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Robert C. Weinberg

Robert C. Weinberg

City planner, architect, and author Robert C. Weinberg advocated for the preservation of Greenwich Village, Grand Central Terminal, and the Jefferson Market Courthouse.

Organizations: American Institute of Architects, American Institute of Planners, Municipal Art SocietyNew York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
Places: Grand Central Terminal, Greenwich Village, Henry Hudson Bridge, Inwood Hill Park, Jefferson Market CourthousePennsylvania Station, Spuyten Duyvil, Washington Square Park
Above: Robert C. Weinberg; Courtesy of Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus Library Archives

Robert Charles Weinberg was born December 18, 1901 in New York City. Weinberg received a B.A. from the Harvard School of Architecture in 1923 and a graduate degree in 1931 from the Harvard School of Planning.1

In 1934, Weinberg began work for the Parks Department under Robert Moses. As a young architect, Weinberg clashed with Moses over planning decisions for New York City’s parks. Weinberg believed the Parks Department could better design parks and playgrounds if it took neighborhood preferences into account – an unconventional stance for that time. Moses preferred other solutions, yielding to a model of formulaic consistency over Weinberg’s method of tailoring parks to local needs.2

In 1941, Moses orchestrated Weinberg’s removal from the Department of City Planning,3 where he had been working since 1939. Beginning in 1943, Weinberg worked with the Chicago Housing Authority in establishing prefabricated and low-income housing as well with the Cleveland Planning Commission. He returned to New York by the end of the decade, preparing the 1948 master plan for Washington Square – a location he would continue to defend and preserve for the rest of his life.

Weinberg spent the next two and a half decades involved in various aspects of architecture and city planning. Countless letters and editorials attest to Weinberg’s zeal for improving and preserving the City. His seminal work was the 1958 book, Community Planning and Appearance. Though possessing a keen intellect and sufficient personal resources to allow him the time to pursue his extensive civic undertakings, these blessings were frequently undermined by his razor-edge personality.4

In 1968 Weinberg became the critic-at-large of architecture and planning for WNYC, New York’s municipal radio station, regularly giving two talks a week until 1973. He died in 1974.

New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects
Chair, Joint Committee on Design Control

New York Regional Chapter, American Institute of Planners
Chair, 1953

American Institute of Architects
Fellow, 1970

Fascinated by the role government could play in advancing the beauty of a community and concerned with aesthetic regulation, Weinberg was a part of numerous preservation campaigns throughout his lifetime.

A slew of New York City landmarks had Weinberg as their champion, while for other newer development projects he proved a stiff adversary. During 1936 he clashed with Robert Moses over the Henry Hudson Bridge, seeking to protect then-lush Riverdale from being divided by Moses’s highway. He lobbied to preserve Inwood Hill Park, on the Manhattan side, and the Spuyten Duyvil area, on the Bronx side.5

Weinberg was equally vociferous in opposing the 1960 proposal to install a three-tier, 44-lane bowling alley within the Waiting Room of Grand Central Terminal – which was never built. Less successful, but no less hard-fought was Weinberg’s plan to save Pennsylvania Station in 1962. Weinberg again defended Grand Central Terminal in 1968.

Weinberg was incredibly devoted to Greenwich Village, where he lived the majority of his life. This began in 1948 when Weinberg helped prepare a master plan for Washington Square. He also served on the Community Planning Board at this time.

Weinberg was a proponent of the Washington Square Southeast Development in the 1950s. In 1956, while a member of the Municipal Art Society, he engaged in an effort to “consider ways and means of having the Bard Act implemented with respect to New York City.” He also served as editor of “Planning and Community Appearance.” A comprehensive study on civic development and planning, the report was a compilation of observations made by architects and planners who studied governmental influences on community appearance.

Robert Weinberg was also involved with the zoning amendment that saved Greenwich Village. On June 24, 1959, City Planning Commissioner James Felt announced that his proposed zoning resolution was not designated to take effect until one year after its passage. The one-year grace period that Felt’s proposal allowed left areas like Greenwich Village vulnerable to developers, who were in a mad rush to implement new projects while the old zoning rules still applied.

In order to protect the architectural character of the Village during the one-year grace period, Weinberg proposed that the Village attempt to amend the old zoning, in order to ensure protection in the interim.6 He drafted an amendment to protect Greenwich Village by limiting the height of future buildings within 100 feet of Washington Square Park until the new zoning laws went into effect in 1961. The emergency amendment was passed with unanimous support by the Board of Estimate in March 1960, effectively sparing Greenwich Village from destruction until Felt’s new zoning resolution came into effect.7&8

Throughout his career he was also supportive of a New York City Landmarks Law and a New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.9 Weinberg fought for the preservation and adaptive reuse of Jefferson Market Courthouse in 1967.

  • Greenwich Village historic district designation report (New York, 1969) (signed by Commissioners)
    Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library
    Columbia University
    1172 Amsterdam Avenue, MC0301
    New York, NY 10027
  1. 
“Robert Weinberg, Regional Planner: Vinmont Project Architect and Consultant Dies, 72,” The New York Times, 26 January 1974, page 34.
  2. 
Robert Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (New York: Random House, 1974), page 488.
  3. 
Albert Fein and Elliot S.M. Gardener, eds., A Guide to the Professional Papers of Robert C. Weinberg (New York: Long Island University Department of Urban Studies, 1984).
  4. 
Anthony C. Wood, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect a City’s Landmarks (New York: Routledge, 2008), page 136.
  5. 
“A Controversial ’36 Span Through Dreamy Isolation,” The New York Times, 10 August 2003
  6. 
Owen Grundy, “The Boiling Cauldron-GVA,” Villager, 22 October 1959.
  7. Villager, Vol. XVIII, No. 2
  8. 
”Savers Don Old Hats for Hearing,” Villager, 10 March 1960.
  9. Albert Fein and Elliot S.M. Gardener, eds., A Guide to the Professional Papers of Robert C. Weinberg (New York: Long Island University Department of Urban Studies, 1984).