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New York City Landmarks Law

New York City Landmarks Law

Also known as New York City's Landmarks Preservation Law

The New York City Landmarks Law was enacted in 1965 to preserve historic landmarks and neighborhoods.

Organizations: Architectural League, American Institute of Architects, American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, Fine Arts Federation, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
Places: Brokaw Mansion, Wyckoff House 
Above: Mayor Wagner signing the Landmarks Law, 1965; Courtesy of the New York Preservation Archive Project

In 1965, the New York City Landmarks Law was enacted in order to protect historic landmarks and neighborhoods from precipitate decisions to destroy or fundamentally alter their character. The law also established the creation of a permanent New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. The Commission is authorized to designate a building to be a “landmark” on a particular “landmark site,” or to designate an area as a “historic district.” The legal definition of a landmark stipulates that the building must be at least 30 years old, and have either historical or architectural merit, as determined by the Commission.1 The New York City Board of Estimate (a now defunct City agency) was thereafter allowed to modify or disapprove of the designation. The property owner may seek judicial review of the final designation decision. The owner of the designated landmark is legally required to maintain the building’s exterior “in good repair,” and to secure Commission approval before any exterior alterations are made.2

1962: Geoffrey Platt and the pre-law Landmarks Preservation Commission begin studying and reviewing the subject of landmark protection legislation

May 7, 1964: Geoffrey Platt lays a draft of the proposed Landmarks Law on Mayor Robert Wagner's desk

September 1964: The press announces that the Brokaw Mansion, located at East 79th Street and Fifth Avenue is going to be demolished.

September 26, 1964: Citizens protest in a demonstration in front of the Brokaw Mansion, and called for the creation of legislation to save their landmarks

October 6, 1964: The New York Times reveals, "a bill to preserve the city's architectural heritage had been introduced into the city council"

December 3, 1964: The landmarks legislation is introduced in a public hearing

February 6, 1965: Demolition of the Brokaw Mansion begins, which helps to move the landmarks legislation out of the City Council committee that was reviewing it

April 19, 1965: Despite opposition from real estate developers, Mayor Robert Wagner signs the landmarks bill into law

1965: The 300-year-old Wyckoff House is the first building to be landmarked under the new Landmarks Law

1973: Amendments are passed for New York City’s Landmarks Law, establishing procedures to designate interior landmarks and scenic landmarks, and instituted continuous hearings and designation

The Landmarks Law was enacted in response to New Yorkers' growing concern that important physical elements of the City's history were being lost, despite the fact that these architecturally rich buildings could be preserved or reused.3

In 1962, Geoffrey Platt and the pre-law Landmarks Preservation Commission began studying and reviewing the subject of landmark protection legislation.4 On May 7, 1964, after spending years carefully crafting legislation with the help of Harmon Goldstone, Geoffrey Platt laid a draft of the proposed Landmarks Law on Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr.'s desk.5 The Municipal Art Society (under the leadership of president Giorgio Cavaglieri), the American Institute of Architects, the Fine Arts Federation, the Architectural League, and the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society supported the legislation.6

In September of 1964, as the draft of the Landmarks Law continued to sit on the mayor's desk, the local press announced that the Brokaw Mansion, located at East 79th Street and Fifth Avenue, was going to be demolished.7 On September 26, 1964, citizens protested in a demonstration in front of the Brokaw Mansion, and called for the creation of legislation to save their landmarks.8 The threat to the Brokaw Mansion, highlighted by the extensive press coverage, helped move the draft of the landmarks legislation off of Mayor Wagner's desk and into the City Council.9

On October 6, 1964, The New York Times revealed that "a bill to preserve the city's architectural heritage had been introduced into the city council."10 On December 3, 1964, the legislation was introduced in a public hearing by its three sponsors, Councilman Seymour Boyers, Robert Low, and Richard S. Aldrich. Their names appear on the law.11 On February 6, 1965, demolition of the Brokaw Mansion began.12 The actual demolition of the Brokaw Mansion (in conjunction with the past loss of countless landmark structures) helped move the landmarks legislation out of the City Council committee that was reviewing it.13

