Architecture, Towns, Cities > Landmarks
19 June 2004
Preservation Commission USA
win landmark protection
development of New
York City’s skyline,
from the 1500s to today (2015)
landmarks / historic sights UK
USA > landmarks > New York City law
USA > iconic landmarks
USA > landmarks > New York's twin towers
historic conservation group > Landmarks
Golden Gate Bridge 75th Anniversary - in
pictures UK 25 May 2012
As San Francisco
for a weekend of
to mark the 75th anniversary
of the Golden Gate Bridge on 27 May 2012
we take a look at the iconic landmark
through the decades
UK > Battersea power station, London
brutalist landmark UK
an 1894 Romanesque Revival building
The Glenwood Power Station in Yonkers, N.Y.
the Statue of Liberty
London landmark > Battersea power station
gothic > George Gilbert Scott's landmark hotel
above St Pancras
station, London: a gothic masterpiece
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
The online presentation of the Carol M. Highsmith Archive
features photographs of landmark buildings
and architectural renovation projects
in Washington, D.C., and throughout the United States.
The first 23 groups of
contain more than 2,500 images and date from 1980 to 2005,
views in color as well as black-and-white.
of the Library of Congress Jefferson Building
was added in
The archive is expected to grow
to more than 100,000 photographs
covering all of
the United States.
a distinguished and richly published
donated her work
the Library of Congress since 1992.
Starting in 2002,
Highsmith provided scans with new donations
to allow rapid online access
throughout the world.
Preserving the City
Preservationists See Bulldozers
Charging Through a Loophole
November 29, 2008
The New York Times
By ROBIN POGREBIN
Hours before the sun came up on a cool October morning in
2006, people living near the Dakota Stables on the Upper West Side were suddenly
awakened by the sound of a jackhammer.
Soon word spread that a demolition crew was hacking away at the brick cornices
of the stables, an 1894 Romanesque Revival building, on Amsterdam Avenue at 77th
Street, that once housed horses and carriages but had long served as a parking
In just four days the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission was to
hold a public hearing on pleas dating back 20 years to designate the low-rise
building, with its round-arched windows and serpentine ornamentation, as a
But once the building’s distinctive features had been erased, the battle was
lost. The commission went ahead with its hearing, but ultimately decided not to
designate the structure because it had been irreparably changed. Today a
16-story luxury condominium designed by Robert A. M. Stern is rising on the
site: the Related Companies is asking from $765,000 for a studio to $7 million
or more for a five-bedroom unit in the building.
The strategy has become wearyingly familiar to preservationists. A property
owner — in this case Sylgar Properties, which was under contract to sell the
site to Related — is notified by the landmarks commission that its building or
the neighborhood is being considered for landmark status. The owner then rushes
to obtain a demolition or stripping permit from the city’s Department of
Buildings so that notable qualities can be removed, rendering the structure
unworthy of protection.
“In the middle of the night I’m out there at 2 in the morning, and they’re
taking the cornices off,” said Gale Brewer, a city councilwoman who represents
that part of the Upper West Side. “We’re calling the Buildings Department, we’re
calling Landmarks. You get so beaten down by all of this. The developers know
they can get away with that.”
The number of pre-emptive demolitions across the city may be relatively small,
but preservationists say the phenomenon is only one sign of problems with the
city’s mechanism for protecting historic buildings.
“This administration is so excited about the new that it overlooks its
obligation to protect the old,” said Anthony C. Wood, author of “Preserving New
York: Winning the Right to Protect a City’s Landmarks.”
In an interview Robert B. Tierney, chairman of the Landmarks Preservation
Commission, called end-run alterations and demolitions “a terrible situation and
a complete misuse of the process.”
He added that the commission was trying to address the issue. Before putting a
property on the calendar for landmark consideration, for example, Mr. Tierney or
the commission’s staff members meet with owners to explain the potential
benefits of landmark designation —a federal tax credit for repairs or
improvements, for example — in the hope of enlisting cooperation or even
“Owner consent is not required, but I strongly try to obtain it whenever
possible,” Mr. Tierney said. “It helps the process going forward. It’s not a
continually contentious relationship.”
But some owners pay little heed. In one of the most memorable cases, a wrecking
ball destroyed a corner tower of the former Paterson Silks store near Union
Square on March 8, 2005. The double-height glass tower was the signature feature
of the building, designed by the architect Morris Lapidus, known for his
flamboyant Miami Beach hotels.
A few hours later the commission, seemingly oblivious, agreed to schedule a
hearing on the building’s future.
Preservationists were outraged, particularly because they had been trying to
bring the building to the commission’s attention for at least three years. Yet
the owner, Donald J. Olenick, vice president of BLDG Management, then a co-owner
of the building, said he did not understand the objections. “This is certainly
not the Plaza Hotel,” he said the day the tower toppled. “I’m a little surprised
anyone was concerned about it.”
For years, preservationists seeking to save midcentury Modernist architecture in
New York have sought landmark status for 711 Third Avenue. That William Lescaze
building, near 45th Street, features a wall mosaic in the lobby by the artist
Hans Hofmann. Just last month the owner, SL Green Realty, began tearing out the
lobby’s distinctive blue mosaic ceiling, as well as the door surrounds by the
Abstract Expressionist sculptor José de Rivera. The Hofmann artwork will be
preserved; the de Rivera may be relocated within the lobby.
