Last month, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted to recommend 30 of the sites from its backlog of nearly 100 as potential landmarks. The decision followed controversy over a proposal to clear the backlog entirely. This week, in an effort LPC states is part of a greater attempt “to bring greater transparency, efficiency, and public access to the agency,” the organization is visualizing the city’s pending and existing landmarks in the Discover NYC Landmarks map.
It’s a basic design, powered by ArcGIS, pinning the individual, interior, and scenic landmarks with dots, and shading in the historic districts. Each accesses brief information on the landmark, with an image to click to a PDF of its designation report.
It’s an easy tool to assess which landmarks are near you, or which you’d like to explore, and also reveals the density of landmarks, and areas where they are lacking. For instance, East New York, which is rich with historic architecture, is thin on landmarks, although it received an addition with the East New York Savings Bank earlier this month. The map is as much a way to see what’s not protected as what is. And of what is, there are many important sites of art and architecture to be discovered. In that spirit, here are five NYC landmarks of visual culture often overlooked, one for each borough:
IRT Subway System Interiors
The subway stations on the former IRT line in Manhattan, which date from 1899 to 1908, are the city’s oldest (surviving) underground transit, and they have the Gilded Age glamor to match. From the old City Hall station with its Guastavino tiles, to the terra-cotta beavers at Astor Place, the interiors of these stations were designed as a point of civic pride by George L. Heins and Christopher Grant LaFarge, and they’ve been landmarked since 1979. (The best resource on their art are the Silver Connections books published, and illustrated, by Philip Ashforth Coppola.)
Green-Wood Cemetery Gate
While Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn is not itself a landmark, its gate is. The sculpturally beautiful Gothic arch that presides over the entrance at 25th Street and Fifth Avenue appears like the front of a cathedral, guiding visitors from the land of the living to that of the dead. Built from 1861 to 1865 under architects Richard Upjohn & Son, the arch was designated a landmark in 1966. (It’s also a year-round residence of some wild parrots.)
Bronx Post Office
A more recent designation was given to the interior of the Bronx General Post Office in the Bronx, the lobby of which is covered with 1930s murals by Ben Shahn, with assistance from his wife Bernarda Bryson Shahn. The Depression-era murals show images of American industry, as well as the poet Walt Whitman, and were in danger of being sold in 2013. LPC added the interior protection in December of that year.
Marine Air Terminal
If you ever have a long layover at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, the murals of the Marine Air Terminal are an unheralded gem. The 1940 WPA murals were painted by James Brooks, showing the history of human flight. And although they were painted over in the 1950s, they were later restored by 1980, and they received landmarking that year.
Alice Austen House
The Alice Austen House is now a museum celebrating Staten Island photographer Alice Austen, who died in 1952, but its history goes back to its construction in the 18th century. Designated as a landmark in 1969, the home was nicknamed “Clear Comfort,” a tribute to its serene view that’s survived centuries on the New York Harbor.