Friday, March 30, 2007

Register for Dolkart Lecture on Vernacular Architecture!

Please join LANDMARK WEST! and friends for


Andrew Dolkart

New York: Vernacular City

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

6:00 pm

The lecture and after-party with wine and light food

will take place in a dramatic, circa-1904 apartment in the

West 67th Street Artists’ Colony Historic District

(between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue)


Tickets are $50 and must be purchased in advance.*

Space is limited.

Contact LW! at

or (212) 496-1714 to reserve your seats and get details.


While New York is famed for its buildings designed by

prestigious architects, it was their less well-known colleagues, working

primarily for speculative builders, who created the residential and

commercial streetscapes of the city. Andrew Dolkart, James Marston Fitch

Associate Professor of Historic Preservation at Columbia

University, will analyze the ways in which speculative developers and their

architects and builders adapted popular architectural forms to

the demands of a dense city where real estate speculation has been a

paramount influence since the first Europeans settled here in

the 17th century.


Designed as a haven for working artists, West 67th Street off Central Park West is characterized by high-rise studio buildings featuring Gothic, Northern Renaissance and Tudor details that were constructed between 1900 and World War I. The West 67th Street Artists’ Colony Historic District was recognized for its architectural excellence in 1985 when it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also part of the Upper West Side-Central Park West Historic District, designated by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1990.

* $25 of your donation will be tax deductible.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Spotlight on Landmarks at the Brooklyn Historical Society

Landmark West! would like to extend to its supporters an invitation on behalf of the Brooklyn Historical Society to the opening night reception for the exhibit LANDMARK AND LEGACY: BROOKLYN HEIGHTS AND THE PRESERVATION MOVEMENT IN AMERICA, this Wednesday, March 28, 5:30-7:30pm.

This exhibit traces the process by which Brooklyn Heights became the first designated historic district in New York City. The designation came in late 1965, but the battle for designation began in earnest in 1958. Inspired by preservation successes in other cities, particularly by the example of Beacon Hill in Boston, and equipped with the "Bard Law" passed by New York State in 1956, Heights activists built an overpowering case for the significance of the Heights, and for the urgency of the need to protect it as one landmark after another disappeared. Never-before-exhibited and seldom-exhibited objects, pictures, and documents related to Brooklyn Heights architecture and the preservation battle should make this exhibit of interest to all who participate in the preservation battles of today.

LANDMARK AND LEGACY also highlights the role played by architectural historian Clay Lancaster, whose writings, lectures, and walking tours were crucial to the effort.

The exhibit was co-curated by Francis Morrone and Kate Fermoile, and was made possible with the generous help of American Express, the Gerry Charitable Trust, and Arnold and Sharon Reichman in memory of Sarah Shore.

The Brooklyn Historical Society is located at the corner of Pierrepont and Clinton streets in Brooklyn Heights. It is easily reachable by the R to Court Street, the 2, 3, and 4 to Borough Hall, and the A, C, and F to Jay Street/Borough Hall.

We hope to see you there!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Update on Landmarks Hearing re: New-York Historical Society

