felt a principle was at stake.

The gradual shift away from those convictions had its seeds in the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970's, which spurred the rise of public-private partnerships with developers. Developers gained increasing power over how the city was shaped. Playing on the public's fear, many politicians argued that the only alternative was a descent into blight and crime.

That attitude reached its apogee during the Giuliani administration, which often appointed commission members more for their political ties than for their records as advocates for architecture. Jennifer Raab, the commission's chairwoman from 1994 to 2001, was a real estate lawyer who had worked as a campaign aide on Rudolph W. Giuliani's staff. Mr. Tierney, a appointment by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, is a former lobbyist with deeper political ties than preservation experience.

The shift toward political expediency has been aggravated by soaring real estate prices in almost every corner of the city. Significant but little-noticed works of architecture that are now standing on valuable land, making them that much more vulnerable to demolition. Among the buildings preservationists are worried most about these days are the 1964 New York State Pavilion, designed by Philip Johnson, in Queens, and the Domino Sugar plant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, from the 1890's. Neither building has yet to receive a hearing by the Landmarks Commission.

If passed, the Perkins bill would shift the balance of power somewhat. Requiring the commission to hold a public hearing on any building that is being considered for the state historical register would at least prevent travesties like the commission's stonewalling on 2 Columbus Circle. And it would add a dose of transparency to the commission's decision-making process.

But in the long run, what is needed is a ruthless analysis of the landmark designation process. The commission's research staff has been cut in half over the last decade because of budget reductions. This makes it difficult for the commission to identify buildings that deserve consideration. And if the bill succeeds, the commission's workload is certain to expand.

Of course, more City Council input would not necessarily help the preservationist cause. The council has its own political agenda. It recently overturned the commission's decision to grant landmark status to the 1969 Jamaica Savings Bank in Queens, and preservationists fear that it intends to do the same to the Austin, Nichols & Co. Warehouse, a 1915 building in Williamsburg, designed by Cass Gilbert, in a council vote scheduled for Nov. 22. The vast structure, admired for its Egyptian Revival motifs, stands on the site of a proposed residential waterfront development; the local city councilman, David Yassky, has already declared that the building doesn't merit landmark protection.

The only hope to be derived from this struggle is that the fate of 2 Columbus Circle will harden the resolve of a younger generation of preservation advocates who are less willing to accept the status quo. The drive to save 2 Columbus Circle, after all, was led by Landmark West, founded in 1985 and led by Kate Wood, rather than more established institutions like the Municipal Art Society, which opposes the Perkins bill.

This new generation of advocates seems eager to discuss what parts of our city's heritage deserve protection, and they have clearly not hesitated to lead the charge against an inexorable political process, filing one legal appeal after another to save Edward Durell Stone's building. Vanquished on that front as the scaffolding went up this month at Columbus Circle, Landmark West set up a streaming Webcast of the building titled "Shame Cam" (

Not everyone, it seems, is satisfied with business as usual.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Critical Mass Needed to Pass "Landmarks Hearing" Bill

Preservationists UNITE! Important Opportunity to Demonstrate Strength of New York's Preservation Community
Crucial Public Hearing on Landmarks Bill - Don't Be Overlooked, Make Your Voice Heard!

**Please pass this email on to your neighbors and fellow preservationists!**

On Monday, November 14, starting at 11:00 AM at City Hall (the Committee Room adjacent to the main Council chambers) the City Council's Landmarks Subcommittee will hold a public hearing on Intro. 705, the "Landmarks Hearing" bill. This legislation responds to outcry from communities in all five boroughs who have lost, or may lose, buildings due to the Landmarks Preservation Commission's (LPC's) failure to hold public designation hearings. Enough is enough - it's time to stem the tide. Unless we act now, how many more buildings will be doomed through LPC inaction?

Meanwhile, keep your eyes on the 2 Columbus Circle "Shame Cam" (go to Now that the election is over, the destruction has begun. Scaffolding continues to go up, and marble chunks begin to fall. Your support of Intro. 705 can help stop this from happening again and again. The time is now!

The text of Intro 705 is available online ( Below is the list of organizations (over 50) that have endorsed this legislation as members of the "Citizens for a Responsive Landmarks Law." Also below is a list of council members that have signed on to the bill as co-sponsors - is your council member on this list? If not, please call, email or fax them to show your support for passing this law - and soon! (A complete list of council members, their districts and contact information is available at Landmarks Subcommittee Chair Simcha Felder ( and Land Use Chair Melinda Katz ( are particularly key. Attached is a sample letter for inspiration.

Numbers matter. Even if you don't plan to speak, please plan to attend on Monday, 11/14 at 11:00 AM at City Hall.

Citizens for a Responsive Landmarks Law


Art Deco Society of New York
Brownstone Revival Coalition
DOCOMOMO US—NY/Tri-State Chapter
The Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct
Four Boroughs Neighborhood Preservation Alliance
Historic Districts Council
Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America
Modern Architecuture Working Group
The Roebling Chapter, Society for Industrial Archeology, Inc.
Society for the Architecture of the City
Women’s City Club of New York

Riverdale Historic District
Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct

Bay Ridge Conservancy
Clinton Hill Association
Council Member Vincent Gentile's Preservation Committee
Crown Heights North Association
Ditmas Park Association
Ditmas Park West Neighborhood Association
Fort Greene Association
Prospect Park South Association
Senator Street Historic District
Society for Clinton Hill
Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities

10th and Stuyvesant Streets Block Association
Association of Neighbors on the Upper East Side
Clinton Special District Coalition
Coalition for a Livable West Side
Committee for Environmentally Sound Development
Community Board 9
Defenders of the Historic Upper East Side
The Drive to Protect the Ladies’ Mile District
East 78th Street Block Assoc. Park/Lex>Ea
st Harlem Historical Organization
The East Village Community Coalition
Flatiron Alliance
Gramercy Neighborhood Associates
Greenwich Village Community Task Force
Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation
Hamilton Heights- West Harlem Community Preservation Organization
Harlem Preservation Foundation
Historic Neighborhood Enhancement Alliance
The HDFC Council
Manhattan-Ville Heritage Society
Murray Hill Neighborhood Association
NoHo Neighborhood Association
Roosevelt Island Historical Society
St. Agnes Apartments Board
Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Assoc.
Tribeca Community Association
Turtle Bay Association
Union Square Community Coalition
West 15th Street 200 Block Association
West 45th Street Block Association
West 122nd Street Block Association
WestSide Heights Citizens League

Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association
Douglaston Little Neck Historical Society
Jackson Heights Beautification Group
Jackson Heights Garden City Society
Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association
Parkway Village Historical Society
Richmond Hill Historical Society
Queens Civic Congress

North Shore Waterfront Greenbelt
Preservation League of Staten Island
West Brighton Restoration Society

INTRO. 705 CITY COUNCIL CO-SPONSORS: Is your council member on this list?

Larry B. Seabrook
Annabel Palma

G. Oliver Koppel

Charles Barron
Bill de Blasio

Yvette D. Clark
Lewis A. Fidler

Vincent J. Gentile
Letitia James
Kendall Stewart
David Yassky

Gale A. Brewer
Alan J. Gerson

Robert Jackson
Margarita Lopez
Eva Moskow
Bill Perkins
Philip Reed

Joseph P. Addabo ,Jr.
James F. Gennar
John C. Liu R>J
ames Sanders, Jr.

Ron Schweiger (Brooklyn)
Stanley Cogan (Queens)
Richard Dickenson (Staten Island)