On April 19, 2015, the NYC landmarks law will be fifty!
In order to create an appropriate commemoration, the NYC Landmarks50 Alliance (www.nyclandmarks50.org), a broad-based consortium of individuals and organization, has been formed. Over the next year, the Alliance will be developing and presenting events to highlight the importance of NYC's landmarks law.
This on-line celebration of the City's historic districts, based on a portion of my publication, Landmarks of New York: An Illustrated Record of the City's Historic Buildings, is intended to introduce New York City's many historic neighborhoods to all lovers of culture, history and architecture.
Included is a brief excerpt from the publication's introduction, as well as new photographs of the historic districts. We hope this exhibition will bring pleasure and knowledge, and look forward to celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the NYC Landmarks law over the next year.
Chair, NYC Landmarks50 Alliance
New York is rich in the diversity of styles that have survived three hundred and fifty years of construction and demolition: Federal, Georgian, Greek and Gothic Revival, Tudor, Italianate and French-inspired, Victorian, International and Post-Modern. Between 1830 and 1930, as the nation moved from an agrarian to a highly urban and industrial society, more architectural styles were employed in New York than at any other place, or point in history. This has given New York its great variety of colors and forms, and within a single district, we may encounter many styles, shapes and texture.
Since its creation in 1965, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has granted landmark status to more than 31,000 buildings, the majority of which reside within the 110 historic districts and 20 historic district extensions throughout the five boroughs. And what a brilliant, richly textured tapestry New York is! There are farmhouses, brownstones, cast-iron buildings, Art Deco towers, and glass and steel skyscrapers. One can journey through the boroughs and travel back in history: from the early nineteenth century wood framehouses of Brooklyn's Weeksville, to the late nineteenth century brownstones of Longwood in The Bronx, to the early twentieth century attached brick rowhouses in Ridgewood, Queens to Manhattan's iconic Empire State Building.
Ironically, with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the city had an architectural awakening--perhaps the loss of the Twin Towers awakened New Yorkers to the fragility of their city. The desire to recognize and preserve structures for historical or cultural significance and to reach broader sectors of the city, such as the other boroughs and northern Manhattan, has taken on new urgency, as many believe that place matters, and that it is important to retain the historic fabric of our streetscapes. The work of the Historic Districts Council, the city-wide advocate for the preservation of historic districts, has done much to foster these efforts and educate the public about the wealth of architectural treasures surrounding us.
Recent historic district designations primarily fall into a few categories: neighborhoods with significant sociological importance, those that reflect cultural/historical identities, and types or styles of development from particular economic periods. Each borough has its own history, patterns of economic and cultural development, and distinct evolution to be celebrated. The preservation of neighborhoods, not just buildings, is a key goal of the landmarks movement--retaining a vibrant streetscape, enhancing economic value and commercial viability, and maintaining the quality of life.
Historic preservation has evolved to be one of the broadest and longest lasting land-use reforms in this country. What was once, and in some quarters is still considered to be an impediment to progress, has proved that appropriate recognition and protection of the built environment does create economic value, revitalize neighborhoods, and foster beauty and neighborhood pride. We can see that saving, preserving, and using historically, architecturally, and culturally significant structures are life-enhancing and valuable; it is this that lies at the heart of every successful city. The landmark stock in the communities and commercial hubs throughout the five boroughs is part of our cultural and communal DNA. Preservation of our heritage provides evidence of some of our realized ambitions, and touches upon every aspect of metropolitan life as we know it, sheds light on the evolution of our cultural history and encompasses the dreams and illusions of one generation passed on for the enrichment of their successors. Preservation, perseverance, pride. What a tribute to ourselves!
Chair, NYC Landmarks50 Alliance
Chair, Historic Landmarks Preservation Center
Editor — Deborah Bershad
Assistant Editor — Jess Ouwerkerk