Historical Society Plan Provokes Much Testimony, But No Vote, at Landmarks Hearing
It was a standing-room-only crowd at yesterday's public hearing at the Landmarks Preservation Commission on the New-York Historical Society's plan to drastically alter their "Triple Landmark" on Central Park West between 76th and 77th Streets. Thanks to the more than 60 people who testified, and the many more who looked on (despite the tight quarters), with passion sustained well into the early evening.
The chips are down. Elected officials including New York State Senator Tom Duane, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Council Members Gale Brewer and Tony Avella, former Council Member Ronnie Eldridge, plus major preservation groups including the Preservation League of New York State, Historic Districts Council, New York Landmarks Conservancy and Municipal Art Society, all expressed concerns about the Society's project.
So, what's next? The Landmarks Commission operates differently than community boards. The Commission has the final authority to approve or deny this proposal, but yesterday the commissioners asked no questions, offered no comments and provided little information about how the process would unfurl, except to say that the application will be brought back for discussion at a public meeting (where the public may observe, but generally not speak) sometime in future and, more importantly, that the public record will be kept open for 10 days. Has the Landmarks Commission heard from you?
Hon. Robert B. Tierney, Chair
NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission
1 Centre Street, NYC 10007
Fax: 212-669-7955
Please also send your message to Mayor Bloomberg by going to and typing or pasting your text into the space provided. Don't forget to cc.!
Until there's more to report, here's some food for thought from Bill Moyers, who, although he could not attend yesterday's hearing, leaves no doubt about where he stands on this issue:
March 15, 2007
Dear Mr. Tierney:
I am writing to express my opposition as a citizen and neighbor to the proposal of the New-York Historical Society to change the façade of its Landmark and to erect a high-rise luxury tower – first described in a lengthy New York Times article and drawing – that would permanently alter the skyline of Central Park West.
While I live one block from the Society, I do not have a view of its building, so its plans are no offense to my line of sight. It is as a citizen that the Society’s intentions appall me. Central Park belongs to everyone. The skyline around it is part of our great commons. That skyline is under assault. Every tower erected near it diminishes its uniqueness, scale and scope. Once the skyline disappears, there is no way to get it back. No one should have the right to intrude on that space for any reason, but especially for profit. Yet that is what the New-York Historical Society would do if it is permitted to proceed with a high rise tower.
We are talking here about one of the most unique blends of architectural and historical legacies in New York and perhaps in the world. Here a great park and broad avenue converge with the American Museum of Natural History and the Society itself to form a vista from the park that is a source of beauty and inspiration to everyone who looks upon it. I can no more imagine the Society wanting to block that vista than I can the French wanting to erect a tower above the Place Concorde!
I value the work of the Society. It plays an important role in connecting us to our storied and amazing past. . But I do not respect the ambitions the Society has set forth in this project. One should not obliterate history in order to save it.
This past January I attended a community meeting together with several hundred concerned citizens. I originally intended to support the Society’s proposed façade alterations. After all, Landmark designation was never meant to preserve our historic resources in amber, but rather to ensure that changes occur in a thoughtful way.
However, revelations by the Society’s representatives that evening and subsequent developments caused many of us to realize that the changes in the proposed façade are indeed prelude to the building of a 280-foot tower where none exists or belongs. I was forced to withdraw my support of the initial phase of the proposed renovation because I would otherwise be complicit in a fundamental assault on the character of Central Park itself, one I would have a hard time explaining to my grandchildren and others 30 years from now if I were around. They would be the real losers if the Society goes ahead.
The Society, I am now convinced, is pursuing a “divide and conquer” strategy, splitting the project into what it hopes will be more palatable “phases”. The “Phase 1” façade alterations, if approved, will create a wedge that the Society will use to leverage approval of the “Phase 2” tower.
As you know, Community Board 7 issued a strong resolution denying approval of the façade alterations both on the merits and on the basis of the Society’s unwillingness to be upfront with the public. There also appear to be technical and procedural issues making the Society’s proposed phasing untenable. I understand that the Society must file what is called a “74-711” special permit request to build its 280-foot tower in a zoning district that does not otherwise allow construction on such a scale. Under this provision, the Society would have to demonstrate that its tower would serve some kind of “preservation purpose,” that there is some sort of even exchange between the negative impacts of the tower and any positive benefits for the Landmark. But without candor and the facts there is no way the public or the Commission can effectively evaluate the pros and cons of such a trade-off. If the Commission should approve one facet of the plan and later discover that those changes don’t make sense in the context of the total project, it will be too late to reverse the decision. The Society’s tactics remind me of the card shark in my home state of Texas who looks across the table at his mark and says, “Now play the cards fair, Reuben, I know what I dealt you.”
Many of us look to the Landmark Commission to protect us against such tactics and in this case to preserve the integrity of the public review process and the integrity of Central Park’s skyscape. I urge you to vote “no” to this proposal.
Thank you for your consideration.
Bill Moyers

