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Archival Assistance Fund Grantees Accomplish Impressive Archival Feats Over the Past Year

Archival Assistance Fund Grantees Accomplish Impressive Archival Feats Over the Past Year

May 1, 2017

Over the past year substantial progress has been made on the worthy projects that were awarded funding in the last round of grants from the New York Preservation Archive Project’s Archival Assistance Fund. The Fund was established in 2013 to help identify and maintain archival resources and organizational documents significant to the history of the preservation movement. And in honor of the 50th anniversary of the passage of New York City’s Landmarks Law in 2015, preference for this most recent grant cycle was given to applicants who proved how their collections were distinctly tied to the last 50 years of historic preservation in New York City. With this criterion in mind the Archive Project funded six groups.

With the support of its Archival Assistance Fund grant, the Bowne House Historical Society wrote and adopted an archival policy dictating collection priorities and procedures tied to the Bowne House’s educational and preservation mission as a historic house museum and providing guidance for its records-management program in the future. Although the archives are historically rich, ranging from Colonial-era documents to the 20th-century record of the Bowne House Historical Society’s own preservation efforts, the collection had never undergone formal archival processing. Guided by this new policy, an archival consultant has arranged and described over 60 cubic feet of the Society’s organizational records, illuminating the mission of the museum over the course of six decades. Going forward, the Society aims to make a finding aid available to the public on its website and commence processing and conservation work on the Bowne Family Papers and other significant historical collections in its custody.

The Evergreens Cemetery Preservation Foundation described, arranged, and preserved the archives of the Sailors’ Cemetery Association, which for approximately 150 years administered burials for indigent sailors in its plot at the cemetery. The plot is known for its monumental pillar dedicated to sailors from around the world whose final resting places are located nearby. Most of these seamen died in port and had no relatives to claim their remains or assist with burial arrangements in their home countries. The collection comprises legal documents, correspondence, newspaper clippings, burial permit ledgers, surveyor’s maps, contractor bids for repairs to the monument, deeds of property, and board meeting minutes. Work with these archives has revealed a fascinating 150-year survey of the maritime history of the port of New York City and will assist with the restoration of the Seaman’s Monument itself, famous for welcoming ships to the New York harbor from the heights of Evergreens Cemetery’s Beacon Hill.

The Merchant’s House Museum used funding to continue its important work of processing and rehousing the archives of Museum founder George Chapman and restoration architect Joseph Roberto that together cover the years between 1935-1989. During the grant period, the Museum created a finding aid and framework for searches in PastPerfect, a software application for collections archiving that allows for the database storage of artifacts, documents, photographs, and books, for all Chapman and Roberto materials. The Museum also rehoused and cataloged its original analog collection of cassettes, tapes, and reels featuring lectures and meetings held at the museum, digitized the collection of photographic slides, and rehoused, reorganized, and described the original slides. The Museum continues to rehouse the photographs and catalogue its oversized materials and is moving forward with processing the Gardiner Archive, which documents the museum’s history from 1989 to the present. Together, these archives provide a valuable resource on the development of the historic house museum in the 20th century and the preservation of this New York City and National Historic Landmark.

The Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden hired an archivist to work with the curator on a collections management policy for items relating to the building’s extensive history of uses, as well as the preservation and interpretation of the building and garden in the late-19th through the 20th centuries. With policies in place for using the archives, the Museum began to enter collection items into their PastPerfect database to ensure a complete catalogue record of all the items in their collection, which includes photographs, newspaper clippings, manuscripts, architectural drawings, as well as accessioned items such as paintings, furniture, ceramics, and other decorative arts and material culture objects. Next, the Museum plans to rehouse collection items that are not yet catalogued, including those dealing with the preservation of the site’s garden and main building.

In 2015 and 2016, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) produced and released 19 new oral histories focusing on Manhattan’s East Village and South Village. These interviews capture the vibrant history of these neighborhoods, documenting immigrant perspectives (Ukrainian, Lithuanian, German, Puerto Rican, Italian, and Irish, to name a few), the area’s musical, culinary, and theatrical heritage, the intrepid gay rights movement, and fights for equitable housing. These interviews also focus on the personal stories of preservation figures such as Marilyn Appleberg, founder and president of the 10th and Stuyvesant Streets Block Association and a leader in the fight for the preservation of the St. Mark’s Historic District; Frances Goldin, founder of the Metropolitan Council on Housing and the Cooper Square Committee, and a leader in the successful effort to stop Robert Moses’s plan to bulldoze a large swath of the East Village; and Tom Bernardin, who was inspired by Margot Gayle to become involved in preservation, which he pursued via his passion for historic clocks and lampposts. GVSHP’s grant from the Archival Assistance Fund allowed the organization to hire professional sound engineers to create short audio clips for all 19 full-length oral history recordings. The clips, posted alongside a photo of the interview subject, the full-session audio recording, full-session transcript, and clip transcript, are used to highlight important segments of the interviews for educational purposes and as a tool to showcase the larger project. These clips also enhance the user experience of the archive and will allow greater utilization by a larger and more diverse audience.

The NYC Landmarks50+ Alliance, under the leadership of Dr. Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, received a grant to support the preservation of documents, videos, audio recordings, and other records of the 50th anniversary celebration of the New York City Landmarks Law. These materials include documents and photographs related to the membership of the Alliance (over 190 organizations and individuals), the programs and events planned by these members since 2013, and documents related to the planning and organization of two celebratory galas at the former Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building. Video recordings of these two milestone events and other programs such as a 2015 panel discussion on the New York City Landmarks Law at the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse, organized and introduced by Dr. Diamonstein-Spielvogel, are also part of the collection. (Video recordings are available as part of the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Video Archive at Duke University’s Rubinstein Library. Written materials, filed and organized into broad categories, are housed as part of the Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel Archive, also at the Rubinstein Library.)

The Archive Project’s Archival Assistance Fund is an important example of outreach initiatives to provide practical assistance to the New York City preservation community while also instilling a lasting archival mindset. Despite their unique missions and the diversity of their archival holdings, each grant recipient boasts a record of activism in preservation and a demonstrated commitment to safeguarding the story of those preservation efforts for future activists, researchers, and scholars. The Archive Project hopes these projects will serve as inspiration to other organizations with archival projects still in need of addressing.

Above: A corridor of files at the National Archives; Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons