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Harmon Goldstone

Harmon Goldstone

Also known as Harmon Hendricks Goldstone

Harmon Goldstone was pivotal in the formation of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, serving as its chair from 1968-1973.

Places: Brooklyn Heights, Grand Central Terminal, Greenwich Village, SoHo 
Above: Harmon Goldstone being sworn in as chair of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission by Mayor John Lindsay; Courtesy of the Anthony C. Wood Archives

Harmon Goldstone was born on May 4, 1911 in New York City. He attended the Lincoln School and graduated in 1928. In 1932, he received a B.A. from Harvard, with a major in Fine Arts. He then went on to get his architecture degree from Columbia University’s School of Architecture. Upon his graduation in 1936, he joined the architecture firm of Harrison and Fouilhoux. He is noted for the work he did there in helping to develop the Trylon and Perisphere symbols of the “World of Tomorrow” for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. He then served in the United States Army as a statistician and economist for three years. In 1952, he established the architecture firm Goldstone and Dearborn. Some of his projects included the Aquatic Bird House at the Bronx Zoo (1964), the Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island (1965), and the remodeling of Christie’s Auction House in 1977.1

Harmon Goldstone’s role in preservation was pivotal in the formation of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). In 1960 he became President of the Municipal Art Society. A year later, Mayor Wagner appointed him to the Committee for the Preservation of Structures of Historic and Esthetic Importance (an early incarnation of the LPC). When Geoffrey Platt, the first chair of the Commission, stepped down from his post in 1968, Harmon Goldstone was named as his replacement as chair of the LPC. During his tenure at the LPC he voted against the Marcel Breuer additions to Grand Central Terminal, and was present during the 1973 amendments to the Landmarks Law.

Harmon Goldstone’s activity in civic affairs was always closely tied to his interest in preservation. In 1974, he coauthored History Preserved: A Guide to New York City Landmarks and Historic Districts with Martha Dalrymple. After years of participation in public life, he died in New York City, on February 21, 2001, at the age of 89.2

Municipal Art Society
President, 1960-63

New York City Department of Planning
Commissioner, 1961-68

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
Chairman, 1968-1973

In 1961, while Harmon Goldstone was serving as president of the Municipal Art Society, Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. named him to the Committee for the Preservation of Structures of Historic and Esthetic Importance. Mayor Wagner set up the committee under the influence of James Felt, to serve as a study committee to ensure the protection of important historic buildings and landmarks. The mayor had appointed Geoffrey Platt to head the committee. They worked with the Municipal Art Society and the Fine Arts Federation in order to come up with recommendations to the mayor for the preservation of historic buildings. This committee was a precursor to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).3 During his term, Goldstone observed that "by 1958, even prior to the informal hearings on the new zoning resolution, 10 percent of the buildings on the Municipal Art Society’s highly selective list had already been torn down."4 It was clear to Goldstone that the Municipal Art Society alone did not possess the influence necessary to prevent the demolition of the buildings on its list. The recommendations made to Mayor Wagner included setting up a permanent Landmarks Preservation Commission that would designate buildings, landmarks, and districts of historic and architectural worth, and legislative measures that would enforce these regulations.

Also in 1961, James Felt appointed Goldstone to the City Planning Commission. Goldstone was then able to facilitate a mutually beneficial relationship between the City Planning Commission and the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Goldstone promoted cross-organizational cooperation, and was thus able to "run interference" for preservation with other City agencies.5

In 1968, Harmon Goldstone succeeded Geoffrey Platt as chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. He was the first individual to receive a salary for this position. During his term, 7,271 buildings were designated as landmarks, and many historic districts were authorized, including 60 blocks of Greenwich Village, and 26 of SoHo. Goldstone was chairm of the Landmarks Preservation Commission at the time of the 1973 amendments to the Landmarks Law.6 The Municipal Art Society took on the issue and formed various committees to explore the idea of expanding the Landmarks Preservation Commission's powers. Goldstone recognized the need for added protections and supported the idea of amending the law, but faced with the realities of the LPC's limited staff and financial resources, he was reluctant to add too many new responsibilities to the LPC's purview.7 The law was eventually amended, giving the LPC the power to designate and protect interior landmarks and scenic landmarks. The amendments also instated continuous designation determinations, ending the moratorium that restricted designations to a six-month period every three years.

Goldstone disapproved of certain types of advocacy behavior such as "organized torch lit processions." He hoped instead that the weight of the Landmarks Law would prove sufficient to protect New York City's treasured buildings.8 It was also Goldstone who sent the Brooklyn Heights Zoning Amendment on to Geoffrey Platt, and informed him of the urgency in Brooklyn Heights to get effective preservation enacted as soon as possible. Goldstone concluded that any landmarks that were lost in the time that passed until a "workable" law could be achieved for the entire city was a price worth paying to avoid the chaos of having stand alone districts.9

Goldstone completed his tenure with the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1974, leaving the position with a status of heightened authority and influence.10

  • Papers of Harmon Hendricks Goldstone
    The New-York Historical Society
    170 Central Park West
    New York, NY 10024
    Tel: (212) 875-3400 ex. 265

    Tape and transcript of the talk, "How the Landmarks Law Happened?" by Harmon Goldstone at the Century Club, 3 February 1972. Century Association Archives Foundation. The collections finding aid can be accessed here. Researchers should send inquiries via e-mail to [email protected].

    Oral History with Anthony C. Wood, "Pioneers of Preservation: Taking the Long View: An Interview with Harmon Goldstone, the Second Chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission," Village Views Vol. IV, No. 3 (Summer 1987).

    Anthony Wood, "Pioneers of Preservation: Part II: An Interview with Harmon Goldstone." Village Views Vol. IV, No. 3 (Summer 1987).

    Charles Hosmer's Interview with Harmon Goldstone, 23 June 1982. Charles Hosmer papers, National Trust for Historic Preservation Library Collection and Archives, Special Collections, University of Maryland at College Park Libraries.

    A complete list of Hosmer's interviewees can be accessed here.

  1. 
Valerie Paley and Jan Hilley, “Guide to The Papers of Harmon Hendricks Goldstone: 1906-1979 (bulk 1966-1979): MS 256: Descriptive Summary,” New-York Historical Society: Museum & Library. Finder’s aid retrieved 9 March 2016 
  2. 
David W. Dunlap, “Harmon Goldstone Dies at 89; Led New Yorks Landmarks Commission,” The New York Times, 23 February 2001.
  3. 
Valerie Paley and Jan Hilley, “Guide to The Papers of Harmon Hendricks Goldstone: 1906-1979 (bulk 1966-1979): MS 256: Descriptive Summary,” New-York Historical Society: Museum & Library. Finder’s aid retrieved 9 March 2016 
  4. Anthony C. Wood, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City’s Landmarks (New York: Routledge, 2008), page 251.
  5. 
Ibid, pages 287-288.
  6. 
Gregory F. Gilmartin, Shaping the City: New York and the Municipal Art Society (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1995), pages 388-389.
  7. 
Municipal Art Society Minutes, Municipal Art Society Archives; Harmon Hendricks Goldstone Papers, New-York Historical Society.
  8. 
Anthony C. Wood, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City’s Landmarks (New York: Routledge, 2008), pages 386-387.
  9. 
Ibid, page 293.
  10. Valerie Paley and Jan Hilley, “Guide to The Papers of Harmon Hendricks Goldstone: 1906-1979 (bulk 1966-1979): MS 256: Descriptive Summary,” New-York Historical Society: Museum & Library. Finder’s aid retrieved 9 March 2016