At its December 9 public meeting, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) plans to scrap 96 buildings and locations from its landmark status consideration. These places have been on the LPC’s calendar for at least five years, some as many as 40, and include high-profile sites like Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery and Manhattan’s Bergdorf Goodman department store on Fifth Avenue.
As the LPC explains, this “proposed action is without reference to merit, and does not prevent the Commission from re-calendaring these buildings and sites in the future.” Being on the calendar basically means that the site has been nominated for landmark status and will be part of a future public hearing. What is troubling about the proposed action is that it is without such a public hearing.
Being calendared by the LPC is not the same protection as landmark status, but it can be essential for historic locations. Earlier this week at DNAinfo, Jeff Mays explained that being “on the LPC’s calendar provides the building with a modicum of protection because the Department of Buildings notifies the commission if building or demolition permits for a site with such a designation are requested.”
The quiet move to take the nearly 100 sites off the calendar’s backlog is an effort to streamline the process of the agency. Just before Thanksgiving, Landmark West decried the plan was “essentially sentencing them to death by bulldozer.” This is likely not true for places like Green-Wood Cemetery, which has a major historic fund behind it, not to mention already being a National Historic Landmark. However, for more obscure places, like the 1938 art moderne Coney Island Pump House or the 1904 McKim, Mead & White-designed IRT Generating Plant on 59th Street, this could have major implications, as the process to nominate them again might be eclipsed by development. As DNAinfo noted, the Renaissance Casino in Harlem now slated for demolition for residential construction was on the LPC calendar for 16 years and removed just a few years ago.
Even for architecturally significant places, having this kind of leverage can be essential. Last March, the demolition of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hoffman Show Room on Park Avenue came as a shock. Although it was up for consideration, it was not landmarked by the LPC. The long process of landmarking is definitely dragged even slower when the LPC has its calendar cluttered with proposed sites both old and new. However, the communities which nominated them should have a chance to rally to preserve their place on the agenda for landmark status consideration.
Update, 12/5: The Landmarks Preservation Commission has withdrawn its plan to remove the buildings and sites from its calendar. As Simeon Bankoff, Historic Districts Council told the New York Times: “This is the rare case of a public agency listening to the public.”