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Brendan Gill

Brendan Gill

Brendan Gill, an important figure in New York City’s civil, social, and literary scenes, advanced many important historic preservation campaigns such as those for Grand Central, Jefferson Market Courthouse, and Times Square.

People: Margot Gayle, Charles Evan Hughes III, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Organizations: Committee to Reclaim Times Square, Municipal Art Society, the Victorian Society in America 
Places: Grand Central TerminalJefferson Market Courthouse, St. Bartholomew’s Church, Times Square
Above: Times Square north at night, New York City, c. 1934; Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Brendan Gill was an important figure in New York City’s civil, social, and literary scenes. He was born in Hartford, Connecticut on October 4, 1914, and discovered his penchant for architecture as a young child.1 He graduated from Yale College in 1936. In that same year, he began working for the New Yorker, writing a column entitled “Skyline.” Gill worked for the magazine for over sixty years. Throughout his career he published a vast number of architectural, artistic, and literary critiques.2

An eclectic and prolific author, Gill wrote fifteen books. His works include: A New York Life, a collection of profiles; Late Bloomers, a study of men and women who fulfilled their creative potential relatively late in life; Here at the New Yorker, his best selling 1975 book about his career at the magazine; Many Masks (1987), a biography of Frank Lloyd Wright, and Lindbergh Alone (1980), a biography of Charles Lindbergh.3

Over the course of his life, Brendan Gill was active in several artistic and civil organizations. He was also the founder of the P.S. 1 Center for Contemporary Art. He died on December 27, 1997, at the age of 83.4

American Academy of Arts and Letters
Vice President

Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts
Chairman

Municipal Art Society
Chairman

New York Landmarks Conservancy
Chairman

Victorian Society in America
Co-founder

Brendan Gill's efforts advanced and benefited many important historic preservation campaigns.

An example was his writing on the Jefferson Market Courthouse. In 1958, Margot Gayle prompted Gill to write a piece about the Jefferson Market Courthouse in the New Yorker, in which he lauded the building as an "invincibly romantic confection."5

Brendan Gill was also involved in the battle to save Grand Central Terminal. In the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, Penn Central Railway Company, the owners of Grand Central Terminal, posed a direct threat to the structure when they challenged the constitutionality of the New York City Landmarks Law. In response to this threat, Brendan Gill held a televised news conference and announced that the Municipal Art Society was determined to fight in order to protect Grand Central and the law. Gill enlisted influential individuals such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to join the group's campaign. The high profile campaign succeeded in attracting public attention to the serious threat facing landmark-designated buildings.6

In addition, as Chairman of the Municipal Art Society, Gill conducted frequent architectural walking tours around New York City, and educated New Yorkers about their City's architectural treasures.7 Gill was also one of the founders of the Victorian Society in America, along with Margot Gayle and Charles Evan Hughes III.8

In the late 1980s, Gill spearheaded the Committee to Reclaim Times Square, a group determined to oppose the Times Square redevelopment plan. The redevelopment project proposed the construction of four large-scale office towers at the crossroads of Broadway and Seventh Avenue. As evidence against the plan, Gill presented a survey that indicated that four in five architects disapproved of the huge project. The American Institute of Architects denied the validity of Gill's report.9

Furthermore, Gill participated in the battle to prevent the demolition of the rectory at St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue.10

On another note, the Municipal Art Society established the Brendan Gill Prize, which “is given each year to the creator of a specific work—a book, essay, musical composition, play, painting, sculpture, architectural design, film or choreographic piece—that best captures the spirit and energy of New York City.”11 Also, Gill authored the introduction to Alan Burnham's influential book, New York Landmarks: A Study & Index of Architecturally Notable Structures in Greater New York.12

  • Charles B. Hosmer, "Interview with Brendan Gill," conducted at the Century Club in New York City, 25 June 1982. This interview is part of the Charles B. Hosmer Collection, at the 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 here

  • Anthony C. Wood, "Interview with Brendan Gill." 1 July 1989. Anthony C. Wood Archives
    174 East 80th Street
    New York, NY
    Tel: (212) 988-8379
    Email: info@nypap.org

  • A transcript of the Brendan Gill interview by PBS is available online here.

  • Oral Histories with Bronson BingerEvelyn & Everett Ortner, and Jack Taylor
  • New York Preservation Archive Project
  • 174 East 80th Street
  • New York, NY 10075
  • Tel: (212) 988-8379
  • Email: [email protected]
  1. Charles B. Hosmer, “Interview with Brendan Gill,” conducted at the Century Club in New York City, 25 June 1982.
  2. 
Herbert Muschamp, “Brendan Gill Dies at 83; Author and Preservationist,” The New York Times, 29 December 1997.
  3. 
Ibid.
  4. 
“Brendan GillPBS 1 March 2016 
  5. 
Gregory F. Gilmartin, Shaping the City: New York and the Municipal Art Society (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1994), pages 362-363.
  6. 
Herbert Muschamp, “Brendan Gill Dies at 83; Author and Preservationist,” The New York Times, 29 December 1997.
  7. 
Ibid.
  8. 
Gregory F. Gilmartin, Shaping the City: New York and the Municipal Art Society (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1994), page 393.
  9. 
David W. Dunlap, “New Dispute Tangles Plan on Times Square,” The New York Times, 18 May 1989.
  10. 
Charles B. Hosmer, “Interview with Brendan Gill,” conducted at the Century Club in New York City, 25 June 1982.
  11. Brendan Gill Prize,” The Municipal Art Society of New York 1 March 2016
    
  12. Brendan Gill, forward to New York Landmarks: A Study and Index of Architecturally Notable Structures in Greater New York, by Alan Burnham (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1963), pages xiii-xiv.