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Dorothy Miner

Dorothy Miner

Also known as Dorothy Marie O'Driscoll Miner

Dorothy Miner was legal counsel to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission from 1975 to 1994, where she was instrumental in various landmark-related legal battles.

People: Jennifer Raab
Organizations: Fine Arts Federation, James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation, Municipal Art Society, National Center for Preservation Law Commission, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, Preservation League of New York State
Places: Grand Central Terminal, Mount Neboh Synagogue, Saint Bartholomew’s Church
Public Policy: New York City Landmarks Law, Penn Central Transportation Co. v. City of New York
Above: Dorothy Miner (left) with Kent Barwick and Arlene Simon at the 2006 Golden Jubilee of the Bard Act; Courtesy of the New York Preservation Archive Project

Dorothy Marie Miner was born in Manhattan, New York on August 14, 1936. She was the daughter of Dwight C. Miner, a history professor at Columbia University. Miner received a bachelor’s degree from Smith College in 1958, a law degree from Columbia University in 1961, and a master’s degree in urban planning from Columbia University in 1972.1 In 1970, Miner married James Edward O’Driscoll, a professor at Columbia University.2

In the early 1970s, Dorothy Miner worked for the Environmental Defense Fund while volunteering at the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, during which time the seminal Grand Central Terminal case was being tested in City courts.3 She was officially named counsel to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1975. She served as counsel until 1994, when she was asked to resign by then-chair, Jennifer Raab.4

After stepping down as counsel to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, she worked as an attorney and an historic preservation consultant.

Miner also served on the board of numerous preservation, urban planning, and architecture organizations including the Fine Arts Federation, National Center for Preservation Law Commission, the James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation, the New York Preservation Archive Project, and the Municipal Art Society.5 At the Municipal Art Society she served on all of its committees: Preservation, Planning, and Law.6 In addition to these contributions, she was a member of the New York City Bar Association’s “Redevelopment of Lower Manhattan Task Force.”7

From 1995 to 2008, she was an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, where she taught preservation law and an historic preservation studio. She was also an adjunct professor of historic preservation law at the Pace University School of Law and at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s School of Architecture. In 1995, she was awarded the New York Chapter of American Institute of Architecture’s Honorary Member Award.8

Dorothy Miner passed away on October 21, 2008. She was 72 years old.

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
Counsel, 1975-1994

Dorothy Miner's involvement in the preservation movement in New York City was instrumental in upholding the constitutionality of the New York City Landmarks Law. As counsel to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, she "helped establish the legal right to designate landmarks."9

Miner played a crucial role in the Penn Central vs. the City of New York Supreme Court Case over the landmark status of Grand Central Terminal. When Penn Central commissioned Marcel Breuer to construct a 55-story addition on top of Grand Central Terminal, preservationists launched an advocacy campaign against these plans. The case was eventually brought before the United States Supreme Court. Miner's legal guidance as counsel to the Landmarks Preservation Commission was integral to the success in upholding the New York City Landmarks Law.10 The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the City of New York. This victory established the constitutionality of landmarking historic buildings. The effects of this case reverberated nationwide, serving as a model for landmark designation in other major cities.

Miner was also responsible for drafting the legal documents for the designation of the 17th century street plan of Lower Manhattan in 1983.11 The designation halted development which had eradicated the neighborhood's "irregular blocks."12

Miner would stand by the landmark designation of the Mount Neboh Synagogue. Architect Walter S. Schneider designed Mount Neboh Synagogue, located on 130 West 79th Street. The synagogue was designated as a landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1982.13 Alexander Edelman, owner of the synagogue, filed for financial hardship in 1984, and Mount Neboh was subsequently demolished.14 Miner stated that despite its demolition, Mount Neboh would not be "stripped of its landmark status."15

In addition, Miner was involved in the legal battle to preserve Saint Bartholomew's Church. In the mid-1980s, Saint Bartholomew Church had plans to tear down its landmark-designated community house on 50th Street in order to build a 47-story office tower in its place.16 The church argued that the Landmarks Preservation Commission violated their "rights of religious exercise and use of its property."17 Miner defended the designation of Saint Bartholomew's community house despite the Church's challenges to the New York City Landmarks Law.18 Thanks to Miner's legal guidance, the City won in the Federal Court of Appeals in 1990.