Monday, March 19, 2007

UPDATE: Public Hearing re: New-York Historical Society

On March 20, 2007 (next Tuesday), the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission will hold a public hearing on the New-York Historical Society's plans to alter its "Triple Crown" Landmark on Central Park West between 76th and 77th Streets. UPDATE: THE HEARING IS SCHEDULED FOR 3 P.M. AT THE LANDMARKS PRESERVATION COMMISSION. LPC IS LOCATED NORTHEAST OF CITY HALL IN THE MUNICIPAL BUILDING,
What we do know for certain is that YOUR VOICE at this public hearing is very, very important. Contact Landmarks Chair Robert B. Tierney ( or fax to 212-669-7955) today! Please feel free to use the sample letter pasted below, or put it in your own words. And please make the effort to send cc's to each of the elected officials listed below (plus a cc to
Community Board 7 sent a strong message with its almost unanimous resolution (passed by the full board on March 6) disapproving the Society's application for facade changes and criticizing the Society's attempt to use the facade changes (Phase 1) to "bootstrap" the tower plan (Phase 2). But the Landmarks Preservation Commission has the final say. (As important as the CB 7 vote is, it is purely advisory.) Only the Landmarks Commission has the authority to approve or deny this application outright, send the Historical Society back to the drawing board for modifications OR hold off any decision until the Society submits a complete application, with full public disclosure, addressing both the Landmark itself and any new development that would impact the historic neighborhood and our beloved Central Park West skyline.
Please send your letter today! And please make every effort to attend the March 20 hearing.
Hon. Robert B. Tierney, Chair
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission

New York, New York 10007
RE: New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West
Dear Chair Tierney:
I am writing to register my strong opposition to the plans of the New-York Historical Society’s to alter permanently its Landmark and the unique skyline of Central Park West between West 76th and 77th Streets, at the crossroads of some of our city’s most beautiful and historic treasures.
The Society wants to change the façade of its Landmark building and then to erect a luxury tower that would loom over the building, the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park and Central Park West at one of its strategic intersections. Sadly, the Society’s representatives have not been forthcoming with the community. To the contrary, they are attempting to keep the public in the dark about the tower until it is too late to challenge the specific plans. This is most unfortunate for a non-profit public institution whose constituency is all of us in the City, not only the people in the immediate vicinity who will be negatively impacted by the despoiling of the environment.
At recent meetings before Community Board 7—each attended by hundreds—it became apparent that the Society’s strategy is to “divide and conquer”. The $15 million façade alterations are a major project with significant impacts on the Landmark. Community Board 7 disapproved this part of the scheme on the merits by an almost unanimous vote on March 6, 2007. Moreover, the Board’s negative resolution echoed the larger concern that the façade project is a Trojan Horse that would immediately set the stage for the luxury high-rise. The Society’s claims that these projects are “separate” is disingenuous; one leads directly to the other—that was obvious at the meetings.
As a New Yorker, I am appalled as well as saddened by this offense against the public. The only “Triple Crown” Landmark in our city (protected as an Individual Landmark and as part of the Central Park West –
But this is not our only concern. To consider New York’s landmarks and historic districts as “development opportunities” is a travesty against our obligation to preserve the best of the City for generations to come. Approval of a tower to loom over the Historical Society would send a clear green-light signal to private and institutional developers eager to exploit other historic properties throughout the city.
I am adding my voice to the resounding “NO” that the New-York Historical Society and the policy-makers of our city cannot ignore.
West 76th Street
Historic District and the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District), the New-York Historical Society is the anchor of a unique architectural, historical and cultural ensemble. Immediately surrounding this site are the American Museum of Natural History (an Individual Landmark) as well as Central Park (a Scenic Landmark). Any changes must be considered carefully and with full transparency.
1 Centre Street
, 9th Floor
[your name]
Send cc's to:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg - Go to and type your message
Honorable Christine Quinn
City Council Speaker
Honorable Scott Stringer
Manhattan Borough President
Honorable Thomas K. Duane
NYS Senator

Honorable Linda B. Rosenthal
NYS Assembly Member
Honorable Richard Gottfried
NYS Assembly Member
Honorable Gale A. Brewer
NYC Council Member

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

CB7 Disapproves N-Y Historical Society Project

N-YHS NEWSFLASH: The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has set a public hearing date to review the New-York Historical Society project on Tuesday, March 20, (time and location tba).
Make sure the LPC hears you! Please email Chair Robert B. Tierney ( and cc. key elected officials (contact info below).
The Round 1 votes are in. At its packed-house meeting last night, the full board of Community Board 7 disapproved the New-York Historical Society's plans to radically alter its "Triple Crown" Landmark on Central Park West between 76th and 77th Streets. Click here to read Glenn Collins' New York Times article ("Historical Society Loses Round in Fight to Renovate a Landmark"). By an almost unanimous vote (40-2), the full board upheld the resolution of its Parks & Preservation Committee, which disapproved the Society's project (also nearly unanimously) on February 8.
Thanks to all of you who showed up and SPOKE up at public meetings over the past weeks. Your support through attendance, letters, emails and phone calls made a real difference in this round. Round 2 at the LPC is every bit as crucial since, whereas the community board vote is advisory, the LPC has the final authority to deny the project or send it back to the drawing boards. Please weigh in today! Important contact information below:
Hon. Robert B. Tierney
Chair, Landmarks Preservation Commission
Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Send cc's:
Honorable Thomas K. Duane
NYS Senator

