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Committee for the Preservation of Structures of Historic and Esthetic Importance

Committee for the Preservation of Structures of Historic and Esthetic Importance

This committee, formed in 1961 by Mayor Robert F. Wagner, reported that New York City required a landmarks law and a permanent commission in order to preserve historic sites.

People: Albert S. Bard, Robert S. Curtiss, Robert W. Dowling, James FeltHarmon Goldstone, Luther H. Gulick, Arthur Cort Holden, Stanley H. Lowell, Clarence G. Michalis, McKim Norton, Geoffrey Platt, Whitney North Seymour, Jr., Robert F. Wagner, Jr., Bethuel M. Webster, Morgan Dix Wheelock, Frederick J. Woodbridge
Organizations: Fine Arts Federation, New York City Landmarks Preservation CommissionMunicipal Art Society, New York City Planning Commission
Above: Mayor Robert F. Wagner flanked by Geoffrey Platt (right) and Councilman Seymour Boyers during the signing of the Landmarks Law, April 19, 1965; Courtesy of Margot Gayle

The Committee for the Preservation of Structures of Historic and Esthetic Importance was a 13-member committee appointed by Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. in June of 1961. This study committee’s objective was to work towards obtaining landmark legislation. Under the leadership of Geoffrey Platt and Harmon Goldstone, the committee wrote a one-page memo regarding the state of preservation, and they concluded that New York City needed both a law and a commission in order to effectively protect its landmarks.1

June 19, 1961: Mayor Robert F. Wagner appoints a 13-member committee to advise him on a course of action for the City to take on landmarks preservation

July 25, 1961: The committee holds its first of five meetings at Seaman’s Bank for Savings, located at 45th Street and Fifth Avenue

November 27, 1961: The committee reports its findings to Mayor Wagner in a one-page memo

April 1962: In accordance with the committee’s recommendation, Mayor Wagner appoints a Landmarks Preservation Commission

The Committee for the Preservation of Structures of Historic and Esthetic Importance was a progenitor to the eventual establishment of a formal Landmarks Preservation Commission for New York City. On June 19, 1961, Mayor Robert Wagner appointed this 13-member committee to advise him on a course of action for the City to take on landmarks preservation.2 The architect Geoffrey Platt served as chairman of this committee, and working with Platt on this committee were Harmon Goldstone, Robert W. Dowling, Luther H. Gulick, Arthur C. Holden, Clarence G. Michalis, Whitney North Seymour, Jr., Frederick J. Woodbridge, Robert S. Curtiss, Stanley H. Lowell, McKim Norton, Morgan Dix Wheelock, and Bethuel M. Webster.3

Harmon Goldstone, Geoffrey Platt, and James Felt suggested the candidates for the committee. They intentionally selected the members to represent a diversity of professions, including an architect, lawyer, planner, realtor, and banker.4 Goldstone also suggested a panel of consultants, such as Albert S. Bard, to present their views before the committee. These individuals did not serve as regular members.5 James Felt played an integral role in helping to develop the committee, and he worked closely with Platt and Goldstone. He met with them regularly, advised them regarding the intricacies of government, and followed the drafting process of the law.6 The committee was charged to work in conjunction with the Municipal Art Society and the Fine Arts Federation.7 The committee also worked in consultation with the City Planning Commission.8

On July 25, 1961, the committee held the first of five meetings at Seaman’s Bank for Savings, located at 45th Street and Fifth Avenue.9 At the meeting, the committee examined "relevant legislation in other cities, particularly those of New Orleans, Boston, Providence and Philadelphia.”10

Then, on November 27, 1961, the committee reported its findings to Mayor Wagner in a one-page memo.11 The committee "recommended that a permanent commission be established, to be known as the Landmarks Preservation Commission of the City of New York.”12 This commission would be responsible to designate for protection, "a. Buildings, structures, monuments, statues and works of historic and or esthetic importance. b. The surroundings of any of the foregoing insofar as needed to preserve their character. c. Groups of buildings or districts whose general character is important historically or which are uniquely valuable in design or location.”13 The commission would also answer preservation inquiries from public bodies and recommend "appropriate action.”14

Within a year, the commission would present the mayor with a "detailed legislative program for the effective protection of those portions of designated landmarks that fall within public view.”15 The report suggested the composition of the commission and the necessary steps to bring it to life.16 Then, on December 3, 1961, only six days later, the Wagner administration issued a press release in which it thanked the committee for its work, accepted the recommendations, and announced its intention to implement the proposed plan immediately.17

Finally, in April of 1962, in accordance with the committee’s recommendation, Mayor Wagner appointed the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, for the purpose of "protecting structures and areas of historic or esthetic importance.”18 Though the Wagner administration was quick to establish a Landmarks Preservation Commission, landmark protection legislation did not pass until 1965.19

  • Mayor Wagner Papers
    New York City Municipal Archives
    31 Chambers Street, Room 103
    New York, NY 10007

  • Charles B. Hosmer Collection
    National Trust for Historic Preservation Library Collection and Archives, Special Collections
    University of Maryland at College Park

  • A complete list of Hosmer’s interviews with prominent individuals in the historic preservation field can be accessed here.
  1. 
Anthony C. Wood, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City’s Landmarks (New York: Routledge, 2008), pages 270-271.
  2. 
”Mayor Appoints 13 to Help preserve Historic Buildings,” The New York Times, 12 July 1961.
  3. 
Ibid.
  4. 
Charles Hosmer’s Interview with Harmon Goldstone, 23 June 1982.
  5. 
Ibid.
  6. 
Ibid.
  7. 
Anthony C. Wood, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City’s Landmarks (New York: Routledge, 2008), page 270.
  8. 
Goldstone, president of the Municipal Art Society, to Gordon Hyatt, Producer WCBS TV, 27 September 1961.
  9. 
Anthony C. Wood, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City’s Landmarks (New York: Routledge, 2008), page 279.
  10. 
Geoffrey Platt to Mayor Robert F. Wagner, 27 November 1961. Mayor Wagner Papers, New York City Municipal Archives.
  11. 
Charles Hosmer’s Interview with Harmon Goldstone, 23 June 1982.
  12. 
Ibid.
  13. 
”Outline of Recommendations” to the mayor from the Committee for the Preservation of Structures of Historic and Esthetic Importance,” 27 November 1961.
  14. 
Ibid.
  15. 
Ibid.
  16. 
Ibid.
  17. 
”Statement by Mayor Robert F. Wagner,” for release 3 December 1961, City of New York Office of the Mayor, Mayor Wagner Papers, New York City Municipal Archives.
  18. 
Hilary Ballon and Norman McGrath, New York’s Pennsylvania Stations (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002), page 105.
  19. Anthony C. Wood, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City’s Landmarks (New York: Routledge, 2008), page 279.