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Geoffrey Platt

Geoffrey Platt

Geoffrey Platt was the first Chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

People: John M. Gates, Harmon Goldstone, Robert F. Wagner, Jr.
Places: Morgan Library, New York Botanical Gardens, Steuben Building
Above: Geoffrey Platt being sworn in by Mayor John Lindsay for re- appointment as chairman of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; Courtesy of the Anthony C. Wood Archives

Geoffrey Platt was born in Cornish, New Hampshire, in 1905. His father, Charles Adams Platt, was a renowned architect and landscape designer. He attended the St. Mark’s School and then Harvard College. He went on to receive a master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University, where he was schooled in the traditional style of design.1

As an architect, Platt worked with his brother William in the firm of Platt, Wyckoff and Coles.2 In addition to designing houses in New York State and New England, Platt was involved in the design of many buildings and additions for institutions such as the New York Botanical Gardens, the Morgan Library, Harvard University, Princeton University, Smith College, and Longue Vue House and Gardens in New Orleans. Perhaps their most notable design was the Steuben Building located at 718 Fifth Avenue. In this project, Geoffrey Platt, his brother William, and architect John M. Gates replaced a 1870s brownstone with a design that boasted a large limestone frame and huge central panels made from 3,800 glass blocks.3

Platt was also a member of the Municipal Art Society, the executive committee of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, as well as the Century Association. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his service with the Army Air Corps Photo Intelligence during World War II.

His contributions to the preservation movement were remarkable. In 1962, he was appointed by the mayor to serve as head of the advisory Landmarks Preservation Commission while the legislation for the New York City Landmarks Law was being drafted.4

When the law passed in 1965, he was appointed as the first chair to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission from 1965 to 1968. During his tenure at the Commission, over two hundred buildings were designated. In 1968, he resigned as chair and became the vice chair of the Commission.

He died in 1985 at the age of 79.5

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
Chairman, 1965-1968
Vice-Chairman, 1968

Geoffrey Platt once said that he hoped to make landmarks preservation credible by "weaving a way between zealots who would save everything and those who wanted to destroy what they wished."6 His preservation activity helped advance the establishment of New York's landmarks legislation and shape the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Platt led New York City's landmark preservation program from its inception in 1961. The program began with a study group known as the "Committee for the Preservation of Structures of Historic and Esthetic Importance."7

On April 21, 1962, in response to the uproar over plans to demolish Pennsylvania Station, Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. appointed Geoffrey Platt as chairman of a new twelve-member Landmarks Preservation Commission. The Commission replaced the Mayor's earlier Committee for the Preservation of Structures of Historic and Esthetic Importance, and assumed responsibility for, among other things, preparing a detailed landmarks legislative program within the year.8 Platt chaired this Commission between 1962 and 1965, during the time when official landmarks legislation was being drafted and enacted for the City.9 This Commission, however, was not a regulatory agency, since it did not possess any true legal authority.

In May of 1964, Platt delivered a draft of the bill for landmarks legislation to Mayor Wagner for review. The bill passed into law in April of 1965. At that point, Mayor Wagner appointed the first legally established Landmarks Preservation Commission. Platt was appointed as Chairman. As head of the Commission, Platt took a cautionary role. He opted to designate buildings more so for the architectural merit rather than for their socio-cultural and historical importance. This precautionary role helped to ensure that the Commission would survive during the early years. In Platt's reminiscences of those early days, he remarked, "My objective during those - all the years that I was chairman, was to - that the most important thing was to preserve the Landmarks Preservation Commission."10 While serving as chair to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, approximately 253 buildings were designated as New York City Landmarks. This was a remarkable feat considering the original Landmarks Law had a moratorium that made it difficult to designate a large number of buildings in a short period of time. He served as Chairman until 1968, at which point Harmon Goldstone took over the role, and Platt assumed the position of Vice-Chairman.11

  1. 
Eric Pace, “Geoffrey Platt is dead at 79; Led City Preservation Move,” The New York Times, 15 July 1985.
  2. 
Ibid.
  3. 
Christopher Gray, “Streetscapes/ Reader’s questions; A fifth Avenue shift from glass to diamonds,” The New York Times, 2 March 1997.
  4. 
Gregory F. Gilmartin, Shaping the City: New York and the Municipal Art Society (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1995).
  5. 
Eric Pace, “Geoffrey Platt is dead at 79; Led City Preservation Move,” The New York Times, 15 July 1985.
  6. 
Eric Pace, “Geoffrey Platt is dead at 79; Led City Preservation Move,” The New York Times, 15 July 1985.
  7. 
Ibid.
  8. 
Otis Pratt Pearsall’s Reminisces of the Nine Year Effort To Designate Brooklyn Heights as New York City’s First Historic District and Its First Limited Height District. Delivered by Mr. Pearsall at Brooklyn Borough Hall, 8 March 1993, on the occasion of receiving the Historic Districts Council’s 1993 Landmark Lion Award.
  9. 
Ibid.
  10. 
Anthony C. Wood, “Pioneers of Preservation: An interview with the late Geoffrey Platt, the first Chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission,” Village Views Vol. 4, No. 1 (Winter 1987).
  11. 
Gregory F. Gilmartin, Shaping the City: New York and the Municipal Art Society (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1995), pages 371-374.