The City Council committee made several revisions to the original bill. The council added the stipulation that each borough must be represented on the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and required any structure to be considered a landmark to be "30 years or older."14 In response to pressure from real estate interests, the City Council removed the "400-foot provision," which would have granted the Commission jurisdiction over all property within 400 feet of a landmark.15 The City Council also added a moratorium clause into the legislation. The clause stated that after an initial eighteen-month period for designations, there would be a subsequent thirty-six month period during which the Commission could not designate any properties. "Successive 6-month designating and 36 month non-designating periods would follow."16

Preservation supporters conceded to the City Council's alterations, however, the proposed landmarks legislation still faced a great deal of opposition from real estate developers. The Real Estate Board of New York, the Commerce and Industry Association of New York, Downtown Lower Manhattan Association, and the Avenue of Americas Association ardently opposed the bill.17

However, on April 19, 1965, despite opposition from real estate developers, Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. signed the bill into law. The Landmarks Law of 1965 went into effect immediately.18 The first building granted landmark status in 1965 was the 300-year-old Wyckoff House. Since then, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has designated over 35,000 New York City properties as landmarks.19

On another note, the 1973 amendments to New York City’s Landmarks Law established interior landmarks, scenic landmarks, and instituted continuous hearings and designation (ending the mandated moratorium limiting designations to a 6-month period every three years), and otherwise transformed the workings of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.20 Today, the Landmarks Law continues to be the most significant tool used by preservationists in the fight to protect their cherished landmarks.

  1. 
Thomas Ennis, “Landmarks Bill Signed By Mayor,” The New York Times, 20 April 1965.
  2. 
The Landmarks Law as summarized in the Penn Central Transportation Co. V. New York City Case, 438 U.S. 104 (1978).
  3. About the Landmarks Preservation Commission: History Of The LPC And The Landmarks Law,” NYCTM: Landmarks Preservation Commission. Article retrieved 3 April 2016 
  4. 
Anthony C. Wood, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City’s Landmarks (New York: Routledge, 2008), page 339.
  5. 
Charles Hosmer’s Interview with Harmon Goldstone, 23 June 1982.
  6. 
Copy of text of telegram on Municipal Art Society letterhead, 17 September 1964.
  7. 
Ada Louis Huxtable, “Despair of Demolition,” The New York Times, 17 September 1964; Thomas Ennis, “Landmark Mansion on 79th Street To Be Razed,” The New York Times, 17 September 1964.
  8. 
Edith Asbury, “City Moved to save Mansions is Urged: Brokaw Demolitions Scored by Speakers at Rally,” The New York Times, 27 September 1964.
  9. 
Charles Hosmer’s interview with Goldstone, 23 June 1982.
  10. 
Lawrence O’Kane, “City Council Gets Landmarks Bill,” The New York Times, 7 October 1964.
  11. 
”Queens Councilman Presides at Landmarks Bill Hearings,” Long Island Post, 10-13 December 1964.
  12. 
”Rape of the Brokaw Mansion,” The New York Times, 8 February 1965.
  13. 
Anthony C. Wood, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City’s Landmarks (New York: Routledge, 2008), page 352.
  14. 
”Report of the Committee on Codification in Favor of Adopting,” Proceedings of the Council of the City of New York from January 6 to June 29, 1965, vol. 1, 500; As recounted in Anthony C. Wood, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City’s Landmarks (New York: Routledge, 2008), page 352.
  15. 
Giorgio Cavaglieri to E. H. Fullilove, chair, Board of Government Building Trades Employers Association, 9 February 1965.
  16. 
”News of the Municipal Art Society,” March 1965; Thomas Ennis, “Landmarks Get City Protection,” The New York Times, 11 April 1965.
  17. 
Thomas Ennis, “Landmarks Bill Signed By Mayor,” The New York Times, 20 April 1965.
  18. 
Ibid.
  19. 
“About the Landmarks Preservation Commission,” NYC: Landmarks Preservation Commission. Article retrieved 3 April 2016 
  20. 
The Historic Districts Council Newsstand.