A spokeswoman for the landmarks commission, Elisabeth de Bourbon, said the lobby
had been under review as a potential interior landmark. Upon learning of the
demolition, she said, the commission entered into “a standstill agreement,”
under which the owner was prohibited from altering the Hoffmann mosaic during
the reconstruction. A spokesman for the owner said that a formal agreement had
not been signed.
As for the rest of the lobby, Ms. de Bourbon said that because of alterations in
the 1980s and the current renovation, it was not landmark-worthy.
Under current rules, once a landmark hearing has been scheduled, building owners
may not obtain demolition or alteration permits. But if such a permit is secured
before a hearing is scheduled, as was the case with Dakota Stables and 711 Third
Avenue, the work may proceed without penalty.
Safeguards crumble because the landmarks commission and the buildings department
lack an established system of communication, and commissioners often are unaware
that permits have been issued. There is also no set procedure by which the
buildings department alerts the commission when someone seeks a permit to strip
off architectural detail.
Some City Council members are determined to change that. Tony Avella, who
represents northeastern Queens, has introduced a bill that would require the
buildings department not only to withhold demolition permits but also to suspend
existing ones and issue a stop-work order when the commission schedules a
hearing to consider landmark status for a structure.
Another bill, proposed by Rosie Mendez, a city councilwoman representing the
Lower East Side and the East Village, would require the commission to notify the
buildings department as soon as a property comes under consideration, even if a
hearing has not been scheduled. The department would then alert the commission
if an owner applied for a work permit. Both bills are wending their way through
A school in Ms. Mendez’s East Village neighborhood galvanized her to introduce
the bill. In June 2006 the landmarks commission designated former Public School
64, a French Renaissance Revival building on East Ninth Street near Tompkins
Square Park, as a landmark over the objections of its owner, Gregg Singer.
After that designation, Mr. Singer used an alteration permit that had been
granted in 2003 and stripped the terra-cotta elements and copper cornices from
the building’s exterior. This month a State Supreme Court judge in Manhattan
upheld the school’s designation as a landmark despite the architectural changes.
But the damage remains.
“Because of a loophole, if there is an existing permit you can move forward,
irrespective of the designation of the building,” Ms. Mendez said. “It was
alarming to me that it was happening.”
Mr. Tierney said he had talked with City Council members about the bills but was
also working to address the problem by improving the commission’s database to
include information about permits that have been requested or issued.
“We’re not just sitting back waiting for legislation,” he said. “We have ramped
up the interaction and communication.”
Under current procedures, when an owner of a building that is under review by
the commission applies for a demolition permit, the commission has 40 days to
schedule a hearing on the structure.
But “it is difficult to put together a designation in that time frame,” Mr.
Tierney said. And when it comes to an entire historic district, he said, the job
“is difficult if not impossible.”
At times the commission can move swiftly. When a northern swath of the Crown
Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn was placed on the calendar in June 2006 for
consideration as a historic district, a developer quickly obtained a demolition
permit for the George B. and Susan Elkins House, the only known free-standing
mid-19th-century wood-frame house remaining in the area.
“We pulled the building out of sequence and did an individual designation in two
to three weeks,” Mr. Tierney said.
Sometimes landmark designation is awarded after major alterations. In 2006, for
example, the commission reinstated protection for two tan-brick apartment houses
on the Upper East Side known as the City and Suburban Homes, even though the
owners had reclad them in reddish-pink stucco, drastically changing their
“It was a Pyrrhic victory,” said Seri Worden, executive director of Friends of
the Upper East Side Historic Districts. “Now we have a red stucco building, but
it’s a landmark.”
In the case of Dakota Stables, some preservationists have accused the landmarks
commission of deliberately dragging its heels. “The commission had no intention
of designating Dakota Stables,” said Kate Wood, the executive director of
Landmark West!, a preservation group. “They waited until it had been torn down.
It was clearly too late for them to do anything meaningful.”
“It was all so carefully orchestrated,” she added. “It was politics. It was all
But Mr. Tierney said he fought genuinely hard to have the case heard. “It was
knock-down, drag-out time trying to do everything we could do to have a fair and
open hearing on that building,” he said.
He also said he was “extremely unhappy with how the owners proceeded” on Dakota
Stables and on Paterson Silks, yet added, “That’s two out of thousands — not to
Mr. Stern, the architect who designed the Harrison, the luxury condominiums
replacing Dakota Stables, said the late-night demolition created “a
controversial and awkward moment,” adding, “I don’t like to tear anything down
if I don’t have to.”
Some commissioners say the landmarks commission and the buildings department
should adopt a more reliable alert system to prevent pre-emptive demolitions.
“When a property owner goes to the buildings department for a permit to strip,
it should be a red flag,” said Roberta Brandes Gratz, who has served on the
landmarks commission since 2002.
Christopher Moore, a commission member, also said the situation demanded
redress. “There is a standard of honor I wish the developers would follow,” he
“The landmarks commission should have greater authority” over the granting of
demolition permits, he added. “All of a sudden, the cornice is gone.”
Bulldozers Charging Through a Loophole,
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