With recent landmark designations of Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building (1978), the Citicorp Center (1973-1978), the interior of the UN Plaza’s Ambassador Grill and Lounge (1969-83) and six sites with ties to the LGBTQ community of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the time to assess preserving our recent past has firmly arrived. The Historic Districts Council will work in partnership with Docomomo US and Queens Modern to highlight architecturally and culturally significant buildings of the last 50 years that are unprotected and unrecognized. Beginning with the 1970’s, the decade of HDC’s formation, the partnership seeks to raise public awareness of a time of great change and adversity characterized by a remarkable variety of architectural forms, technical advances and urbanistic ideas. This is the city we’re sending into the future; let’s start talking about the ALL the parts we should keep.
New York City is known for many things: Art Deco skyscrapers, picturesque parks, the world’s greatest theater district, venerable museums and educational institutions, not to mention bagels and pizza! But above all of these, New York is most important as home to some of the world’s most fascinating and significant people and as the site of impactful and significant happenings throughout history. The city’s cultural influence is, perhaps, its greatest contribution to the world, and its built environment stands as a grand scavenger hunt of clues waiting to be uncovered. Lucky for us, the city’s Landmarks Law, passed in 1965, provides the legal framework for protecting the physical reminders of the city’s cultural wealth. In fact, one of the stated purposes of the Landmarks Law is to “safeguard the city’s historic, aesthetic and cultural heritage.”
In the first 50 years that landmarks were designated by the City, much emphasis was placed on the historic and aesthetic. In recent years, though, more consideration has been made for the importance of sites associated with people or historical events, rather than just for their architectural or historical value. In 2015, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated the Stonewall Inn as an Individual Landmark solely for its association with the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. In 2018, the Commission designated the Central Harlem—West 130th-132nd Streets Historic District, describing it as “not only representative of Central Harlem’s residential architecture, but the rich social, cultural, and political life of its African American population in the 20th century.” Also, in recent years, Greenwich Village’s Caffe Cino and Julius’ Bar were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as significant and influential sites connected to the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBTQ) community, The New York Times profiled a historian giving tours of Muslim sites of significance in Harlem, and the City is commemorating some of our most storied and accomplished female citizens with the installation of statues in all five boroughs. Indeed, grassroots preservation activism around the city is also swelling around sites of cultural significance: Tin Pan Alley and Little Syria in Manhattan, Walt Whitman’s house in Brooklyn, Arthur Avenue in The Bronx and a recently-rediscovered African burial ground in Queens, to name a few.
In response to this movement of interest in cultural landmarks, the Historic Districts Council undertook an initiative to highlight such places as one of its Six to Celebrate in 2018. The culmination of that effort was a conference in October 2018 entitled “Beyond Bricks and Mortar: Rethinking Sites of Cultural History.” The conference convened preservationists, historians, artists, planners, place-makers and more to work together to clarify what cultural significance is and how it can work, how to document and create compelling narratives around cultural sites, and how to identify the specific challenges of cultural sites from a preservationist perspective.
This brochure provides just a sample of some of the city’s cultural landmarks, organized thematically and representing all five boroughs. The list includes some sites that are legally protected — in some cases by more than one government body — and some that are unfortunately in danger of being lost. Preserving culturally significant sites that may not possess overtly aesthetic value often requires a particularly active and engaged form of advocacy to achieve protection from the wrecking ball. But, as long as there are interesting people making their mark on New York City and crucial events taking place here, that effort will never be in vain, since those stories are the lifeblood of this vibrant place.
The New York Public Library (NYPL) was formed in 1895 with the consolidation of three private corporations: the Astor Library (founded by John Jacob Astor in 1849), the Lenox Library (founded by James Lenox in 1870) and The Tilden Trust (a fund established in 1886 by Samuel J. Tilden). The NYFCL also joined this consolidation in 1901 in order to benefit from Carnegie’s gift of $5.2 million for 67 library branches to be built between 1901 and 1929 (56 are still standing). Carnegie’s only stipulation was that the city acquire the sites and establish building maintenance plans. To design the buildings, the NYPL organized a committee of architects: Charles F. McKim, Walter Cook and John M. Carrère. In order to stylistically link the branches and save money, the committee decided on a uniform scale, interior layout, character and materials palette for the buildings.
To read more about New York City’s Historic Public Libraries click here
In November 2014, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) announced a plan to clear 95 properties that had been on its calendar for five years or more, but not yet designated as landmarks. The wholesale removal of these properties without considering each one’s merits would have represented a severe blow to the properties and to the city’s landmarks process in general, sending a message that would jeopardize any future effort to designate them.
The Historic Districts Council acted strongly in opposition to this action, and advocated for a more considered, fair and transparent approach. As part of this effort, HDC worked with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and a coalition of other preservation organizations to submit an alternative plan for the LPC’s consideration. The plan eventually formed the basis for the LPC’s initiative, entitled “Backlog95,” calling for a series of public discussions to evaluate the properties in geographical groupings.
To learn more about the Landmarks Under Consideration click here