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Francis Gallatin

Francis Gallatin

Also known as Francis D. Gallatin

Francis Gallatin was the New York City Parks Commissioner in the 1920s, during which time he was an avid proponent of the City Beautiful Movement and the preservation of parks and historic structures.

People: Reginald Pelham Bolton, John F. Hylan, Albert S. Bard
Places: Central Park, Gracie Mansion
Above: Bow Bridge in Central Park; Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Francis Dawson Gallatin (1870-1933) was the son of Elizabeth Dawson Gallatin and James Gallatin, the president of the Society for Improving the Condition of the Poor and the Tenement House Commission. Gallatin was also the great grandson of Albert Gallatin, who served as the Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Madison and Jefferson. In 1892, Gallatin married Harriet L. Bogart, with whom he had two children, Lucile and Theodore. He later married Dorothy C. Braday.

Gallatin attended Columbia College, and he graduated in 1891. He later graduated from Columbia Law School. As a lawyer, he had a special interest in the reform of criminal procedure. In 1909 he was admitted to the bar, and he began work in the firm of Fay, Rubin and Gallatin. In 1917, he was nominated as the democratic candidate for the position of Judge of the Municipal Court in the Ninth New York District.1

On February 8, 1919, Gallatin was appointed Parks Commissioner of Manhattan and the Bronx by Mayor John F. Hylan. During his nearly 8-year tenure as Parks Commissioner, his concerns included the restoration of trees in City parks and the preservation of historic buildings and monuments. Gallatin was also an organizer of the Museum of the City of New York. On May 9, 1927, Gallatin resigned as Parks Commissioner. He died in his New York City home on December 23, 1933, at the age of 63.2

Parks Commissioner for Manhattan and the Bronx, 1919-1927

Francis Gallatin was an avid proponent of the City Beautiful Movement. During his eight-year career as Parks Commissioner, Gallatin sought to improve the condition of New York City's parks in a manner that would benefit New York residents. In August 1920, Gallatin proposed the conversion of the land along the Hudson River into a watercourse for public use.3 On December 31, 1923 The New York Times published an editorial written by Gallatin. In this piece, he examined how exhibiting monuments and buildings in the park would enhance the public's enjoyment and recreational use of the space.4 In December 1925, Gallatin lent support to the reconstruction of Central Park's bridle path.5

Gallatin also vocalized the significance of preserving New York City's most treasured spaces. In December of 1921, Gallatin, along with the vice president of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, Reginald Pelham Bolton, opposed the construction of parking garages beneath Central Park.6 In April 1922, Gallatin supported a bill which proposed turning custody of Gracie Mansion over to the Patriotic New Yorkers Society, led by Mrs. John King Van Rensselaer, for conversion into a museum.7

Gallatin expressed a vested interest in New York City's aesthetics. In April of 1922, scenic and historic preservation societies were engaged in discussions regarding the inclusion of sculpture exhibitions in Central Park. Gallatin approved the notion of featuring sculptures in Central Park.8 On January 7, 1923 The New York Times published "A City Beautiful is Gallatin’s Hope." The article announced Gallatin’s plan to speak to Mayor Hylan regarding a proposal to "enable the city to step in and save any building of antiquarian or sentimental interest or of architectural beauty.”9 Gallatin's proposal also called for the establishment of a commission to designate buildings worthy of preservation. His vision would also grant this commission with the authority to "veto designs for buildings which would promote grotesque incongruities because of the conflict between their style and existing kinds of architecture.”10 In essence, he wished to delineate distinct architectural zones.11

The motivation behind Gallatin's proposal is not entirely clear. His early work was not in the ranks of either artistic or patriotic societies. Nevertheless, Gallatin continually urged the public to value the City's historic buildings. His preservation advocacy appears to have stemmed from practical reasoning. For example, Gallatin asserted that historic buildings are instrumental in Americanizing the City's immigrants.12 The New York Times quoted his statement that "the soul of our country is worth saving.”13

Gallatin's proposal did not come into effect. His meeting with Mayor Hylan did not amount to any revolutionary changes, and his ideas did not appear to have generated a great deal of interest. However, a copy of The New York Times article, "A City Beautiful is Gallatin's Hope" was found amongst the newspaper clippings in Albert S. Bard's collection. Gallatin was unable to find the required constitutional basis for his proposed legislation. Albert S. Bard, the individual who authored the Bard Act of 1956, however, would successfully continue the search to provide a legal basis for aesthetic regulation.

By May 1927, Gallatin opted to remove all of the newsvendors from City Hall Park. This decision led to tension between Gallatin and Mayor Walker. Shortly after, Gallatin resigned from his position as Parks Commissioner.14

Francis Dawson Gallatin Timeline.
Staff, “Gallatin Funeral Plans; Former Park Commissioner to be buried here on Wednesday,” The New York Times, 25 December 1933.
”Plans Big Future for Riverside Park,” The New York Times, 27 August 1920.
Francis Gallatin, “Memorial in the Park,” The New York Times, 23 December 1923.
”Early Risers Club Holds Annual Dinner,” The New York Times, 2 December 1925.
”Gallatin to Fight Sub-Park Garages,” The New York Times, 25 December 1921.
”Gracie Mansion to be Preserved,” The New York Times, 2 April 1922.
”Architects to Sift Invasion of Park,” The New York Times, 13 April 1922.
”A City Beautiful is Gallatin’s Hope, The New York Times, 7 January 1923.
Anthony C. Wood, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City’s Landmarks (New York: Routledge, 2008), pages 37-38.
”Gallatin Pleads for City Beauty,” The New York Times, 18 February 1923.
”Experts Tell How to Beautify City,” The New York Times, 4 March 1923.
  14. “Gallatin Resigns in Row with Mayor,” The New York Times, 10 May, 1927.