Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Update: Progress in Communities' Effort to Preserve Preservation

Important steps were made towards reform of the NYC landmarks process at yesterday's City Council hearing on the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). Testimony touched on a range of concerns about the LPC's commitment to protect the city's historic places, including 2 Columbus Circle, Harlem's St. Thomas the Apostle Church, and the Far Rockaways' 1830s Mott House (recently demolished, without a hearing). For coverage in today's Daily News, click here. The Gotham Gazette is also running a feature story on "2 Columbus Circle and the Need to Preserve Preservation" by LANDMARK WEST! Executive Director Kate Wood (to read this, go here).

At the end of the 3-hour hearing, attended by close to 100 individuals and representatives of civic organizations citywide, Council Member Simcha Felder (Chair of the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses) concluded that:

1) The landmarks process would benefit from an annual hearing to obtain communities' feedback;

2) The LPC's unequal treatment of applicants and community participants in public hearings is unacceptable and must be rectified immediately;

3) The staffing of the LPC is clearly inadequate.

Council Member Felder's comments recognize and affirm vital points raised in the report, Problems Experienced by Community Groups Working with the Landmarks Preservation Commission (coordinated by the Women's City Club and co-authored by 7 groups including LANDMARK WEST!), which was articulately presented to the Council by former Landmarks Commissioner Anthony M. Tung . To read the report, click here.

Council Member Bill Perkins also keenly observed that the LPC seems to be acting as a real estate development agency rather than a preservation agency.


Recognition of problems is always (but only) the first step towards solutions. You can help move the process forward by a) sending Council Member Felder a note of thanks for holding this important hearing (felder@council.nyc.ny.us , or fax 718-853-3858), and b) assisting us in gathering additional support for the Report . Already, less than 2 weeks after the report's release, 25 organizations from historic neighborhoods throughout the city have signed on to endorse its findings. If you represent or can suggest groups that would like to sign on, please email or call us (landmarkwest@landmarkwest.org , 212-496-8110).

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Alert for November 29th City Council Oversight Hearing


FROM: The Women's City Club of New York (Arts and Landmarks Committee)

PARTICIPATING GROUPS: Defenders of the Historic Upper East Side, Hamilton Heights-West Harlem Preservation Community Organization, Historic Districts Council, Landmark West!, Morningside Heights Historic District Committee, and the Society for the Architecture of the City.


When: Monday, November 29, 10:00 A.M.

Where: City Hall, large Council Chamber on second floor

In response to overwhelming public interest and concern, the City Council's Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses has scheduled a continuation of the October 20th oversight hearing on the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).

Please plan to attend and testify on November 29! For those many of you who were prevented from participating in the first hearing due to insufficient accommodations, this is your chance to make your voice heard. Even if you were among the small number of people who were able to testify or submit written testimony on October 20, please come to show your continued support for meaningful improvements to the landmarks process.


There is a 2- to 3-minute time limit for testimony·

Please bring at least 10 copies of your written testimony to distribute to the Committee members

Topics may include a) the need for increased funding for the LPC; b) the need for greater transparency, responsiveness and opportunity for public input in the LPC's designation and regulatory processes; c) the importance of sustaining high standards in preserving our landmark buildings and neighborhoods; and/or other matters related to the administrative practices of the agency.

Please confirm that you will attend and send a copy of your testimony to mpfaelzer@wccny.org or 212-228-4665 (fax). With any questions, please call or email LANDMARK WEST!, 212-496-8110, landmarkwest@landmarkwest.org.


Laura Ludwig and Annette Rosen, Co-ChairsThe Arts and Landmarks Committee of the Women's City Club33 W. 60 th Street, New York, N.Y. 10023

Monday, November 8, 2004

2 Columbus Circle on Nation's Newsstand

Preservation Magazine Cover Story

Nation's Eye on 2 Columbus Circle...Still

For the cover story of its nationally circulated magazine, Preservation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation* asked four experts to discuss the value of preserving Edward Durell Stone's original 1964 design for 2 Columbus Circle.

Not surprisingly, each offered a multitude of insights on why 2 Columbus Circle should--or should not--be saved, underscoring the woeful delinquency of New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission for not having a public hearing to air these issues.

Here's what the experts had to say (for the introductory text, go here):

Philip Lopate, essayist: "When 2 Columbus Circle first opened, it stood across from another, more imposing white element, the New York Coliseum....Now that the Coliseum has been torn down, replaced by the Time-Warner complex, a 21 st -century glass-tower extravaganza, the context has changed significantly. The little white gallery has lost its big white sibling and looks bereft next to all that jazzy, opportunistic glass."

Robert A.M. Stern, architect: "Some critics say that New York is short on world-class buildings by world-class architects. Well, here is one that is full of ideas about site, image, history, and the freedom that comes with modernity. Transforming the building into the new home of the Museum of Arts & Design need not be done at the expense of Stone's design. Can we not live in the present and work with the past?"

Theodore H.M. Prudon, architect: "Perception is as important as reality, and few buildings have suffered from a history of misunderstanding more than 2 Columbus Circle....Many organizations are working very hard not only to save the building but also to help change the perception that many modern or modernist buildings are not important enough to save."

Witold Rybczynski, architectural historian and critic: "...it would be such a shame if 2 Columbus Circle were given a terra-cotta wrapping, or any other up-to-date alteration. Stone's building, though not a masterpiece, is something equally valuable--a rarity, representing an unusual and interesting moment in the history of architecture. It would be sad to lose it."

And even sadder to lose it because the agency responsible for protecting New York's irreplaceable architecture decided not to listen.

*The National Trust for Historic Preservation placed 2 Columbus Circle on its 2004 list of America's "11 Most Endangered Historic Places"

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Back to Local Politics: 2 Columbus Circle

Baby Boomers "Taking Revenge" on 1960's Architecture

In last Sunday's New York Times, writer Fred Bernstein honed in on a central paradox of society's present love-hate relationship with buildings like Edward Durell Stone's 2 Columbus Circle:

"In a society otherwise enamored of the styles of the 1960's, the architecture of that decade is rarely loved and frequently reviled. All over the country, 60's buildings are being torn down while much older buildings survive." For the full article, go here.

Buildings that may have value to future generations are falling victim to fleeting tastes, Bernstein suggests. "The charge to eliminate 60's buildings is, in many cases, being led by baby boomers who came of age in the 1960's [and want the opposite of what they knew]... Yet while wealthy institutions are erasing 60's buildings, architecture professionals and 20-somethings consider them hip."

But, as the fact that the NY Landmarks Preservation Commission still has not held a public hearing to even consider the value of preserving 2 Columbus Circle so clearly demonstrates, architecture professionals and 20-somethings do not hold the keys to the city's halls of power. Apparently not even Robert A.M. Stern, author of New York 1960, who argues that 2 Columbus Circle is "a landmark in the history of architectural taste." Not even those like former Landmarks Commissioners Gene A. Norman, Beverly Moss Spatt and Anthony M. Tung, who acknowledge disparate opinions on the building's merits, but believe the LPC has been derelict by not holding a public hearing.Will the powers that be succeed in obliterating the legacy of mid-century Modernism just as it stands on the cusp of re-evaluation and (heaven help us!) appreciation? The final chapter of this story remains to be written. Stay tuned...