In 1994, Miner was asked to step down as counsel to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission by its then-chair, Jennifer J. Raab. Raab stated that the Commission was in need of a "fresh eye."19 According to Professor Robinson, who taught with Miner at Pace University School of Law, Mayor Giuliani had called for her resignation in order to "accede to the real estate industry."20

Despite being asked to resign as counsel, Dorothy continued to devote herself to numerous not-for-profit organizations, offering her legal guidance and expertise.

She served as a board member for numerous preservation-related organizations, such as the Preservation League of New York State, the Municipal Art Society, the James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation, and the New York Preservation Archive Project. The Municipal Art Society had characterized her as "one of the sharpest minds, iron wills and gracious hearts," and "with her fierce intellect she was able to dissect complex issues and sum up the problems in a few perfectly crafted and often funny sentences."21

During the latter portion of her life, she spent her time teaching historic preservation law at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Pace University School of Law, and the School of Architecture at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

  • Dorothy Miner Historic Preservation Archive
    Pace Law School Library
    Pace University
    78 North Broadway
    White Plains, NY 10603

  • "In Defense of Preservation." The Gotham History Festival. CUNY Graduate Center. 6 October 2001.

  • "Making the Best Better: 35th Anniversary Celebration of the 1973 Amendments to NYC's Landmarks Law Panel Discussion," 10 June 2008. Accessible by contacting the New York Preservation Archive Project.

  • Oral Histories with Jack KerrLeonard KoernerLenore NormanGabriel Taussig, and Virginia Waters
  • New York Preservation Archive Project
  • 174 East 80th Street
  • New York, NY 10075
  • Tel: (212) 988-8379
  • Email: [email protected]
  1. 
David W. Dunlap, “Dorothy Miner, 72, Legal Innovator Dies,” The New York Times, 23 October 2008.
  2. 
Staff, “Dorothy Miner, J.E. O’Driscoll Are Wed Here,” The New York Times, 26 July 1970.
  3. 
Introduction, Anthony C. Wood and Dorothy Miner interview with Robert Low, New York Preservation Archive Project, 16 July 2002.
  4. 
David W. Dunlap, “Dorothy Miner, 72, Legal Innovator Dies,” The New York Times, 23 October 2008.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid. 

  7. 
Ibid.
  8. 
Staff, “POSTINGS: A ‘Fresh Eye’ Wanted; Counsel leaving Landmarks Panel,” The New York Times, 16 October 1994.
  9. 
David W. Dunlap, “Dorothy Miner, 72, Legal Innovator Dies,” The New York Times, 23 October 2008.
  10. 
Ibid.
  11. 
Ibid.
  12. 
Esther B. Fein, “MT. Neboh Owner Faces Foreclosure Threat,” The New York Times, 13 July 1984.
  13. 
Ibid.
  14. 
David W. Dunlap, “Dorothy Miner, 72, Legal Innovator Dies,” The New York Times, 23 October 2008.
  15. 
David W. Dunlap, “Change on the Horizon for Landmarks,” The New York Times, 29 April 1990.
  16. 
Ibid.
  17. 
David W. Dunlap, “Dorothy Miner, 72, Legal Innovator Dies,” The New York Times, 23 October 2008.
  18. 
Staff, “POSTINGS: A ‘Fresh Eye’ Wanted; Counsel leaving Landmarks Panel,” The New York Times October 16, 1994.
  19. 
Ibid.
  20. 
Municipal Art Society, Remembering Dorothy Miner. 25 October 2008.