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Halina Rosenthal

Halina Rosenthal

Halina Rosenthal advocated for the creation of the Upper East Side Historic District and helped to found the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts.

Organizations: 73rd Street Block Association, Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, Municipal Art Society
Places: Carnegie Hill Historic District, Guggenheim Museum, Upper East Side Historic District, Whitney Museum
Above: Halina Rosenthal receiving the Historic District Council's Landmarks Lion Award. From left to right: Anthony C. Wood, Halina Rosenthal, Laurie Beckelman, Beverly Moss Spatt, Gene Norman and David Todd; Courtesy of the Historic Districts Council

Born Halina Kolowicz in Warsaw, Poland in 1918, Halina spent most of her childhood in Cannes, France, at a Catholic convent. After the World War II, she met her husband, Tony Rosenthal, in a sculpture class he was teaching at an Army school in St. Jean-de-Luz near Biarritz, France.1

In 1973 she moved to the Upper East Side of Manhattan. There she began her neighborhood advocacy work, founding the 73rd Street Block Association for the purpose of planting trees.2

In 1981, after the Upper East Side Historic District was designated by the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, Rosenthal helped form the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts.3 This group is a not-for-profit preservationist group “dedicated to preserving the architectural legacy, livability, and sense of place of the Upper East Side.”4

Rosenthal took it upon herself to inform property owners about the Landmarks Law and its application on the Upper East Side. During the 1980s and early 1990s she became a go-to source for developers and preservationists alike on issues concerning zoning and preservation in the Upper East Side historic districts.5

She received the Doris C. Freedman Award in 1991, given annually to an individual or organization whose “contribution to the people of the City of New York…greatly enriches the public environment.”6 That same year she was also honored with the Historic Districts Council’s Landmarks Lion Award in recognition of her efforts for preservation. She was described by Anthony C. Wood, then chairman of the Historic Districts Council, as “the consummate activist.”7

She died on March 31, 1991.8

Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts
President, 1982-1991

Halina Rosenthal was heavily involved in the creation of the Upper East Side Historic District. She was part of the citizens committee for the designation of an Upper East Side Historic District. The committee advocated for the preservation of a large historic district. By doing this, they hoped to preserve the special character of the neighborhood, something that might have been lost if only individual landmarks were designated.9 Small, older buildings were seen as "sitting ducks" for redevelopment, so the citizens committee was bent on a designation that would encompass (and thus protect) the entire area.10

In the late 1970s the real estate community opposed the creation of a historic district on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Also in opposition was the East Side Association, who argued that there had already been enough zoning to protect buildings.11 Rosenthal fought for the landmarking by lobbying and organizing the area residents. Her persistent advocacy led to community support. In 1979, the area's community board gave its "narrow" endorsement to the idea of a historic district. The vote was six to three with five absent.12 The Upper East Side Historic District was officially designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1981. Creating an Upper East Side Historic District was called "a major event in the city's land use.”13 Rosenthal played a great role in the actual designation process as well, organizing people to attend and testify before the Board of Estimate.

Another area of historic preservation that Halina Rosenthal was very involved with was the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts. Following the historic district designation, the Municipal Art Society (MAS), which played a leadership role in designation of the district, launched an organization in 1982 called the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts. MAS recognized that a group was needed to protect the district as applicants began to come forward to get permits for new buildings and alterations to existing structures. Halina Rosenthal became the organization's first president.

Among her successes as president of Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts was a campaign in 1985 to downzone the 200-plus side street blocks throughout the Upper East Side from an R8 to an R8B classification. This reduced the allowable building height on a typical side street site from 12 to 6 stories.14

In 1989, Rosenthal was among those who urged the Charter Revision Commission not to alter existing regulations for New York City's Landmarks Law.15 She believed any additions or alterations to the Landmarks Law would make future designation "near impossible" and that "social considerations are a Trojan horse that would surely cripple that law.”16

She also worked to defeat plans for the expansion of the Whitney and the Guggenheim museums, and opposed a proposal to place newsstands on Fifth Avenue.17

In 1991, Rosenthal supported the effort to expand the Carnegie Hill Historic District.18 It was finally expanded in 1993.

  • Halina Rosenthal Papers
    Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts
    966 Lexington Avenue, #3E
    New York, NY 10021
    Tel: (212) 535-2526
    Email: [email protected]

  • Oral Histories with Hal Bromm and Teri Slater
  • New York Preservation Archive Project
  • 174 East 80th Street
  • New York, NY 10075
  • Tel: (212) 988-8379
  • Email: [email protected]
  1. 
Grace Glueck, “Halina Rosenthal, 73, a Leader In Efforts to Save Landmarks, Dies,” The New York Times, 1 April 1991.
  2. 
Ibid.
  3. 
Ibid.
  4. Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts: About,Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts. Article retrieved 8 March 2016 
  5. 
Thomas L. Waite, “Postings: The Last Apartments?; Plan B For Madison,” The New York Times, 15 January 1989.
  6. 
Grace Glueck, “Halina Rosenthal, 73, a Leader In Efforts to Save Landmarks, Dies,” The New York Times, 1 April 1991.
  7. 
”Postings: Preservation Award; Council Lionizing a ‘Hellion’,” The New York Times, 10 March 1991.
  8. 
Grace Glueck, “Halina Rosenthal, 73, a Leader In Efforts to Save Landmarks, Dies,” The New York Times, 1 April 1991.
  9. 
Jane B. Trichter, “Designation? Certainly, How Much? The Debate,” The New York Times, 4 May 1980.
  10. 
Ibid.
  11. 
Paul Goldberger, “Preservation Victory,” The New York Times, 21 May 1981.
  12. 
Carter B. Horsley, “Community Panel Narrowly Backs Upper East Side Historic District,” The New York Times, 16 September 1979.
  13. 
Paul Goldberger, “Preservation Victory,” The New York Times, 21 May 1981.
  14. 
Christopher Gray, “Streetscapes: The Czech Gymnastic Association Clubhouse; A 2-Story Survivor Amid Upper East Side High-Rises,” The New York Times, 13 August 1989.
  15. 
Alan Finder, “Charter Panel Hears Support for Landmarks Law,” The New York Times, 19 July 1989.
  16. 
Ibid.
  17. 
Grace Glueck, “Halina Rosenthal, 73, a Leader In Efforts to Save Landmarks, Dies,” The New York Times, 1 April 1991.
  18. 
Iver Peterson, “A Bigger Carnegie Hill Historic District?” The New York Times, 3 March 1991.