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New York City Landmarks Law

 

Sometimes listed as New York City's Landmarks Preservation Law.

Description

In 1965, the New York City Landmarks Law was enacted in order to protect historic landmarks and neighborhoods from precipitate decisions to destroy or fundamentally alter their character. The law also established the creation of a permanent Landmarks Preservation Commission. The Commission is authorized to designate a building to be a "landmark" on a particular "landmark site," or to designate an area as a "historic district." The legal definition of a landmark stipulates that the building must be at least 30 years old, and have either historical or architectural merit, as determined by the Commission1. The New York City Board of Estimate (a now defunct city agency) was thereafter allowed to modify or disapprove of the designation. The property owner may seek judicial review of the final designation decision. The owner of the designated landmark is legally required to maintain the building's exterior "in good repair," and to secure Commission approval before any exterior alterations are made2.

The Landmarks Law was enacted in response to New Yorkers' growing concern that important physical elements of the city's history were being lost, despite the fact that these architecturally rich buildings could be preserved or reused3.
- 1962 - Geoffrey Platt and the pre-law Landmarks Preservation Commission began studying and reviewing the subject of landmark protection legislation4.
- May 7, 1964 - After spending years carefully crafting legislation with the help of Harmon Goldstone, Geoffrey Platt laid a draft of the proposed Landmarks Law on Mayor Robert Wagner's desk5.
- The Municipal Art Society (under the leadership of president Giorgio Cavaglieri), the American Institute of Architects, the Fine Arts Federation, the Architectural League and the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society supported the legislation6.
- September 1964 - As the draft of the Landmarks Law continued to sit on the mayor's desk, the New York press announced that the Brokaw Mansions, located at East 79th Street and Fifth Avenue were going to be demolished7.
- September 26, 1964 - Citizens protested in a demonstration in front of the Brokaw Mansions, and called for the creation of legislation to save their landmarks8.
- The threat to the Brokaw Mansions, highlighted by the extensive press coverage, helped move the draft of the landmarks legislation off of Mayor Wagner's desk and into the City Council9.
- October 6, 1964 - The New York Times revealed that "a bill to preserve the city's architectural heritage had been introduced into the city council"10.
- December 3, 1964 - The legislation was introduced in a public hearing by its three sponsors, Councilman Seymour Boyers, Robert Low and Richard S. Aldrich. Their names appear on the law11.
- February 6, 1965 - Demolition of the Brokaw Mansions began12. The actual demolition of the Brokaw Mansions (in conjunction with the past loss of countless landmark structures) helped move the landmarks legislation out of the City Council committee that was reviewing it13.
- The City Council committee made several revisions to the original bill. The council added the stipulation that each borough must be represented on the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and required any structure to be considered a landmark to be "30 years or older"14. In response to pressure from real estate interests, the City Council removed the "400-foot provision," which would have granted the Commission jurisdiction over all property within 400 feet of a landmark15. The City Council also added a moratorium clause into the legislation. The clause stated that after an initial eighteen month period for designations, there would be a subsequent thirty-six month period during which the Commission could not designate any properties. "Successive 6-month designating and 36 month non-designating periods would follow"16.
- Preservation supporters conceded to the City Council's alterations, however, the proposed landmarks legislation still faced a great deal of opposition from real estate developers. The Real Estate Board of New York, the Commerce and Industry Association of New York, Downtown Lower Manhattan Association and the Avenue of Americas Association ardently opposed the bill17.
- April 19, 1965 - Despite opposition from real estate developers, Mayor Robert Wagner signed the bill into law. The Landmarks Law of 1965 went into effect immediately18.
- The first building granted landmark status in 1965 was the 300 year-old Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House. Since then, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has designated nearly 23,000 New York City landmarks19.
1973 Amendments to the Landmarks Law
The 1973 amendments to New York City’s Landmarks Law established interior landmarks, scenic landmarks, instituted continuous hearings and designation (ending the mandated moratorium limiting designations to a 6-month period every three years), and otherwise transformed the workings of the Landmarks Preservation Commission20.
- Today, the Landmarks Law continues to be the most significant tool used by preservationists in the fight to protect their cherished landmarks.
Charles B. Hosmer Collection, National Trust for Historic Preservation Library Collection and Archives, Special Collections, University of Maryland at College Park Libraries.
A complete list of Hosmer’s interviewees can be accessed at: http://www.lib.umd.edu/NTL/hosmerindex.pdf

Archives, Personal files, and Ephemura

Charles B. Hosmer Collection, National Trust for Historic Preservation Library Collection and Archives, Special Collections, University of Maryland at College Park Libraries.
A complete list of Hosmer’s interviewees can be accessed at: http://www.lib.umd.edu/NTL/hosmerindex.pdf
The records and minutes of the City Council of New York at:
City Hall Library
31 Chambers Street, Room 112
New York, NY 10007
Open to the public Monday, Wednesday, Thursday:
10 AM to 4 PM
Tuesday, Friday: 10 AM to 12 PM
Christine Bruzzese, Supervising Librarian.
For more information, call 311 or (212) NEW-YORK if outside of New York City.

  • 1. Ennis, Thomas, "Landmarks Bill Signed By Mayor," New York Times, April 20, 1965.
  • 2. The Landmarks Law as summarized in the Penn Central Transportation Co. V. New York City Case, 438 U.S. 104 (1978).
  • 3. Landmarks Preservation Commission’s Website
  • 4. Wood, Anthony C. Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City's Landmarks. (New York: Routledge, 2007). Page 339.
  • 5. Charles Hosmer’s Interview with Harmon Goldstone, June 23, 1982.
  • 6. Copy of text of telegram on Municipal Art Society letterhead, September 17, 1964.
  • 7. Huxtable, Ada Louis, "Despair of Demolition," New York Times, September 17, 1964; Ennis, Thomas, "Landmark Mansion on 79th Street To Be Razed," New York Times, September 17, 1964.
  • 8. Asbury, Edith, "City Moved to save Mansions is Urged: Brokaw Demolitions Scored by Speakers at rally," New York Times September 27, 1964.
  • 9. Hosmer interview with Goldstone.
  • 10. O'Kane, Lawrence, "City Council Gets Landmarks Bill," New York Times, October 7, 1964.
  • 11. "Queens Councilman Presides at Landmarks Bill Hearings," Long Island Post, December 10-13, 1964.
  • 12. "Rape of the Brokaw Mansion," New York Times, February 8, 1965.
  • 13. Wood, Anthony C. Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City's Landmarks. (New York: Routledge, 2007). Page 352.
  • 14. "Report of the Committee on Codification in Favor of Adopting," Proceedings of the Council of the City of New York from January 6 to June 29, 1965, vol. 1, 500; As recounted in (Wood, Preserving New York, 352).
  • 15. Giorgio Cavaglieri to E.H. Fullilove, chair, Board of Government Building Trades Employers Association, February 9, 1965.
  • 16. "News of the Municipal Art Society," March 1965; Ennis, Thomas, "Landmarks Get City Protection," New York Times, April 11, 1965.
  • 17. Ennis, Thomas, "Landmarks Bill Signed By Mayor," New York Times, April 20, 1965.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. The Landmarks Preservation Commission's website
  • 20. The Historic Districts Council Newsstand