Honorable Linda B. Rosenthal
NYS Assembly Member
Honorable Richard Gottfried
NYS Assembly Member

Honorable Scott Stringer
Manhattan Borough President

Honorable Gale A. Brewer
NYC Council Member
Honorable Christine Quinn
City Council Speaker

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

REMINDER: CB7 Vote on New-York Historical Society


Please do everything in your power to attend Community Board 7's public meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, March 6, 2007, between 7:00 and 8:00 PM, at the American Bible Society (1865 Broadway at 61st Street). The full, 50-member Board will vote on the Parks & Preservation Committee's February 8 almost unanimous resolution against the New-York Historical Society's extensive renovation plans for its "Triple-Crown Landmark" site. The Board anticipates taking up this item at some point prior to 8:00 PM. Your presence is a "must" to underscore community support for the Committee's strong position addressing both the facade alterations (Phase 1) and the 280-foot tower planned for the Landmark site (Phase 2).

Tomorrow night is an important meeting, but not the end of this battle by a long shot. Below is a second "Open Letter to the New-York Historical Society" -- please note that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has set a Tuesday, March 20, public hearing date for this application. This Open Letter responds to an email circulated by the Historical Society last week and now posted on their website at Should the Historical Society consider changing its motto from "Making History Matter" to "Making Up History"? You decide. Please read on...

Open Letter to the New-York Historical Society: Part II

Dear Friends:

The Landmarks Preservation Commission has set a public hearing date for Tuesday, March 20, 2007, to consider the New-York Historical Society’s application for extensive alterations to the façade of your “Triple-Crown” Landmark. Yet in the eyes of many of your neighbors and fellow New Yorkers, you have failed to come forward with a complete explanation of your plans for the future of this profoundly important site.

In fact, the Community Board 7 Parks & Preservation Committee’s almost unanimous disapproval of your façade project should send a strong signal that full disclosure is necessary if you are to achieve any of the goals set forward in your email circulated on February 21, 2007. However, instead of providing facts, your email only muddies the water.

We offer the following clarifications (italicized text represents extracts from your email, bolded text is our response):

"This application addresses the following immediate needs:

  • Providing handicapped accessibility on Central Park West (visitors in wheelchairs currently either enter through the side door, via a ramp plus a manually-operated life or, if in electric wheelchairs, through the loading dock;"

ADA Access: Starting in 1993, the highly respected architectural and preservation firm Beyer Blinder Belle (also responsible for the restoration of Grand Central Station) undertook a major renovation of the Landmark, paid for with nearly $16 million in public funds. A key element of this Landmarks-approved project was the installation of a handicapped access ramp at the 77th Street entrance. This ramp, which received design awards including one from LANDMARK WEST!, would be destroyed as part of the current project, in exchange for a much larger ramp intruding into the Central Park West sidewalk.

Your email also does not point out that your proposed new handicapped-accessible elevator on Central Park West would be located outside, whereas the existing “manually-operated lift” is sheltered inside the 77th Street entrance. Is making a handicapped lift on the outside an improvement?

Orientation and Visibility: Your email refers to the 77th Street entrance as the “side door” when, in fact, the 1993 taxpayer-funded project was largely aimed at increasing the Society’s presence and visibility on 77th Street, facing the American Museum of Natural History.

Loading Docks: Speaking of loading docks, where does your proposal locate them? On West 76th Street, a quiet block of stately townhouses composing one of the Upper West Side’s first landmark- protected areas, the Central Park West—West 76th Street Historic District (designated in 1973)?

  • "Improving egress so that in an emergency, disabled visitors, staff and others can be evacuated quickly;"

Emergency Egress: We would be very interested in understanding exactly how your proposed alterations would accomplish this goal, as the egress path is proposed through an exhibition space. Please also clarify why such improvements require radical changes to the Landmark façade.

  • "Extending the windows on 77th Street as envisioned by the building’s original architects but never completed because of lack of fund. These alterations would also improve the streetscape on West 77th Street, opening the building to the street;"

Revising History: Back in the early 1900s, the architects of Grand Central Station envisioned a tower directly on top of the terminal, proof positive that not all original plans are a good idea. In this case, enlarging the Society’s windows would result in the major loss of historic building fabric. Better not to try and rewrite history at the expense of history.

And Speaking of Towers: What kind of impact would a 280-foot tower looming up behind and above the Landmark have on the historic streetscape of West 76th Street and the iconic skyline of Central Park West? The architectural rendering featured in the New York Times on November 1, 2006, also showed a large penthouse atop the Landmark. How would this addition impact the Luce Center for the Study of American Culture, the creation of which on the Society's top floor was another major element of the 1990s renovations?

  • "Replacing and restoring the mullioned casement windows throughout the Historical Society to prevent further water damage and deterioration of the building..."

Water Protection: “Replacing” and “restoring” have fundamentally different definitions. Which is it? Again, it seems that your proposed project would undo the thoughtful restorative work of one of New York’s most respected preservation firms, Beyer Blinder Belle, who restored the Landmark’s original windows (without replacing them) and fitted them with sensitively designed interior storm windows in the 1990s. At the same time, the exterior walls of the Landmark were fitted with a vapor barrier to regulate interior humidity levels.

  • "Enabling an internal renovation designed to make the Historical Society into a modern, accessible, community education, teaching and learning facility for children, scholars and neighbors."

The Parks & Preservation Committee of Community Board 7 spoke on behalf of the public when it determined that “the exterior changes to its classical façade proposed by the Historical Society are unnecessary overkill with respect to the functional aims that drive this proposal, apparently motivated at least in part by the inappropriate decision to seek to ‘modernize’ the façade rather than to make minimally intrusive changes, and to respect above all the very features for which it was designated a landmark.” [emphasis added]

"The majority of speakers at the meeting spoke in favor of the Historical Society’s proposal…"

Perhaps math is not your strong suit. Sign-in sheets tabulating speakers’ positions for or against this project are in the public record. The record will show that the majority of speakers spoke against the Historical Society’s proposal and that the vast majority of speakers in favor are employees of the Society.

You claim that you have “no immediate timetable” for the tower component of your project and that the Parks & Preservation Committee “acted improperly by arbitrarily linking what [the Society] might do sometime in the future to its mandated Charter responsibility.” We certainly hope that the Society has thought through the relationship between radical changes to the façade of its Landmark, internal reconfigurations, and the construction of a 280-foot tower on top of its site (for which the developer/architect selection process will be completed this month—hardly an indefinite timetable). It is the Society’s insistence on keeping these major projects separate that seems arbitrary and, indeed, disturbingly strategic.

Your email alleges that the Parks & Preservation Committee acted “improperly” in disapproving your application. On the contrary, the Committee’s measured review and conscientious vote was a triumph of the public process.

The Society’s continued refusal to fully disclose your complete renovation and construction plans to the public is, by contrast, a downright shame.


Friday, March 2, 2007

New-York Historical Society

Let There Be Light...and Lamps, Too

While you're marking your calendar for the full Community Board 7 meeting on Tuesday, March 6, between 7:00 and 8:00 PM at the American Bible Society (the full board will vote yes or no on the Parks & Preservation Committee's resolution disapproving the New-York Historical Society's renovation plans), also make sure to set aside time to pay a visit to this "Triple Landmark" on Central Park West between 76th and 77th Streets.

Visit soon, and spend an afternoon with "the Girls"...
A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls

February 23, 2007 - May 28, 2007

The "Tiffany Girls" were "a group of gifted artisans who made vital yet almost entirely anonymous contributions to many of Louis Comfort Tiffany's most famous mosaics, windows and decorative objects," writes the New York Times in a glowing appraisal of the show (the full article from last Sunday's edition is still available at

The exhibition is co-curated by Nina Gray, an independent scholar and Upper West Sider, who gave LANDMARK WEST! and friends a preview of this subject in an October 2005 talk and post-lecture reception hosted by neighbor and musician Peter Yarrow, highlighting his important collection of Tiffany lamps.

All roads lead to the New-York Historical Society, so plan your visit today! And we'll look forward to seeing you on March 6 at the Bible Society (1865 Broadway at 61st Street).